As President of ISTR I have been given the privilege of opening this forum, an initiative that we hope will become a lively source of discussion, debate, dialogue and information. Now that most of us are practically glued to our home computers, this seems like a good time to begin online communications and discussions. Given that our conference plans for Montreal have gone the way of all events in the coming months, please imagine this as one stream of alternative communication between and for you and your fellow ISTR members.
Because it is a global issue and we are all touched by the massive changes going on in response to it I thought I might offer some thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic.
For researchers and scholars this is is a time of overwhelming complexities, multilayered effects and an unknown future. For the third sector, predominantly organisations concerned with human services and human rights, it is a time of great challenge. Across the world, governments have really struggled to respond to every aspect of social need and protection. The messages people have been getting have been confusing and, in some cases, confusing and insufficient. There are also the huge threats emerging to democracy and human rights as those in power begin to possibly overstep their powers and exercise ideological agendas under the auspices of ‘protective measures’.
The obvious ways we can measure and understand the impact of the coronavirus is though data and personal stories and how the media reports the details. What is evident is that with the varied messages and measures about and for isolation, marginalised people, usually cared for or supported by third sector organisations and volunteers are largely excluded from national strategies. People who are homeless, people at home in dangerous or precarious safety situations, people on temporary visas and refugees and people with uncertain legal status mostly cannot benefit from the many efforts by governments to address the widespread health needs, unemployment and other economic consequences of stopping usual services and community activities. Therefore, the many organisations that generally provided services to marginalised groups also need to be part of economic and social strategies. More that ever community based and international NGOs should be included in national and local strategies for minimising the health, social and economic impact of the pandemic. It would be good to pass on examples, from around the world, of how the third sector has stepped up and made itself heard during this crisis.
For example, here, in Australia, third sector organisations were listened to and responded to after they began to get lots of calls from women now trapped at home and at risk of domestic violence (DV) - with no capacity to escape a situation exacerbated by restriction of movement, their partner losing work and becoming unemployed, a rise in alcohol abuse and other factors of control creating extra risks to their safety. The Australian government has made a large funding allocation to increase the capacity of DV Support services to assist in this time of crisis. This is on the back of reports that came out of China indicating a dramatic rise of DV due to home isolation strategies to limit the pandemic.
So I invite you to contribute to this blog and keep us thinking and engaging!