Corona tests our compassion

We are in the midst of an extraordinary global challenge. The world has been stricken by a virus that knows no boundaries. Many political leaders talk about the "war" against the virus. But there's no weapon that can help us get through the crisis, it's our ability to care for each other – from a safe distance – that will.

March 26 2020

We have already seen the evidence of humanity’s ability for compassion in difficult times. Now we need to join forces to protect the most vulnerable groups in society.

In Sweden, we can rely on the stability of our welfare system; we have emergency healthcare, health insurance systems for employees, support for businesses, and authorities which we can rely on for information. We know from experience that already vulnerable groups are those who suffer the most during disasters and crises in all communities around the world.

People in refugee camps cannot isolate themselves. For poor people living in crowded shantytowns with limited access to water, social isolation and handwashing are impossible. In already authoritarian countries, the power becomes even more concentrated when limitations of the right to assembly are introduced to further chip away at basic freedoms.

The work done by Swedish organisations is aimed at these people in particular. And in the same way as local forces in our Swedish municipalities, organisations, congregations, unions and businesses are valuable to vulnerable groups, so are the local actors who shoulder social responsibility in poorer countries. International aid is always about help to self-help.

Together, we, 38 Swedish organisations, support the work carried out by organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It is them who will contribute to stopping the Coronavirus from undoing progress by fighting poverty.

It is them who will work for democracy and gender equality, now even more limited by the Corona crisis. It is them who will find the solutions, even under the most terrible circumstances, should the Coronavirus spread uncontrollably in regions with extreme poverty.

There’s a lot to be learned from earlier attempts at preventing crises and disease control. During the massive efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we learned that girls who are taken out of school are at greater risk of being subject to sexual violence and becoming pregnant.

Reproductive healthcare is in danger of being de-prioritised when the crisis depletes already limited healthcare resources. Isolation puts children in difficult social environments in an even more vulnerable position. Women who live with violent partners no longer get breathing space. The Ebola crisis taught us how important work for women’s and children’s rights are during an epidemic.

How we get through the crisis depends on how much compassion we are able to show in this difficult time – on a national and global level – and on our ability to maintain a long-term perspective in the middle of handling a crisis.

The restrictions of freedom to assembly and mobility that are being introduced have to be temporary, and the tendencies of authoritarian countries to further concentrate power must be challenged. The world after the Corona pandemic will largely be defined by how well human rights are protected during the pandemic.

We believe in Sweden’s ability to rise to the challenge in this crisis, not forgetting the people who need our support – in and outside of Sweden. International cooperation is the road to a post-Corona world where we can be proud of how we dealt with the crisis together, not leaving those who were most vulnerable behind.  

The opinion article was published in Östersunds Posten March 26 2020

Mariann Eriksson, secretary-general at Plan International Sverige

Helena Thybell, secretary-general at Rädda Barnen

Hanna Dahlström, chief of staff at FIAN Sverige

Anna Stenvinkel, secretary-general at Forum Syd

Khalil Zeidan, president of Nordisk Hjälp

Erik Lysén, manager at Act Svenska kyrkan

Martin Nihlgård, secretary-general of IM

Elin Liss, secretary-general of Internationella Kvinnoförbundet för Fred och Frihet

Frida Dunger Johnsson, executive manager of Emmaus Stockholm

Petra Tötterman Andorff, secretary-general at Kvinna till Kvinna

Malin Flemström, acting chief executive at The Hunger Project

Anna Tibblin, secretary-general at We Effect och Vi-skogen

Ingela Holmertz, secretary-general at ActionAid Sverige

Stina Götbrink, secretary-general at Hand in Hand

Martin Uggla, president of Östgruppen 

Gerardo Lizano, chief of staff at Praktisk Solidaritet

Niclas Lindgren, director of PMU

Alexander Clemenson, secretary-general at KFUM Sverige

Peter Brune, secretary-general at War Child Sweden

Louise Lindfors, secretary-general at Afrikagrupperna

Klas Sellström, executive manager of Svalorna Latinamerika

Anders Malmstigen, secretary-general at Svenska missionsrådet

Anna Ernestam, secretary-general oatSOS Barnbyar

Deidre Palacios, president of RFSL

Johan Romare, acting secretary-general at Diakonia

Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary-general at Islamic Relief Sverige

Rosaline Marbinah, president of LSU – Sveriges ungdomsorganisationer

Annika Schabbauer, chief of staff at Operation 1325

Judy McCallum, Executive Director of Life & Peace Institute

Sofia Östmark, chief of staff at Union to Union

Alice Blondel, chief of staff at Swedwatch

Anna Sundström, secretary-general at Olof Palmes Internationella Center

Lars Arrhenius, secretary-general at Läkarmissionen

Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of Right Livelihood-stiftelsen

Ulrika Strand, secretary-general at Fonden för mänskliga rättigheter

Andreas Stefansson, secretary-general at Svenska Afghanistankommittén 

Carolina Ehrnrooth, executive director of Svalorna Indien Bangladesh

Anna Widoff, vice president of Svenska Västsaharakommittén