Women step into the arena: on the ground COVID-19 fighters


Women step into the arena: on the ground COVID-19 fighters


Sunday, March 29, 2020

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Calls for social distancing and frequently washing hands have become the COVID-19 battle cry here in Jamaica and globally. Full or partial lockdown is in place, with schools and non-essential businesses closed. These are critical actions to stem the spread of coronavirus and are to be supported as best as possible.

While the announcements made by the Government of Jamaica are positive they do not address almost half the country, given the way our economy and society are structured, as:

1. Forty-one per cent of the economy is informal. That means most people don't even deal with formal banks or pay taxes — except maybe general consumption tax.

2. Approximately 700,000 Jamaicans earn at or just above the national minimum wage — contract workers.

3. Another 747,000 Jamaicans are neither working nor looking for work. They have just dropped out, seeming to have lost all hope.

4. Most people who work in the informal economy live in densely populated, low-income communities.

Looming Food Crisis

Women and men who take care of their families with daily earnings from their stalls, selling bun and cheese for example, outside a primary school have earned nothing for two weeks. The same for the people who work at bars. Construction workers have no income as many sites have halted work because companies are hedging expenditure in this time of uncertainty. Many ancillary workers at large companies have earned nothing for over a week as companies have scaled back operating hours, with their full-time employees working from home.

These women and men are all contract workers or workers in the informal economy. They only earn IF they actually work. They have little savings as many earn $7,000, or just above that, per week and use those earnings to support their families. As a result, there is a growing food crisis that is being lived today by many as they have no money for food. This will only get worse over the next few weeks as the COVID-19 health crisis itself persists.

It is important to protect large industry sectors and small and medium-sized businesses so Jamaica has an economy to restart and build upon when the COVID-19 crisis passes. However, it is also important that the country does not devolve into social turmoil. As Bob Marley sang, “A hungry man is an angry man”. Very little has been spoken about the plans to address, in a practical way, the scope of this looming 'food crisis' facing over one million Jamaicans.

As mechanisms are found to provide food support for these many families, the Government should consider distribution via mothers. Studies have shown mothers are effective in this way as they prioritise food and health decisions for their families, which include the children, men and parents in their lives.

Social Distancing in Inner-City Communities

In middle and upper class communities in Jamaica, and the wider world, social distancing is a choice most people can make. In low-income and inner-city communities, the concept is an unimaginable luxury.

In these communities people often share overcrowded homes or tenement yards. They don't have a realistic option to stand six feet apart. Streets and sidewalks are used as their verandahs as there is no viable way to stay inside all day.

The likely negative impact on the elderly and sickly who live in these densely crowded communities is of great concern. Health experts globally indicate it's a matter of when, not if, regarding the coronavirus impacting densely populated communities in cities like Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, and Mumbai. Kingston is no exception.

The Government can consider “anticipatory quarantining” of the elderly and sickly. Those identified people would be moved out of the densely populated areas before the community infection and spread take hold. National Indoor Sports Centre and the National Arena are two areas that can be retrofitted to accommodate social distancing. The healthier residents who remain in the communities have a higher chance of recovery if infected.

Once again, women who are primary caregivers in families can be critical members of the on the ground teams to identify such people, to enable effective implementation of such a plan.

This is a time for all of us to come together. Jamaica requires both physical distancing and social solidarity at this time.

— Imani Duncan-Price is a PNP spokeswoman on industry, competitiveness and global logistics, chief of staff for the leader of the Opposition, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Eisenhower Fellow and former senator. E-mail feedback to fullticipation@gmail.com

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