By Hayley Evans
The international response to COVID-19 has paid insufficient attention to the realities in the Global South, making the response Eurocentric in several ways.
The first post in this series scrutinized the technification of the international response to COVID-19. The second post looked at how the international pandemic response reflects primarily Western ideas of health, which in turn exacerbates negative health outcomes in the Global South.
This third and final installment analyzes the classist approach to the pandemic response. The international response has paid insufficient attention to the existence of the informal economy and of the needs of those who must work to eat — both of which are found more commonly in the Global South.
This series draws on primary research conducted remotely with diverse actors on the ground in Colombia, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom, as well as secondary research gathered through periodicals, webinars, an online course in contact tracing, and membership in the Ecological Rights Working Group of the Global Pandemic Network. I have written about previous findings from this work here.
A final aspect of the Eurocentrism that characterizes the international pandemic response is its classism, which stems from the Global North’s larger middle classes and smaller informal economies. For example, non-pharmaceutical interventions — like stay-at-home orders and store closings — are less disruptive to those of a certain socioeconomic class.
Without sufficient government economic support, stay-at-home orders are classist in the ways they fail to consider the livelihoods of those who have to work in order to eat, and those without places where they may reside for long periods of time. These people are, by and large, poor populations.
Similarly, legislation that mandates the closure of all but “essential” businesses — as was passed in Colombia, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom — is classist in that it specifically encumbers the informal economy. These measures restrict food access for rural populations and for other groups who rely on food markets for sustenance, as well as workers who depend on the existence of informal markets to make a living. The latter category is predominantly comprised of women, illuminating these policies’ additional gendered effects.
While some might point to government economic support programs like tax breaks, job retention schemes, government-facilitated access to credit, and working time reduction programs as mitigating factors, these measures do not benefit those who operate within the informal economy, as they are all levied in formal economic environments.
At a macro level, non-pharmaceutical policies are less disruptive to those living in the Global North, where there is a larger middle class and a smaller informal economy. Where the informal economy remains the largest — in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean — such measures debilitate populations and domestic economies. In particular, containment measures have had an impact on food security in many locations in the Global South.
The pandemic has, in some instances, presented an opportunity for financial benefit, particularly for those in the Global North — for example, “essential businesses,” which are often large franchises, enjoy a consolidated market, and behemoth online retailers reap unprecedented profits. As the rich get richer, those of low socioeconomic status are doubly marginalized by the classism that characterizes the international pandemic response.
Hayley Evans is a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law.