The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

For a better normal, not just a new one

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 21 May 2020, 07:05 Last update: about 8 days ago

The world, as we know it has been turned upside down in just a few months. Many are talking of a “new normal”. But will it be a “better normal” or are we sliding back, past the old normal to a worse one?

Looking back, this crisis has brought out the best in most of us. What we do next, however, will determine how truly successful we are in managing the transition to a healthy society and fully functioning economy.


Finding a balance between health and the economy is far from easy. It is a challenge for all countries. How far can we ease COVID-19 restrictions without putting our people in danger? How much further can our economy sustain the pressure without caving in?

The solution does not lie in telling people that waves can be found in the sea, and that we should all go to the beach to enjoy them. Neither will the economy find its feet through the opening of businesses with restrictions which may not make it worth it.

The solution is to bring together the health and the economy experts and find the acceptable common ground. And while this is happening, we must all accept the clear fact that the pandemic is not over. It is here to stay for quite a while longer. Although we can all hope and pray for things to get better, it may also get worse.

COVID-19 has challenged us all. Women, however, are bearing the brunt of the social fallout.

Take the simple example of a woman, at the end of her maternity leave, who needs to go back to work. With childcare services (rightfully) on lockdown, how can she fulfill her duties? She is at the mercy of her employer. Similarly, other women who are being called to return back to work (full-time or part-time), and who do not have the necessary family or social support, are having to make a choice between their family and bringing food to the table.

Thankfully, many businesses and financial stakeholders have now come to realise how important it is to accelerate the promotion of responsible business conduct and inclusive corporate cultures, particularly in promoting gender equality as an effective response to the crisis. This, of course, is not possible without the enforcement of policies such as equal pay for work of equal value, and zero tolerance for sexual harassment at the place of work.

These trying times have highlighted existing cracks in our society. Existing inequalities which may have been hidden were exposed fully. Globally, there is a strong movement to turn this crisis into an opportunity to make things right.

Just last week, the International Labour Organization, UN Women, and the European Union called on G7 nations to put in place measures to promote gender equality as part of the measures to address the COVID-19 crisis. During a virtual high-level meeting which brought together civil society, academia, ministers, business associations and trade unions, it was agreed that women’s economic empowerment should be part of the crisis response.

There is now a strong call to design and implement strategies to address COVID-19 related gender issues. In line with international labour standards and in preparation for the post-pandemic era, we all need to tackle the new challenges posed to the changing world of work.

Three challenges, in particular, stand out. First, last week G7 nations were made aware of the bigger need to allocate additional resources to address violence against women and girls. This scourge in our societies spiked during the COVID-19 crisis. It has made us question the effectiveness of our current laws, which always look better on paper than they work in practice.

Second, the fragility of our times is demanding further expansion and investment in universal social protection, including access to quality health care for all, immediate income and food support.

The health systems themselves and the provision of health care have once again highlighted the dependency on a strong workforce made up mostly of women. However, this same strength is proving to have its fragility in a structured society were women remain the main family carers.

Many women have left their home and families to save lives and care for the weak and vulnerable without endangering the lives of their dear loved ones. Men have had to step in and take on roles which up until a few days ago were covered by women.

Now that more men, out of necessity, have taken on more caring, unpaid roles, there should be more awareness on the value of such work.

Were it not for family and friends support systems it would not have been possible for women to be the much-needed front-liners, mainly in our health systems. We cannot afford to reverse this. New responsibilities and abilities were discovered and gained during the crisis.  Those who supported women must continue to support them afterwards.

Are we going to forget what we have learned during this crisis about ourselves as a society? I say we need to build on it. We have the brains to see this. But do we have the will to do it?

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