Equality bodies across Europe have moved with some speed and innovation to reorganise and refocus their work in the context of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and, subsequently, as a phase of ‘living with Covid-19’ emerges. In doing so, equality bodies have recognised and responded to new challenges and new opportunities in implementing their mandate to promote equality and combat discrimination in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and its management, and of the economic difficulties that accompany its effective management.
Equinet quickly recognised from this early work that an effective equality infrastructure at European and national levels would provide a key framework for an inclusive response to the challenges posed in managing the Covid-19 pandemic and in engaging in the subsequent economic recovery required. See the Equinet Recommendation for a fair and equal Europe: Rebuilding our Societies after Covid-19 for details.
Our new perspective “Equality in the Time of Covid-19: Learning from Equality Body Initiatives” builds on this recommendation and seeks to draw further policy and practice learning from the subsequent body of work done by, and future plans of, equality bodies in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic difficulties resulting. This learning is rooted in current policy directions at EU level. The perspective sets out further directions for equality body practice and European and national policy based on this learning.
The work of equality bodies has identified a disproportionate impact from the Covid-19 pandemic and the responses to it, on specific groups, including: older people; people with a minority racial or ethnic background including, in particular, Roma; women and girls; people with disabilities; children; and LGBTI+ groups. Socio-economic disadvantage emerges as an underpinning vulnerability for all groups.
Equality bodies emphasise structural discrimination and inequality as a growing priority focus in their work over the next period. This would have a particular focus on education, care provision, healthcare, digitalisation of public services, and access to justice, involving multi-ground issue-based initiatives, including a focus on groups holding multiple protected characteristics.
There is a challenge noted by equality bodies to plan for and pursue their interventions in relation to the economic recovery phase, engaging with the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs), the European Semester, and the Recovery and Resilience facility. Gender based violence is noted as a continuing priority by those equality bodies with a relevant mandate.
There is an opportunity noted by equality bodies to develop and communicate new narratives on equality as enabling an effective response to crisis and to do so in a manner that responds to the negative discourses that have emerged by engaging greater public support for and involvement in equality and non-discrimination issues.
At a policy level, a shift in perspective is needed from an emergency mindset to one that allows time to plan, predict, and take equality and diversity issues into account. There is a need to:
The emerging EU policy context responding to the Covid-19 pandemic provides foundations for this future perspective. This includes policy for economic recovery and to progress the European Green New Deal, alongside a concern to build a ‘Union of equality’, strengthening fairness in society, and reinforcing the equality infrastructure.