By Sophie Hale, Equinet Membership and Network Development Officer
Equinet’s new interactive tool gives some insight into how National Equality Bodies (NEBs) are responding to the crisis, as well as the current trends which are appearing in its impact on equality across the region.
Since March, Equinet has been collecting data from its National Equality Body (NEB) members on their responses to the COVID-19 crisis in order to build a picture of its impact on equality in Europe. We have now published this data online as a searchable resource that serves to illustrate regional trends and national issues, as well as the varied ways in which equality bodies are working to promote and protect the principle of equality and non-discrimination.
So far Equinet’s new COVID-19 database contains information from NEBs in 26 countries across Europe, and this number continues to grow, with information being added regularly. NEBs have submitted information on the complaints, requests for information and ex officio procedures that they are involved in related to the COVID-19 crisis, including some concrete examples of complaints they are receiving. The database also documents NEBs’ responses to the situation, including public statements, targeted communications on specific equality concerns and other innovative actions aimed at keeping equality on the agenda during this crisis.
The database has been designed as a resource for anybody who would like to learn more about the equality impacts of COVID-19 and the measures taken to combat it across the region. It is possible to search all the data by country, ground of discrimination, and types of information. There is also a free text search function for more specific questions.
This COVID-19 database is the culmination of weeks of data collection from our members who have been working hard to respond to the crisis and continue assisting victims of discrimination. As the situation develops, the types of equality issues are also evolving, as are the responses of NEBS.
In an earlier Equinet blog post, we highlighted the emerging trends and equality issues faced by NEBs responding to the COVID-19 crisis. This post, based on the data we have been collecting from our members, noted an increase in xenophobia and racism being reported to NEBs, particularly towards people perceived as Asian or Italian. Other reported issues included problems with labour rights, such as claims of wrongful dismissal and discrimination towards people with caring responsibilities. Moreover, NEBs reported that the crisis and the measures taken to combat it were adversely and disproportionately affecting certain vulnerable groups, particularly older people, and people with disabilities. From the latest information submitted by NEBs and available on Equinet’s online database, this trend of increased discrimination towards certain groups has continued. For instance, the ground of discrimination most often cited in NEBs’ work related to COVID-19 is disability, followed by age. Increased hate speech and discrimination against minority groups, especially Roma communities, also continues to be reported to NEBs in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.
As many countries gradually emerge from long periods of lockdown, patterns are appearing in the types of equality issues that NEBs are addressing across the region. Ongoing concerns regarding access to information on the pandemic for people with visual and hearing impairments continue to be reported by NEBs from across Europe. However, some NEBs report that positive progress has been made on this and other issues. For example, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights contacted the Minister of Health after receiving complaints about the lack of accessibility of press conferences and government communications about COVID-19 from people with hearing impairments. Since this intervention, the Commissioner has received a response that the government has taken these issues into consideration and activated an online sign language translation service on the relevant official websites and is planning further improvements.
Discrimination caused by the ongoing restrictions on travel and access to services, particularly health care, is another area of concern being addressed by many NEBs. For example, the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights has been monitoring access to healthcare for non-COVID-19 patients and communicating with government and private service providers to ensure that the right to health is respected and that any restrictions are proportionate and non-discriminatory. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman has received many complaints and queries regarding the COVID-19 restrictions on movement affecting people’s lives. These include complaints and questions from parents that do not live with their children who have been unable to maintain meaningful contact with them and from citizens unable to cultivate their land or access their pensions due to border closures with Serbia and Croatia.
The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women has been a key topic for many Equinet members too, including the increased domestic violence and discrimination against women witnessed during the lockdowns. The Spanish Institute of Women and for Equal Opportunities recently produced a publication addressing the gender impact of the pandemic and the importance of incorporating the gender perspective in the response to the crisis. Similarly, in Malta the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) highlighted the gender perspective regarding violence against women, financial and caring responsibilities, and the frontline roles of women in the health and care sectors, through a set of posts published on their social media.
Now, as many countries are moving towards the next phase in their response to the pandemic, new challenges are appearing and the need to monitor and protect the principles of equality and non-discrimination remain vital to ensure a recovery that benefits everyone in the region. Many NEBs are addressing concerns around the socio-economic impact of the crisis while others are working to ensure that measures designed to aid recovery do not breach equality and human rights laws. For example, the Dutch government had planned to create a phone application to track COVID-19 infections. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights was part of an expert group evaluating the government’s proposals and submitted guidelines that the apps needed to comply with to ensure they were not discriminatory or in breach of human rights. As result of the expert groups’ critical notes, the government is now reconsidering whether it will use the app at all, and if so, whether it should be developed in-house instead.
Many more examples of NEBs’ work and the equality issues they are reporting related to the current crisis can be found on Equinet’s online database, which will be updated regularly. Importantly, this database highlights the importance of NEBs as sources of essential empirical evidence to inform law- and policymaking in the field of equality and non-discrimination. Moreover, the launch of the COVID-19 database is a timely reminder of the need to create a robust infrastructure for the collection and use of equality data at the national level.
We hope that this new resource will be of use to a wide variety of people. If you would have any questions or would like further information about this tool, please contact Sophie Hale, Equinet’s Membership and Network Development Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org). We welcome any feedback and suggestions you might have to make it more user-friendly and relevant.