COVID-19 and Popular Protests
Demands for a fairer, more inclusive and less precarious future have been heard from protests in developed and developing countries alike for many years. These demands may intensify as a result of the current health and economic crises. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by all countries in 2015, includes commitments to eradicate poverty, combat inequality and build more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies. Reaffirming this vision now, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, can help to strengthen social cohesion and rebuild trust in institutions for the coming decade.
Many of the recent protests have been triggered by people’s dissatisfaction with public services (often the inadequacy thereof). The universal provision of quality public services such as health care, education, and sanitation is indeed essential to build more inclusive societies (United Nations, 2020). The importance of these services has only been reinforced in the wake of the current crisis, where barriers to access—such as inability to pay, discrimination and stigma—partly help to explain the pandemic’s unequal impacts. Comprehensive social protection systems also play a critical role in reducing vulnerability and economic insecurity and in solidifying resilience and social cohesion. Similarly, economic policies that focus on a sustainable, human-centered and job-rich recovery may help to address many of the grievances related to the absence of decent work for all.
Beyond complementary social and economic policies, levelling the playing field in the wake of the pandemic and regaining trust will require strong and inclusive institutions. This includes, among other things, economic institutions that empower workers, political and legal institutions that protect the most vulnerable, support social movements and greater citizen participation, as well as cultural and social institutions that promote equal recognition and challenge discrimination.