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Upholding human rights in times of crisis and pandemics: the right to equality and non-discrimination

PACE’s Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination held an exchange of views on  5 June 2020 on “Upholding human rights in times of crisis and pandemics: the right to equality and non-discrimination”. The exchange followed the appointment of Petra Stienen (Netherlands, ALDE) as rapporteur for a report on Women’s rights must withstand the COVID-19 crisis.

As highlighted by members during the exchange of views, the committee’s report should reflect the full scope of the issues covered by its work and activities. Members highlighted the importance of making vital information accessible to persons with disabilities and to persons belonging to national minorities. They also emphasised the need to provide access to services for women victims of violence, and the importance of reconciling work and family life when schools are closed and education takes place in the form of home schooling.

Members pointed out that limitations of movement have repercussions on victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence, including LGBTI people exposed to an increased risk of harassment by their families. Sexual, reproductive and health rights are also adversely impacted.

Women, who were in the frontline of the pandemic in high-risk sectors ranging from healthcare to work in grocery stores, have also been more affected by the economic impact of the crisis, for instance in small and medium enterprises where they are particularly represented. Cyber-discrimination and online bullying also appeared to be on the rise during the crisis.

The situation of people of African descent and migrant background in general is a reason for particular concern, as these people have been not only been stigmatised and targeted by scapegoating but also disproportionately hit by COVID-19 as a disease, as a result of systemic discrimination and a challenging social and economic situation.

This crisis is an opportunity to learn lessons and to avoid repeating the same mistakes: reliable collection of data and information will be crucial to this end.

The committee will discuss a report and draft resolution at its next meeting, on 24 June 2020.