Digital inequalities were already high among girls, women and other marginalised groups before COVID-19 but as the pandemic led to an increased digitalisation of life, these disparities have increased dramatically. COVID-19 lockdowns have meant that girls are unable to go online at internet cafes, public Wi-Fi spots, schools or friends’ houses. In homes, access to technology is often shared with and monitored by family members, further limiting girls access to and use of technology.
With restricted or no access to the internet, girls are at risk of missing out on online education following school closures, suffer increased social exclusion, and they may not have access to reliable and relevant information about the pandemic and about sexual and reproductive health. The lack of digital access also had serious economic and health implications with the impossibility of working remotely and the maintained exposure to COVID-19.
It is true that in all countries there is economic and social inequality, which has a greater impact on the rights of women and girls, black and indigenous people, people with disabilities, migrants, among others.
There is no doubt that this scenario is also a consequence of inequality between countries, mainly between the Global North and South. This inequality should not be reduced only to the distribution of vaccines or foreign debt. These are manifestations of a long history of colonialism and oppression in different forms that is more evident today than ever.
This is the moment to radically reimagine our systems and institutions so that they serve the people. The pandemic has shown that when states choose to, they can act swiftly to implement policies and spend resources that would have been unthinkable two years ago. At the Human Rights Council, we must recognize this moment for what it is -a chance to breathe new and transformative life into the human rights system and everything that it is supposed to stand for.
Transitional justice mechanisms must respond to historic causes of violence and conflict by addressing structural oppressions that affect people based on their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, amongst others. Redress comes only when acknowledging how intersectional oppression continues to operate through associated stereotypes, stigma and discrimination, including those related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Intersectionality is crucial to ensure a truth and reconciliation process.
At some point there was hope that the Council would be a place where states would answer for their actions and where people could seek remedy for human rights violations - but that hope has faded over time. During this pandemic, the UN’s international cooperation mandate has given way to States’ and corporate interests. Barriers to entering multilateral spaces including denial of visas, ECOSOC status requirements, unsustainable cost of travel, lack of translation, lack of access for people with disabilities, technology access and safety issues, and so-called efficiency measures that restrict civil society participation, all take away the nuance and expertise that civil society brings in pursuit of social justice and equality. All of this is symbolized by the empty chairs throughout the UN.