Minorities and COVID-19: The Impact of Systematic Exclusion and Neglect during Public Health Crisis
As Indonesia is bombarded by the incoming storm of COVID-19 crisis, citizens are hunkering down in their houses and practicing social distancing to “flatten the curve” and prevent our health care system flooded with COVID-19 patients. Some are living with their family/partners, while others are living alone in their apartment complexes or shared houses/rentals. As numbers rise and people isolate themselves, another degree of ‘crisis’ has been looming in the background of this, particularly its impact towards marginalized communities such as the urban poor, homeless population and women, be it cis or trans women. This article will shed a light on the complexities and multifaceted issues that these marginalized communities are facing during the pandemic as a result of inter-generational systemic discrimination and disadvantages they experience for years.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are around 26 million Indonesians who are currently living below the poverty line, with 25 million families living in urban slums and others living without adequate housing. They have been struggling daily to have an access to basic services, such as sanitation, safe water, including health care. For the urban poor and homeless, measures such as necessity stockpiling is inaccessible to them due to their economic capability. Social isolation has also caused the crippling of essential services and assistance for these communities such as shelters, community care and food. For the poor, the dominance of informal sector jobs means that for most of them, working from home is not an option. This is due to the lack of adequate social protection offered in informal work and the possibility of losing their daily earnings once the daily or casual workers do not come to their workplace. SMEs and daily wage labor will be highly affected by the closure of businesses and the rising prices of amenities due to the disruption in trade and business activities as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
Indonesia needs to take into account how the urban poor are affected by the isolation necessary to contain the virus while at the same time being at a higher risk of fatality due to the COVID-19 infection. The first step would be to ensure the access of daily amenities such as food and basic hygiene items like soap for these communities. Education in terms of the virus and access to basic health services should also be ensured, as they have equal rights to social security. The right to social security is also entitled to the homeless, thus it is the obligation of the government to ensure that they are sheltered and are given access to basic hygiene and food to prevent further contact with other potential infected persons.
Another group with a risk of being severely affected by the pandemic is women, including transwomen. Considering how domestic gender roles are divided in Indonesia, women would bear the brunt of housework and managing families. For most of women workers with a privilege of working from home, this would mean managing health, children, chores, and their own work would fall squarely on the shoulders of wives, mothers and daughters. Women would be further burdened with labor managing the crisis within the family unit as the prime responsibility holder for informal healthcare. In a more elevated degree, poor urban women, especially single parents are highly reliant on community as a support group for things such as access to work (most commonly domestic work such as laundry), food assistance and childcare. Social distancing and isolation would mean the loss of these resources for women in urban poor communities. We need to be mindful of our communities, especially those who need assistance even when practicing social distancing. Social distancing does not equal isolation of those who are vulnerable, in fact it is exactly those who are most vulnerable that we need to protect and be mindful, be it the elderly and immune-compromised (by self-quarantine), or families that cannot access daily necessities and essential services(by ensuring they have access to these items and services).
From the aforementioned illustration, it is clear that the pandemic put certain groups in a more disadvantaged position in multi-pronged avenues, starting from their inability to access healthcare services, their lack of access to social security and adequate benefits to support their survival, and the reduction of income or even losing their jobs. Not only having to worry about their health, these groups are forced to think how they are going to survive amidst the pandemic. For women, especially,
Other affected groups are queer communities, , especially queer children that cannot rely on their family as a support system due to homophobia. The policy to conduct social distancing in abusive homes can cause harm to their mental health. LGBT individuals, particularly youths,are at a higher risk for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to the lack of support from circle such as family. For individuals facing rejection or tension within the home or possibly abuse, increased contact with said circle can be harmful., Social distancing can instead distance them from their peer support system and trap them with abusive parents, especially for students and other young people. The role of community and crisis centers are highly required for these individuals seeking solace from the pain of home and constant contact with families that might not accept them or require them to suppress their identities. Phone or online counselling centers can alleviate these issues and provide solace towards youths and LGBTQI individuals with deteriorating mental health.
Trans-women face even further challenges during the pandemic. For trans-women, the lack of an ID card (KTP) is a consistent issue for within Indonesia. A systematic failure caused by alienation from families and state officials, this impacts their access toward health services such as BPJS, which requires documentation such as KTP and Kartu Keluarga, both of which they do not possess when they are thrown out or ran away from abusive homes. Possibilities of them not receiving COVID-19 tests (which are currently limited even for general citizens), health assistance and persecution creates a real threat to the community already stricken with stress due to decreasing substantial income. Trans-women are most likely to not receive formal education, not have access to formal jobs due to their gender identity and expression, limiting them to work within certain industries such as salons/beauty industry or sex work, and most vulnerable to reproductive health issues. For sex workers, the loss of income and criminalization hits twice as hard, especially trans sex workers. Social distancing means that they are to stop income activity and without the safety net of paid leave, severance pay or benefits due to their status as sex workers, leaves them vulnerable and without assistance. To practice social distancing effectively, affected communities need access to assistance without discrimination, be it government or inter-community aid. Donation efforts is a start but reaching out to NGO/service providers with contacts to the communities without any threat of criminalization or towards their safety is a pre-requisite for a government that has actively persecuted minorities. This is an essential step of goodwill for the government when approaching stigmatized communities. In conclusion, COVID-19 has even weighed the existing problems for marginalized communities arising from the systematic failure of government, not only in terms of essential health services but also the impact of active exclusion of certain minorities. Those most affected are ones without effective support system that the government has neglected. In slowing the spread of the pandemic, government throughout the world, including Indonesia, need to take into account their most vulnerable communities and to ensure that they do not reach those pockets where the spread might be fatal or causing it to be hard to contain in certain areas. Access to food, income, hygiene and health should be done without discrimination. With strategic response combined with assistance towards identified vulnerable population, the worst impact towards health and welfare can be managed and lessened. Ignoring discriminated minorities, however, will ensure that the infection reach said areas and persists long-term.
By Roberto, Vice-Executive DIrector of Sandya Institute
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