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How COVID-19 Might Have Derailed Progress Made To Implement SDGs

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

By Bula Kalra

2020 has been a year of unprecedented adversity and has caused untold misery to almost every individual in some form or the other. From deadly bushfires to communal riots, we’ve seen it all this year. Incontestably, the most dangerous monster that attacked us is the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re still struggling for breath (pun intended) under its strong grasp. Besides the unfathomable deaths and destruction, both of our fellow beings and economies, the pandemic has also derailed the already wobbly train of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Representational image. Image credit: Getty Images.

The novel Coronavirus, true to its name, has presented a ‘novel’ situation in terms of the SDGs. Not only has it put the implementation of SDGs on the back burner due to the cropping up of a host of other issues that require immediate attention, but it has also undone a lot of SDG-related achievements.

Worse still, this setback is unlikely to be short-lived.

COVID-19 has completely altered the dynamics of the SDGs by changing the circumstances of the stakeholders in significant ways. This will stimulate the process of undoing the effects of the pandemic and ensuring a smooth sail towards achieving the goals, an arduous task.

If we direct our attention towards SDG 1 which aims to reduce poverty to zero by 2030, we’ll notice that we weren’t going to be able to accomplish it by that year anyway. However, the pandemic has worsened the situation by pushing millions into the realm of poverty due to loss of livelihood and increased cost of healthcare.

Similarly, SDG 2 which aims for zero hunger doesn’t present a better situation either. Education has been compelled to go virtual, which has created a severe digital divide amongst students. Not only has it affected the quality of education, but has also snatched access to education from millions of children, thus impacting SDG 4.

Despite assuming increased importance due to the communicable nature of the virus, the provision of clean water and sanitation under SDG 6 has also been severely hit. However, the worst affected SDGs have been SDG 3 and SDG 8- the ones that deal with good health and economic growth, respectively.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis that has created enormous pressure on healthcare systems around the globe. It has threatened several gains such as a reduction in mortality rates and effective immunization made towards the achievement of SDG 3. The pandemic has also pushed several economically developing and developed nations into recession and rendered millions of labourers and workers unemployed.

The burden now lies on organizations such as the United Nations and its various agencies which are primarily responsible for the SDGs. It compels the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, among others to dynamically restructure their efforts and policies towards the SDGs to align them with the demands of the pressing times we’re living in. COVID-19 has forced mankind to rethink the way we have been treating ourselves and the earth all this while and usher the required changes that can help strike a balance between what we desire to do and what we should.

Thus, in this ‘new normal’, it is crucial that the goals meant to achieve sustainable human and planetary well-being in every aspect do not disintegrate. All necessary efforts must be made to uphold and achieve them within the targeted time frame. Week three of the School Changemakers’ Program by YAH-India, themed Behind the SDGs threw light on these goals and took the young changemakers on a journey to understand their origins, stakeholders, relevance, and the organizations implementing them.

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  1. Sanskriti Arya

    The article accurately articulates the reality of a post Covid-19 world. The SDGs, with their already sluggish pace towards implementation have all but been brought to a halt with the world struggling to tackle the pandemic. The healthcare system has been overburdened, almost everyone is dealing with deteriorating mental heath due to isolation and uncertainty, millions of people have fallen into unemployment and hence, poverty, millions of students have no digital means of access to education and hence have fallen out of school, the world economy is in shambles and the pandemic is yet not over, along with its adverse effects on every single human on earth. Furthermore, the article rightfully states that global organizations must help the world recover from the pandemic and increase their efforts to achieve the SDGs in the decided time frame.

  2. Garv Sood

    Loved the article Bula. It was quite informative and gave a crisp overview of the progress made in the implementation of SDGs during 2020. It was quite a dreadful year and we cannot even imagine its impact on the lives of the less privileged and the marginalized sections of the society. Covid-19 dealt a huge blow to the goal of Zero Hunger by stripping people off their sources of livelihood in a matter of days. Due to the Nationwide Lockdown, the Midday Meal Scheme, wherein children in government schools are provided with free lunch during school hours, was suspended. This scheme acted as an incentive for parents to send their kids to school thereby increasing the enrollment in schools and also functioned as a successful welfare scheme in terms of eradication of hunger. Education also took a hit when the mode of teaching shifted from offline to online and placed the less privileged students at a disadvantage and as Bula wrote, “created a severe digital divide”.

  3. Mansi Saroha

    The repercussions of the Pandemic are inevitable and has affected the world order in every domain and SDGs severely which aims to make this place a better one to sustain life in the future.The time is uncertain has curtailed the development graph and it’s will take considerable amount of to retrieve at its intial pace.
    Although various organizations are responsible to ensure about SDGs but at the same time rather relying on these it’s time to ponder and work as individual.Like how one can contribute to these as one effort by an individual can pave a way for big difference.
    Also, various organizations should come up and educate individuals about SDGs and about it’s necessity.

  4. Sakina Nadeem

    We may feel that it is common knowledge that COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of many, but this article well and truly explains how basic human rights have been denied to masses during the pandemic. It gives us a reality check, making us realise that we may have gone further down our endeavor to achieve the SDGs by 2030. But the motive of the article wasn’t to tell us that accomplishing these goals is impossible. On the contrary, it highlighted the need for us to hope and strengthen our approach toward building a better society by giving us relevant statistics and the ‘real deal’.

  5. Leela Ajeet

    During this time of crisis, people’s priorities get altered. Trying to save the world by not mindlessly consuming plastic and driving short distances, is not as important as not getting the Virus. This results on SDG 12 getting damaged.
    SDG 10 isn’t doing much better as the gap between the haves and havenots increases, with the people in good companies with better salary get to work at home while our shop workers are laid off their jobs.
    Because of these difficult circumstances we in fact need to work harder to ensure that the SDGs are achieved and within the target time.

  6. Devansh Singhal

    The article primarily conveys the the post Covid-19 Period . The article rightfully states that almost each a nd every Sustainable Development Goat is affected by the health crisis . The pandemic has diminished the growth of the SDGs especially the developing nations who have suffered the most. The crisis has affected the economies of the world , have hardly hit . The article needs to appreciated for the very fact to indulge SDG4 and SDG 8 which are being most taken at last .The role of the international organizations have lacked in the pandemic who on the other hand have the key role to accomplish the SDG’s . Organizations for example United nations and it’s sub bodies need to efficiently play their role . What has abated the United Nations steps in the pandemic is the laxity of the United Nations to take reforms of it into consideration .

  7. Isha Agarwal

    Recession, global health crisis, deaths, unemployment, educational inefficiencies and inequalities and the list can go on forever. As articulately mentioned in the article, the Covid 19 pandemic withdrew importance from and heed to the SDG’s, as a holistic crisis gained stage. Our advances in the direction of achievement of the SDG’s were largely undone. I agree when the author says that international organisations like UN, WTO etc. must restructure and recommitt to the SDG’s. I also feel that individual or collective action on part of the more privelidged in helping to overcome the havoc wrecked will fasten this process. Off the rare positives we witnessed in the course of the last year was a nature guided progress in our restoration of environment balance and coexistence. We must not let this headway be reversed. A sense of global citizenship can help us work as a community towards our common goals. As YAH says it, ‘thinking globally and acting locally’ is the key.

  8. Jyotiraditya Katkar

    The Pandemic has impacted the SDG in most vicious way as the plans and strategies which the organisation had plan to accomplish this year got delayed due to many reasons and factors. The main harm which the pandemic did to the SDG are that the process and initiation of them were affected and did not let them achieve their aim. The Goals of the SDG were kit achieved up to the mark and as also because of Financial Problems and Coronavirus the Progress of the SDG slowed down.The people also due to the fear of many working together and social distancing toward the project also played a role in weakening of the spirit of the people and the organisation. With Proper care and sanitisation and following of the rules and regulation the SDG can be started again.

  9. Aditya Tiwari

    It is very well agreed this pandemic has bought a huge hurdle and has slowed our progress towards a healthy earth, But we should not think this would stop us from meeting the deadline, if we divide this burden among us and make a earth/human well being program and not leave it on the hands of organizations like United Nations , we might cover up this time which we lost like if we have homework to do or an project to finish and we miss a day then we speed things up and that’s what we have to do to achieve human well being.

    -Aditya Tiwari

  10. Riya Gupta

    SDG 1 aims to reduce poverty to 0 by 2030 but due to novel Covid-19 virus, efforts made in that direction have been rendered useless as people mostly daily wage workers and labourers have been unemployed. Consistent efforts made to implement SDGs are now not bearing fruit. One hears news daily about then increasing food prices and the impact of economic recession on not only low income households but middle-income households as well.
    Quality education has even compromised with the shift to virtual learning. There are many kids whose families do not have adequate resources to facilitate virtual learning, this severely impacts their education and future prospects.

  11. Aadhaya

    The flood of Covid-19 has bolted everybody to their homes. The virus is being spread through contact and with the new, more grounded variations coming up, the situation has worsened. This has halted the income of nations, leading to problems like falling of economy, unemployment, lacking resources, impact on the mental health of people, etc., around the globe. All 17 SDGs were impacted differently; some got pushed forward and had a positive effect, for instance, life on land and climate action. But health and well-being, poverty, hunger, and education were adversely impacted. Progress made towards them for the past few years bounced back, thus derailing the progress made towards them. It might require a lot of effort to revive this from the circumstances of this pandemic.

  12. Ridham Gandotra

    This global threat to health security underscores the urgent need accelerate progress on achieving SDG3 and the need to massively scale up international cooperation to deliver on SDG3 . All 17SDGs were impact differently, some got push forward like life on land and climate on action. Both these goals had a positive response to covid-19. Progress made towards them from the past 6 years bounced back to initial points. As per the results it looks like only SDG life on land could be achieved.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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