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The COVID Pandemic Showed The Need For Change In The UNs Structure

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

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed millions of people across the world, has been the most significant event in the 21st century. The pandemic has not only created a health emergency in every country but upended modern life, globalisation and the relations among countries across the globe.

The UN called the novel coronavirus one of the most challenging crises since its foundation after World War II. The pandemic’s social, political and economic consequences made the shambolic disunity of the global institutions that had been founded to manage and coordinate any instance of a global crisis piercingly stark.

Secretary-General António Guterres with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director-General of World Health Organization
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

Most glaringly, the World Health Organization (WHO) — the organisation tasked with leading the international response against the virus —has been slow in acting under intense politicisation. According to some experts, the UN is failing to perform ​its​ outsized role as the pandemic rages on across the globe.

Long before the onset of the global pandemic, neo-liberal institutionalists had informed us that some​ threats produce strong demands for cooperation because states cannot address them independently. Moreover, the interdependence of trade and travel amongst countries makes them mutually vulnerable to the pandemic and, therefore, intensifies the need for cooperation.

As long as other countries do not take steps to safeguard themselves from the coronavirus outbreak, a state’s borders will remain exposed to the disease’s transmission from outside its boundaries. Scholars of collective action refer to this as the “weakest link” dilemma — governments are only as safe as their weakest link in the network.

In a world order system, states must facilitate cooperation and collective action by delegating tasks to International Organizations (IOs). These IOs can undertake roles that most governments cannot execute alone, like coordination and information gathering, by pooling and centralising resources through a single agency.

International institutions such as the UN have the mandate to tackle the global problem, which has proven devastating for humanity. The UN was formed to deal with major crises of the world and forge cooperation among member states. Member states have put their trust in it to tackle this world crisis.

It has been successful to a great extent in solving the world crises that have unfolded in the past. Though there are various ways through which the UN tries to solve any global crisis, multilateralism and cooperation have been some of the successful methods. If states/actors cooperate, the most likely situation is a harmony game, where all countries live in peace and collectively solve the world’s problems.

UN Security Council
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

However, ​if states do not cooperate, the situation most likely resembles a deadlock, where states have strong incentives not to cooperate. In this situation of distrust and scepticism, states pay focus on their relative gains. Therefore, cooperation is the key to success in international relations.

Cooperation has been more favourable in the field of global public health than in other areas. The combined benefits of avoiding infectious diseases and limiting economic damage are considerable. But there is a somewhat perplexing lack of cooperation in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Politics and governance explain the readiness and responses of governments, societies and IOs. States will show no hesitation in cooperating with other states if they find it in their interest. For example, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. found it in their interest to eradicate smallpox amid the Cold War.

The U.S. and China had come forward on various issues in the Obama administration, from the financial crisis to climate change to the Ebola outbreak. The WHO, which functions under the General Assembly and specialises in​ anticipating and alleviating international health insecurities, has been incredibly successful in exterminating Polio from the world in the past.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the historical and structural limits of the UN, in general, and WHO and UNSC in specific. The WHO has been susceptible to the whims of powerful states and their ideals, which define their level of influence.

Part of the issue derives from the WHOs funding model, consisting of a mix of assessed dues paid by members based on their relative income and voluntary donations made by governments (and non-governmental entities) for specified objectives. Years of growing reliance on voluntary contributions based on member states’ choices for unique health functions, such as initiatives to combat obesity, have harmed WHO.

Furthermore, on 7 April, 2020, President Trump put a temporary halt to U.S. donations to the WHO.

Un General Assembly
Representative Image. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Other problems that the WHO faces include a lack of coercive power, decentralisation, bureaucratic issues and politicisation of member states. In the instance of the COVID-19 epidemic, the WHOs response was slow due to strong politicisation.

In comparison to the Ebola crisis, the WHOs reaction has been delayed in the case of COVID-19, from China’s initial reluctance to allow WHO specialists into the country to G7 debates over what to label the virus to President Trump’s hold on financing for the WHO.

The epidemic has also exacerbated pre-existing tendencies, such as geopolitical rivalries inside the UN and tensions within the UN Security Council among five veto countries. In addition, the political friction between China and the U.S. made the security council partially dysfunctional, thus, further delaying the collective action against coronavirus.

COVID-19 has posed a pressing need for global cooperation for finding ways to reinvigorate cooperation within the UN. The current crisis demonstrates that a robust and comprehensive global health framework is required, which will inevitably involve cooperation and coordination among states and other relevant actors.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for us to reinvent and reinvest in global cooperation mechanisms. Challenges like COVID-19 or any other world crisis demand long-term planning and collective commitment, not reactive and temporary crisis management — the UNSC’s usual modus operandi.

The hindrances are multifold but not impossible to surmount or avoid. COVID-19 will likely sustain several global dysfunctions and political conflicts for years to come, but it also presents an opportunity to rethink global order, for better or for worse.

However, that reimagining will most likely need to be done outside the UNSC, given that the UN organ was never created to be critical or to transform the status quo that it holds, especially the power of its veto members.

Featured Image via pxfuel
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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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