There is no doubt that the recent pandemic has brought about many changes to our way of life, some of which may be permanent. One of those changes is a better awareness of our world and its inequality.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need to address global social inequality. It exacerbated pre-existing disparities, such as gender, race, and socioeconomic status. The pandemic has also revealed the inadequacies of our current social safety nets.
Former sociology professor Amy Wilkins of Longmont, Colorado, explains how the pandemic has impacted social inequality and what we can do to help.
Global Social Inequalities
Global social inequality means that some people have more than others, and others have less. Amy Wilkins advises this can be due to many factors, such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on social inequality across the globe. The virus has disproportionately affected marginalized groups, amplifying pre-existing inequalities and creating new ones.
The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity among low-income households. The United Nations estimates that the number of people suffering from hunger is now over 820 million—an increase of nearly 130 million since 2015. This is due partly to job losses, reduced wages, and disruptions to food supply chains. In the United States, food insecurity has also been affected by decreased food assistance programs, such as SNAAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The pandemic has also had a serious negative impact on gender equality. BBC News reported the pandemic is set to undo decades of progress on gender equality, as women are more likely to lose their jobs, drop out of the labor force, and take on an increased burden of caregiving.
In addition, violence against women and girls has increased during the pandemic. UN Women estimates that there has been a 20% increase in reports of domestic violence since the pandemic’s start. This lack of security will continue to profoundly impact women’s mental and physical health and their ability to participate fully in society.
Race and Ethnicity
COVID-19 has also highlighted the disparities between different racial and ethnic groups. In the United States, for example, African Americans are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, according to the CDC. Many factors, including systemic racism, socioeconomic inequality, and lack of access to quality healthcare, play into these numbers. Amy Wilkins feels the pandemic has thus magnified the existing disparities between these groups and created new ones.
Access to Healthcare
The pandemic has also highlighted disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. People with underlying health conditions and chronic diseases are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. But these groups are also more likely to lack health insurance and have difficulty accessing quality healthcare.
The World Health Organization reports that 65% of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services like vaccinations, routine check-ups, and treatment for chronic diseases. The pandemic has thus highlighted the inadequacies of our current healthcare system and the need to increase access to quality care.
Mental Health Services
The pandemic has also had a profound impact on mental health. The pandemic’s isolation, anxiety, and stress have led to an increase in mental health problems across the globe.
In many countries, there is a shortage of mental health professionals and limited resources for treating mental health conditions. The pandemic has thus highlighted the urgent need to improve access to mental health services worldwide to address the increased demand.
Social Safety Nets
The pandemic has also revealed the inadequacies of our current social safety nets. A social safety net helps people if they get sick or have a health crisis. It can be things like free healthcare or money to help you live until you can get a job again.
In developed countries, social safety nets are often insufficient to help people during a pandemic. For example, unemployment benefits only last six months in the United States. And many people cannot afford to take time off work to care for a sick family member. As a result, they are forced to choose between their health and their income.
In poorer countries, these safety nets are often nonexistent. Citizens are often left to fend for themselves during a crisis. This can have catastrophic consequences, as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Can We Do?
Resolving worldwide inequality issues will require a concerted effort from governments, businesses, and individuals. Below are some specific actions that Amy Wilkins believes can be taken to address the social inequality highlighted by the pandemic:
Create Policies to Protect the Most Vulnerable
Governments should consider the impact of creating policies to protect the most vulnerable members of society, such as free healthcare, paid sick leave, and unemployment benefits. It can also include targeted relief for populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, such as women, minorities, and low-income individuals.
Commit to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
Companies can commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. These initiatives include hiring quotas, mentorship programs, and unconscious bias training. It can also involve providing resources to employees from underrepresented groups, such as childcare, transportation, and healthcare.
Support Organizations Addressing Inequalities
Individuals can support organizations that are working to address inequalities. This can include donating money, volunteering time, or spreading awareness about the issue.
Increase Access to Healthcare and Mental Health Services
Governments and businesses can work together to increase access to healthcare and mental health services. Amy Wilkins suggests expanding insurance coverage, increasing funding for public health initiatives, and training more mental health professionals.
The pandemic has highlighted the social inequality that exists across the globe, including the lack of access to essential health services, mental health services, and social safety nets. Resolving this issue will require a concerted effort from governments, businesses, and individuals. But it is an important issue to address, as social inequality can have catastrophic consequences. By coming together to take action, we can make progress in addressing social inequality and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to lead a healthy and prosperous life.