The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, known as CSW, takes place in New York every March.
The commission is the UN body charged with the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Every year, there is a review on progress made by UN member states during a 10-day inter-ministerial session. The CSW also features hundreds of side events organised by governments and civil society organisations. The CSW 2020 was meant to be a special one because it was going to review progress made 25 years after the famous Beijing conference in 1995. I usually plan a number of things around my CSW attendance such as meetings in New York and other states, visits to family and annual medical checks. For the 2020 CSW, I had at least eight speaking engagements and an event I agreed to co-sponsor. Everything was set. Then there was a message from the United Nations that the gathering of over 7,000 women and men had been cancelled due to fears of spreading the coronavirus. I was disappointed but not surprised. There are usually long queues to register at the UN, get through security, and to get meals at the UN restaurants and cafes, not to mention all the hugging and kissing of old colleagues and friends. It would have been a total disaster if the virus had been lurking around.
I decided to proceed to the US anyway to get other things done, cutting out New York. At every point of my trip, I shuddered as I thought of what might happen if there was a coronavirus droplet on any of the surfaces I came into contact with. I had a face mask (which I did not use because health experts have said they don’t really help) and plenty of hand sanitizer, so I did not feel unduly concerned.
What started to bother me though was the steady flow of information, which has gradually built up into a reordering of lifestyles as we know it. What some people call a ‘New Normal’. It began to dawn on me that it is so easy to take things for granted. I never imagined it would be necessary to shut down entire cities, quarantine thousands of people on cruise ships, keep workers home, shut down schools and run classes online, empty sports arenas and play to empty seats. Flybe, an airline in the UK, has already gone bust, and more might follow around the world.
The Italian healthcare system has become so overrun that they are having to make decisions about who to treat and who to leave to their fate. President Donald Trump placed a ban on European flights entering the US for the next 30 days, except for the United Kingdom and Ireland. I am praying he does not change his mind about the UK otherwise I will be stranded here till further notice.
The entire African continent has approximately 100 cases from 11 countries where the virus has been detected, with most of them in Egypt and South Africa. Perhaps, God remembered how many lives were lost during the Ebola crisis and has decided to spare us this time. So far, there have only been two cases reported in Nigeria. This is thanks to the vigilance of our health authorities who are applying the lessons learnt from the Ebola experience. However, with all the relief we must feel about the virus not finding a firm foothold in our midst, at the end of the day, we might be the ones who suffer the impact the most even if the number of infected remains very low. Global players in aviation, hospitality and tourism, sports and entertainment and so on stand to lose billions of dollars. Oil prices have dropped significantly and continue to go south.
Our local economy will be hit very hard, with hardly any of the safety nets being provided in other countries. President Trump announced a range of interventions to cushion the effects on citizens who stand the risk of losing their businesses or livelihoods. Similar measures will be applied in the United Kingdom and other European countries, and China will hopefully pick up soon. We have enough problems right now in Nigeria, another recession will be a nightmare for us, and it is staring us right in the face.
We might be spared the coronavirus, I hope we are spared the chaos it could leave in its aftermath. In the interim, let us hope this particular plague stays away by playing our part and following the advice of our health professionals. I hope someone can send a first-class ticket to the Nigerian pastor who claimed he wanted to go to Wuhan, China, to show them how to get rid of the coronavirus spiritually. It would be better for him to be over there than packing an auditorium full of gullible people over here, willing to pay N1,000 a bottle for whatever snake oil cure for the virus he might be selling.
As I sit here in the US, listening to the news and the endless talking heads going on about how people should ‘stay home’, ‘work from home’, ‘self-isolate’, I wonder about the multitudes who have no homes, no jobs, and no way of ‘self-isolation’ because they share whatever space they have with so many others. Situations like this come around every once in a while to remind us of our shared humanity and how far away we are from creating a world of value for everyone. It is at moments like this that we should seize the opportunity to make ourselves accountable to one another through acts of kindness, compassion and thoughtfulness. The world is diseased enough as it is.
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]