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The impact of COVID-19 on social inequalities

This article is a follow up to EYE online and is inspired by the activity "The impact of COVID19 on social inequalities and how to address them". EYE online aimed to compensate for the postponement of European Youth Event 2020 by proposing online activities to young Europeans in the framework of the EuropeansAgainstCovid19 EU campaign. All the activities of EYE online can be watched here.

 

In this session, moderator Yasmine Ouirhrane, co-founder and host of We Belong -a podcast that gives voice to migrants in Europe-, welcomes three speakers to discuss several types of social inequalities. Linh-Lan Dao, TV-journalist at France Info particularly talks about media coverage and Asian-based racism. Inès Seddiki, founder of Ghett’up -a NGO that promotes youth’s perspectives in Paris’ banlieue, tackles the narratives around French working-class suburbs. Finally, Italian Member of the European Parliament Brando Benifei gives a high-level policy-maker input from the EU’s institution and its actions around social inequalities.

 

The COVID-19 crisis has affected society in a unprecedented and irreversible way, in every sector and at every level. In this discussion, a special emphasis is put on social inequalities: how have they been rooted in, shaped by or challenged through the ongoing pandemic?

 

What has been the reaction to COVID-19 in Paris? Inès Seddiki, founder of Ghett’up, first tackled the discrepancy on the media coverage between the banlieue of Paris and the actual input from the citizens. She stressed how banlieue inhabitants were stigmatized and that a lot of stereotypes were found in the media and public opinion in general. For example, inhabitants of banlieues were often criticized for not respecting the lockdown. As coming from the banlieues herself, Inès could not face this situation without acting: she launched a Facebook series to offer testimonies of people living in French’s working class suburbs: “I wanted to challenge the narrative of the banlieue and offer a more realistic image of it.” In the series, Ghett’up tackles structural inequalities, such as lack of funding for schools, infrastructures and social services, but also social inequalities and the lack of recognition and of sense of belonging.

Has the pandemic caused a surge in racism across Europe? Linh-Lan Dao, TV-journalist at France Info, touched upon racist testimonies towards Asian citizens; from avoidance in public transports, to verbal insults and physical attacks, she explains that COVID-19 has led to a double amalgam. Firstly, Chinese people have been automatically perceived as carriers of the virus. Second, Asian people are automatically characterized as Chinese. This resulted in a situation were any Asian person could be perceived as a potential danger, thus becoming a potential target. As a result of this wave of discrimination, an anonymous Korean woman created the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus. COVID-19 can be seen not as a root of anti-Asian racism, but as a trigger of it.

“(COVID-19) is used as a pretext to be hateful against certain minorities.”

Linh-Lan Dao

How can the EU tackle this type of racism? Italian MEP, Brando Benifei, claimed that “It is a priority to tackle the necessities of youth, especially young people from minority and vulnerable background.” Now that societies are opining up again, the new phases of the COVID-19 crisis risk to be at the cost of the future of younger generations. “We must negotiate some solutions at the European level.” Brando explains there are two phases here: the first focuses on the growth and stability of European states, and the second on instruments to be built for the future of Europe after COVID-19. Brando claims that the first one already took place through several steps: the ECB (European Central Bank) bought national debts to support the efforts of member states, the EP unblocked 37 billions of euros to be used by local authorities to finance relief… However, the second step is crucial and sets the ground for Europe citizen’s future, may it be young or old. Brando finally acknowledged that during the pandemic, “errors happened because of a lack of a European Union, not because of errors from it.”

Is fake news a vehicle for inequality? Linh-Lan stressed the problems that arose during COVID-19 due to fake news, especially two phenomena: the virality on social media, which is hard to check online, and mistrust: “It is the government’s responsibility to reestablish the trust between citizens and institutions.” He also stressed the importance and urgency for governments to develop mechanisms to tackle fake news: “You can’t ban fake news because it is a problem of freedom of speech: banning fake news is a way of saying that you own the truth.”

However, tools should be given to be able to identify a fake news, to ask where the information comes from, and to understand the feelings and emotions that arise from an information. The same is needed on “educating people about advertising, which is a kind of manipulation.” Fake news is criminal, dangerous, and can spread hatred.

Should fake news be banned? Brando says yes, claiming that there are cases where fake news should actually be banned, especially when they’re used to advertise, pay or promote a statement that is factually false. If it is a lie that is demonstrable as its related to a procedure that is factually clear, there must be at least the possibility to avoid paid advertising: “The right to amplify your lies by paying is not a constitutional right, it is a fake right.” Brando concluded by stressing the importance of social integration of young people in society. It is important for young people to be represented, as well as their agendas.

Where do we go from here? Inès stated that “Minorities in Europe are citizens of Europe before anything, just like any other citizen of European countries.” According to her, the most urgent matter is to recreate a European project based on an ideal that we all work for, on a European level:

“We need more solidarity between countries.”

Inès Seddiki

Europe can be a great advocate for diversity and open mindedness, but for that, the European Union must show that we can all work together.

The topic was addressed in EYE online session “The impact of COVID19 on social inequalities and how to address them”, hosted by Yasmine Ouirhrane, co-founder and host of We Belong and featuring three speakers: Linh-Lan Dao, TV-journalist at France Info, Inès Seddiki, founder of Ghett’up and Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament.

 

The European Parliament's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Parliament cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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