“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing


“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

Hillary Clinton at Beijing 25+ 1995
Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

28th September 2020

The Beijing World Conference on Women, took place in September 1995, 25 years ago! Those born after 1990 are probably too young to remember the conference and its significance. But Beijing was a true landmark event. It resulted in more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations, unanimously adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a vision of equal rights, freedom, and opportunities for women that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide (UN Women).


This was the event at which Hillary Clinton made the famous declaration, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security recently hosted an online conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright where both women recalled their experience of attending the event, discussed the legacy of the Beijing Platform for advancing women’s rights globally, and identified areas where we still need to see significant progress. Their conversation merits watching in full. This article focuses on a few key moments from their discussion, which serve to symbolise the struggle women face – then and now – in working towards full equality.


First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, 1995.

In marked contrast to how it is typically portrayed, and despite Hillary’s pink suit, Beijing in 1995 was not always an easy or glamorous experience. Many people wanted to shut down the message of women’s rights are human rights and the practices that obstruct women from claiming those rights. Clinton recalled how during her speech, when she was criticising certain practices towards women (some of which applied to the Chinese regime), the sound was cut off (they had initially been piping it out the conference hall into a big convention centre). Ironically, the sound was suddenly diverted into a department store in Beijing – a site where a lot of women would have been shopping. In a recent article for the Atlantic, Clinton wonders what subversive person managed to achieve that turn of events.


Furthermore, many people might not know there was actually a separate conference by and for NGOs in Huairou, a small town 30 miles outside Beijing, at which Clinton delivered a version of her speech. Both women recollected how this NGO conference was originally intended to be held in the centre of Beijing; however, Chinese officials decided to move it to Huairou in a thinly-veiled bid to make the conference as inaccessible as possible to those attending it. In order to get to the conference, the NGOs and women activists (including over 400 women in wheelchairs), literally had to wade through fields of mud to get to the conference tents! However, despite the mud and the teeming rain, Clinton and Albright said that they had never seen such enthusiastic, energised people at the event. They both acknowledged how crucial Huairou was in addition to the publicised formal work, which resulted in the famous Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was because Huairou was the key moment that enabled the NGOs and activists to collectively meet and engage in action around what was being formally agreed and, critically, to bring it home to their networks, their local communities and imbed it into their work.


Huairo, Bejing 25+ 1995

Women discuss the issues at the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum held in Huairou, China, Sept. 3, 1995, as part of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. (U.N. Photo/Milton Grant)

Clinton’s and Albright’s recollections of the events serve as a microcosm of the issues women face in claiming equality. Many people (read: powerful men and patriarchal systems and institutions) are threatened by the idea of women gaining power. For example, the Chinese authorities recognised the power of the message that was being shared at Beijing, and at Huairou, and the threat it posed to their power and regime. This is the reason why they felt a need to censor, sideline, and marginalise this message. Even as both Clinton and Albright were emphasising the “pragmatic” case for women’s participation and representation, e.g. the myriad research that demonstrates that gender equality helps to grow economies (amongst other benefits), those in power still didn’t want to listen.


While many feminists are understandably exacerbated that an economic case has to be made to justify women’s inclusion (shouldn’t the fact that we make up 50% of the population and are human beings be justification enough?), the mudslinging, backlash, and censorship that women face as they seek to participate, even in the face of all of peer-reviewed scientific evidence making the case for their inclusion, illustrates the depth of the problem women face in claiming power. The patriarchal system colludes against women’s inclusion, even against its own best interests. We might think money is all-powerful but, in many cases, culture and tradition are still stronger than financial capital when it comes to keeping women subjugated (expect more on why changing culture is all-important to empowering women to claim their rights in Part 2).


The recollected events also serve to illustrate the resilience and determination of women in fighting back against the many obstacles that are put in their way. In this case, literally wading through mud – in many cases, in high heels! – in a bid to realise their right to equally participate at all level of society and be valued as citizens. Because women have traditionally not been allowed into the political fold, much of women’s organising of necessity has come at a grassroots level and from informal action, often happening in parallel to formal efforts. While clearly women need to be – and deserve to be – represented formally too, this informal action also has huge power to bring about change and deserves greater recognition and support in its own right (consider, for instance, the incredible activism of the women of Sudan and South Sudan). Further, it highlights the vital role that NGOs and grassroots activists play in translating formal commitments into action on the ground and the need to value and join up formal and informal efforts more.


The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995 (U.N. Photo/Yao Da Wei)

As both speakers emphasised, Beijing wasn’t just about having nice conversations; it needed to be about commitments and action. This included implementing the Beijing commitments on US soil. To do this, a tight “tag-team” relationship was formed between Clinton’s and Albright’s roles as First Lady and Secretary of State respectively, and other key figures in the Clinton administration. This network helped them to continue pushing for women’s participation and representation in positions of power such as the Senate and keep a weather eye to ensuring US laws at federal, state, and local levels did not impede women’s equality. Both women emphasised the perennial need for women to work collectively, help one-other to rise up through systems of power, and ensure platforms and networks exist for women to come together globally to share strategies for getting the work done. This is an evolutionary process – not something that happens overnight – and the torch needs to be passed on from woman to woman, including across political parties, because women’s rights are not a partisan issue. Both women discussed the recent setbacks during the Trump administration with dismay. However, their overall message rang loud and clear – these push-backs have to make women even more determined to challenge cultures that prioritise fiction over fact and the subjugation of women over their full inclusion, participation, representation, and flourishing as human beings.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article which discusses the progress made since the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and where our attention must be focused going forward.



Featured photo by White House Photograph Office



Coronavirus and Care Part 2: Bringing About Change

Coronavirus and Care Part 2: Bringing About Change


Coronavirus and Care Part 2:

Bringing About Change

Protest sign advocating love

17th July 2020


This article forms part of our women and coronavirus series. Part One here.


Yesterday we started a discussion about how the coronavirus crisis is shining a light on the gendered nature of care work. The virus is also causing a shift in consciousness regarding the value of care work and caring principles to our lives. This appears a crucial time to harness the dialogues that are currently happening around care and achieve radical change in this area. In thinking about how to bring about change, several perspectives are helpful.

Firstly, I think the work of care feminists can offer crucial insights at this time. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ethics of care, also called care ethics, is a feminist philosophical perspective that uses a relational and context-bound approach toward morality and decision making.

Care ethics emerged from the work of Carol Gilligan, a social and moral psychologist, in the 1980s. Gilligan researched the difference in male and female responses to moral dilemmas. Through experiments, she found that women tended to respond using a different voice of moral reasoning which she called the ‘voice of care’. This voice was based principally on values of relationship, and thinking that was contextual and narrative. By contrast, men tended to apply moral principles universally to different situations. Gilligan called this the ‘voice of justice’, and this ethical juxtaposition is sometimes referred to as the care-justice debate.

While assuming that women are more naturally caring than men has been criticised for being essentialist, it is worth pointing out that second-generation care feminists view care as central to human life, rather than linking it to gender. Care ethics has also been labelled apolitical and irrelevant beyond the domestic sphere. However, care feminist Joan Tronto understands care in much broader terms, defining it as ‘everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we can live in it as well as possible’.

Care ethics is fundamentally based upon relationships and interconnectedness, particularly the relationships of care-givers and receivers. This is fitting because the coronavirus has newly revealed our independence and the value of community and relationships. The care ethics perspective recognises the centrality of care in everyone’s lives (again, especially true in a global pandemic) and the need for care work to be adequately valued.

In yesterday’s article, I referred to a phenomenon known as the ‘care drain’, referring to the fact that the majority of women who make up care workers (particularly those in the most precarious, low-status jobs) are from migrant or ethnic minority backgrounds. Because feminist care ethics has a world view that is relational, contextual and narrative, centring on women’s and other marginalised groups’ experiences, it can be a useful lens through which to interrogate the structural issues and power relations at the heart of the feminisation of care and survival, and to seek to design better, more caring policies and politics as a result of this investigation.

Feminist care ethics recognises that a feminisation of care, both in formal and informal care work, is wrong due to the burden it places on women, but also because, according to Fiona Robinson, “men are not participating in this aspect of what it means to be a human being”.

A practical approach to combating this lack of participation can be seen in the work of photographer Johan Bävman. Featuring portraits of the small percentage of Swedish men who choose to stay at home with their child for at least six months, his Swedish Dads photo-exhibition used a care ethics approach to shift societal attitudes and values and cut through centuries of conditioning. Despite Sweden having one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world, enabling parents to stay at home with their child for 480 days (while receiving a state allowance), women were still using 95% of the leave days. It was not “until the Swedish state’s support of the photo project…that a new groundbreaking imagery of fatherhood emerged”. Swedish Dads has now been exhibited in 65 countries and has been turned into a successful book that is on its third edition.

This creative approach could be easily replicated in other contexts, i.e. to highlight other marginalised groups and voices and thereby achieve seismic shifts in societal norms. This is helpful as we begin to think of ways to embed the values of care in our society, and to orient our politics and policies towards more caring ethics.

Secondly, and relatedly, many other theorists besides care feminists have advocated for placing values of care (and love) at the epicentre of our politics and policies and suggested ways to bring this change about. The wisdom they offer is crucial too. Central to American philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s text, Political Emotions, is the idea that “loving values” such as compassion and commitment can guide action and inform policy. For example, Nussbaum visualises a health service built on ‘care, concern, and moral equality’, which ‘rather than shunting people from service to service would “wrap around people”, nurturing them throughout their lives.’ For Nussbaum, the media, public projects and artistic endeavour can play a crucial role in whatever governments do to express, and bring about, love in politics and the public sphere. Some of the valuable lessons to draw from Nussbaum’s work is love’s potential to be an inspiring value which binds people together and motivates collective action; and her attention to creativity as something which can bring forth love in a way that normal politics perhaps cannot.

Feminist and activist bell hooks also promotes love as a political process to transform systems of injustice such as capitalism, patriarchy, and racism. She writes that:



A love ethic emphasises the importance of service to others. Within the value system of the United States any task or job that is related to ‘service’ is devalued. Service strengthens our capacity to know compassion and deepens our insight. To serve another, I cannot see them as an object, I must see their subjecthood.’

Referencing Martin Luther King’s declaration, “I have decided to love”, hooks says she shares the belief and the conviction that it is in choosing love, and beginning with love as the ethical foundation for politics, that we are best placed to transform society in ways that enhance the collective good. In All About Love, she notes that “All the great social movements for freedom and justice in our society have promoted a love ethic”.

Both Nussbaum and hooks share a specific recognition of the importance of emotions and values as a galvanising and motivating force that can inspire collective action, and which can be harnessed to bring about change.

And Ireland’s 2015 Campaign for Marriage Equality shows that harnessing emotions and people’s positive values can indeed be a powerful tool for securing genuinely transformative change. Dr Gráinne Healy was the chair of the campaign which culminated in the successful marriage equality referendum. It was a historic result with 62% of the Irish population voting ‘Yes’ to same-sex marriage in a country that was traditionally considered one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe. 

Dr Healy has since published a best practice guide on values-based campaigning in the hope of enabling other activist groups to replicate her success. Her key findings are understanding the values at the core of your campaign, tell the human story and  connect with people’s emotions and core positive values:


Values based campaigning involves leveraging people’s emotions and connecting people with values they hold dear or to which they aspire. It connects individuals to groups or communities. It increases engagement of supporters. It attracts those open to moving towards your proposition, because they now understand that your proposition links to their values and their aspirations

During this pandemic, people are hosting and tuning in to webinars and Zoom calls as never before. This time of global pause offers a crucial opportunity to bring the personal stories and lived experiences of women and other marginalised groups to the fore, sharing them with different and more widespread audiences. This can open up fresh spaces for connection, collaboration, and exchange, bringing new actors to the table; and allowing groups to collectively mobilise around feminist, care-oriented, principles.

The success of the Swedish Dads Project and Ireland’s Marriage Equality campaign point to the value of interdisciplinary cooperation and creativity in bringing about change on the issue of care. It could be beneficial to explore combining  the perspective of feminist care ethics with other disciplines, especially creative ones. There is also merit in drawing upon broader sociological insights and social research in this endeavour. For instance, researching the values and messaging of love, care (or both) that will best connect individuals to the change we need to see. 

Already there is a strong counter-narrative of austerity politics and a return to the status-quo emerging. Economic stories are compelling, but so too are stories of care and love. Why not harness their power? The time is now.






Featured photo by Ben Mater



Coronavirus and Care: Redefining the Value of Care

Coronavirus and Care: Redefining the Value of Care


Coronavirus and Care Part 1:

Redefining the Value of Care

Care worker with elderly person in a wheelchair
16th July 2020


This article forms part of our women and coronavirus series.


Every crisis presents a possibility. This crisis, the coronavirus crisis, is shining new light on care and its gendered nature. The good news is that, at the same time that women’s care burden is being exacerbated, society is waking up to the importance of care in our day-to-day lives and our flourishing as human beings. There is a crucial window of opportunity to harness this awareness and push for real change.

In late December 2019, Covid-19 arrived and the world as we knew it swiftly turned upside down. In our coronavirus-world, care (or lack thereof) is a critical issue. The pandemic proportions of this disease require enormous amounts of care at virtually every level of society.

While the virus has brought about an overarching care crisis, many people are experiencing crises in care that are not an inevitable result of the pandemic, but rather are directly linked to the unfit-for-purpose state of public infrastructure and the low value placed upon care in many countries.

For example, in Ireland, we witnessed our nursing homes become centres of a national catastrophe, rather than centres of caring for our elderly and most vulnerable citizens. There have been similar patterns in other congregated residential settings, such as Direct Provision centres.  There were issues with a lack of PPE for health-workers, reflective of a broader societal failure to protect the caregivers.

Despite a prevailing narrative that the virus is ‘a great equaliser’, not everyone is being affected equally and experiences of the virus differ significantly. As in previous pandemics, like Ebola and Zika, the gendered impacts of this virus soon became apparent.   One of the main reasons for the different impact upon women is the fact that care work (or the labour of care) is highly gendered, whether it is paid or unpaid.

Already, women carry out two-thirds of all care work done around the world, and much of this work is either unpaid or poorly paid. There are studies which show the value of this work is about two-thirds of the total market economy (ca. 10.8 trillion US dollars each year).

In the formal care sector, women are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus as they make up over 70% of the global health and social care workforce, according to WHO figures, and are thus more likely to be exposed in their workplace. If one expands the definition of the care workforce to include other ‘caring’ occupations like cleaners and supermarket cashiers, EIGE data shows women make up 95% of cleaners and workers, and 82% of those working in supermarkets.

Women are also more likely to take on the burden of care at home, and globally women’s domestic burdens are increasing exponentially due to the virus. For these reasons, the pandemic has been called a crisis for feminism; and a need to work to shift the balance of care between women and men is evident. In Ireland, a recent CSO report found as follows:


“Women are more likely to report Covid-19 related childcare issues than men. More women than men are caring for a dependent family member or friend because of the crisis and a higher percentage of women are finding it more difficult to work from home with family around than men.”

A NWCI survey also found that 85% of Irish women have increased care responsibilities since COVID-19.

Of course, it is necessary to think deeper than ‘women’ as a single category. The NWCI recently said that Traveller women are twice as likely to be looking after home and family, for instance. And, of the women who make up care workers, particularly in the most precarious, low-status jobs, many are from migrant or ethnic minority backgrounds, something which care feminist Fiona Robinson has referred to as the ‘care drain’. In the UK, it recently emerged that one in three Britons pays a domestic cleaner,  and in 93% of cases they are female, and disproportionately women of colour or migrant workers. In Ireland, there are many migrant women workers in our home care sector and in the nursing home sector, some of whom are still living in Ireland’s direct provision system.

These women can face layers of discrimination and lack of access to proper services, as well as heightened risks of exposure to the virus due to their overcrowded living circumstances – yet another example of the failure to protect our caregivers!

These issues have deep roots and are embedded in a broader culture of structural discrimination with gender, racial, class and other dimensions. However, the worsening of these issues due to coronavirus has led to the positive view that the crisis makes them more visible, harder to ignore or sweep under the rug. Another positive is that the crisis is redefining the status of care work in our society. For instance, people in many countries have been lighting candles for and clapping care workers, acknowledging the vital work they do. There has been a societal redefinition of who the essential workers are: the food workers, social workers, cleaners, supermarket assistants, transport workers, home help workers, and those providing support for victims of domestic violence. Many are women.

The virus has revealed our interdependency as a society, and that our health depends on each other; and the value of community and relationships. The realisation that we are only as healthy and protected as our most vulnerable populations is contributing to a growing understanding of the structural challenges around care-giving and access to care in our societies. Undoubtedly, this is causing many people to realise they want to live in a more caring society, and that we need caring policies to flourish as human beings.

There has also been a redefinition of the leadership qualities that are desirable in a crisis, and beyond, with a shift towards praising qualities of care, compassion, and love discernible, prompted in part by the extreme divergence in political response by different national leaders, and public criticism to many of the measures being enacted. This has highlighted the severe problems that arise when politicians don’t ‘care’ about their citizens, including worrying roll-backs on human rights and women’s rights. And – likely due to the lack of women’s involvement in decision-making around the response efforts – many other countries, including Ireland, adopted what might be called ‘uncaring’ or unthinking policies towards women and minority groups – the initial lack of access to the COVID-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for women returning from maternity leave here is one example.

Already there is a strong counter-narrative of austerity politics and a return to the status-quo emerging. But coronavirus has shown us that we need policies that will unambiguously value care and care work, and that will work to redistribute care work more fairly; as well as politics which is modelled upon broader caring values such as care for the environment and a Green New Deal. This cannot be a mere topical ointment. It will be necessary to go deep and address the root causes of the feminisation of care and other forms of structural discrimination.

Many actors, including civil society organisations and women’s organisations, have been calling for gender-equal, even feminist policies, both as part of the pandemic-response and beyond. They are demanding transformation across many areas including care. With society waking up to the value of care work and of ‘caring’ as a desirable value in our politicians and their policies, this appears a pivotal moment to harness the dialogues that are happening around care and push to make these policies and politics a reality.

How could such a paradigm shift be achieved?


Coronavirus and Care Part Two will be published tomorrow.



Featured photo by Dominik Lange



Why We Need Feminist Leadership in a Pandemic (And Beyond)

Why We Need Feminist Leadership in a Pandemic (And Beyond)

Let’s begin with some stark statistics. 49.55% of the global population is female. Yet, the global participation rate of women in national parliaments is 24%. Fewer than 10% of countries are led by women. 


The good news? Many of these women leaders are fast becoming household names (for the right reasons) due to their calm and creative handling of politics, including during the coronavirus crisis. 


A recent Forbes article discussed the common denominator in countries with the best coronavirus response: women leaders. It highlighted how the approaches of Angela Merkel in Germany, Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland, Sanna Marin (the world’s youngest Head of State) in Finland, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark, and Erna Solberg in Norway are “gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power”


Ardern in particular has been praised for her leadership style as well as for her proactive action in moving swiftly to lockdown her country (when there were only six cases) and making all those entering the country observe a strict quarantine regime. As a result of this decisive ‘elimination strategy’, New Zealand has had an extremely low number of deaths. Ardern’s proactive strategy is very different from  the more reactive decision-making strategies many other countries are following. 


While time will ultimately decide which countries emerge on top of the coronavirus league tables, the signs are positive that countries with women at the helm will have some of the best outcomes. 


Women are often said to bring different leadership qualities to the table, and the Forbes article highlights the leadership lessons these women have been teaching us: truth, decisiveness, positive use of technology and social media, care, compassion – even ‘love’, demonstrating how these characteristics have been revealed through their words and actions. 


These approaches can be contrasted with those displayed by some male leaders who have been stealing the Covid-spotlight recently: Donald Trump in the U.S., Boris Johnson in the U.K., Jair Bolsanaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladamir Putin in Russia. These leaders have been using the Covid-19 crisis as a power grab opportunity, and have gambled with the health of their citizens in the process. 


Times of crisis can act as a focus for what is truly important, on a political as well as an individual level. Covid-19 has exposed the deep-rooted structural issues underpinning our social, political and economic systems. It has helped shine a light on many ‘silent pandemics’ which have been lurking below the surface: the public health emergency, the domestic violence epidemic, and poverty crises even in seemingly ‘rich’ countries. It has shown how we are emphatically not ‘all in this together’, with inequities of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality (among others) greatly contributing to vulnerability to, and experiences of, the outbreak.


Many different types of leadership are  being modelled for us right now. This is a globally significant time to take stock and (re)evaluate – what kind of politics do we want to have post-this? 


Leila Billing’s recent article, ‘What does Feminist Leadership look like in a Pandemic’, explores what feminist leadership can offer us: an intersectional focus (a recognition that ‘we’re only as safe – or empowered – as the most vulnerable among us’), which also aims to make the invisible (the silent pandemics, the power asymmetries, the inequities) visible. Billing emphasises the need to imagine alternative visions for our society, and to create cultures based upon mutual care. 


Many countries have already begun implementing feminist foreign and domestic policies – this is something that deserves renewed attention as we rebuild post-Covid-19. The National Women’s Council of Ireland, for instance, has just published a Feminist Future Programme For Government document, calling on the next government to significantly invest in public services (including comprehensive public childcare) and infrastructure – an effort which deserves our support. This is not to say that all existing ‘feminist’ policies are perfect – far from it (many display inconsistencies) – however, they are a crucial starting point in imagining a more inclusive future for all. 


The unique experience of women at this time can help to inform gender-proof Covid-19 solutions, and inspire a vision for a post-coronavirus society. It is essential that we celebrate the achievements of female leaders in their handling of this crisis, ensuring that care, compassion and creativity become the cornerstone of politics in the future. 




Photo from Wikimedia Commons



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“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

The Beijing World Conference on Women, took place in September 1995, 25 years ago! Those born after 1990 are probably too young to remember the conference and its significance. But Beijing was a true landmark event. It resulted in more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations, unanimously adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a vision of equal rights, freedom, and opportunities for women that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.

Mother Earth’s Call to Action – Earth Day 2020

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Today, 22nd April, is International Mother Earth Day but this is an Earth Day unlike any other. With events moving online due to the coronavirus, this year’s 50th anniversary event is the first-ever Digital Earth Day. This Mother Earth Day also coincides with the Super Year of Biodiversity, begging the question – are we really taking care of our Earth? 


Mother Earth is a delicately balanced ecosystem supporting a diverse array of species, including our own. While biological diversity is an indicator of the Earth’s health, its loss is “a benchmark of humanity’s current failure to understand that we are an inextricable part of Nature”, according to the UN Harmony with Nature initiative. 


The UN’s environment chief, Inger Anderson, recently said that coronavirus is nature ‘sending us a message’ and that, while short-term efforts need to prevent the virus’s spread, the long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss. Otherwise, it is feared that the coronavirus outbreak may just be the beginning of mass pandemics.  


We are living in the ‘Anthropocene’ – the so-called age of man; a human-influenced age defined by our massive impact on the planet. Biodiversity loss in the 21st century has been termed the “sixth extinction” as humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970


Now, research is emerging that humanity’s destruction of biodiversity actually creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 to arise. This is because zoonotic diseases (diseases which spread from animals to humans) emerge from “biodiversity hot-spots” like tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets. Our destruction and disruption of complex ecosystems through human activities like mining, logging, and road-building causes us to come into contact with animals (some of which we also trap or eat), shaking the virus loose from its natural hosts. Our globalised world, with its constant movement of goods and people, then provides the perfect conditions for the virus to travel further and faster than ever before.  


Thus, while coronavirus is a human tragedy on a massive scale, it is not an unpredictable event but a reflection of our failure to care for our planetary home. In the same way that coronavirus is exposing the fact that we have a global public health emergency, it highlights how we have a planetary health emergency, too. 


Like any healthcare system, planetary health depends on its ‘health care workers’, including environmental human rights defenders who are at the frontline of environmental protection. Many are indigenous peoples, frequently women, struggling to protect their lands, environment and rights from corporate interests. This is often at great risk to their lives as governments turn a blind eye to the violence and intimidation they face; even despite research showing that protecting the land and rights of indigenous peoples is the best way to keep forests standing, and thereby reduce biodiversity loss  and habitat loss. 


Ironically, in Brazil, the coronavirus is weakening protection for the rainforest and the people living there, despite it being exactly this destruction and loss of habitat that allows zoonotic diseases to escape. This example illustrates just how much we, as a species, have become disconnected from nature, and from the reality that we depend on Mother Earth for our collective survival. 


Asking if coronavirus is ‘good or bad’ for biodiversity and habitat loss or for climate change is perhaps the wrong question. But this doesn’t mean that there is no right answer. We need to pay attention to the connection between the wellbeing of humans, other living beings, and Mother Earth – and to imagine how we can rebuild a post-coronavirus society that is safe for everyone and for our planet.   


For suggestions on how you can join the call to action on International Mother Earth Day, see https://stand.ie/earth-day-celebration-activities/. There are loads of different events to get involved in, including virtual panel discussions on women and the environment, and global conversations with indigenous people who are on the frontlines of environmental protection



Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr



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This Second Hand September, check out our list of 10 sustainable fashion brands worth investing in – able, tentree, boden, kotn, thought clothing, ref jeans, girlfriend collective, cuyana, amour vert, everlane.

Friendship SPO: ‘Nothing will happen if voices from the field aren’t put on a plateau’

Runa Khan, Founder & Executive Director of Friendship SPO talked to us ahead of this year’s STAND Student Festival about climate migration and Friendship’s work in empowering at-risk communities who face environmental and human rights issues.

PPE: “The Protector and the Polluter”

Masks and gloves play a vital role in protecting the public against contracting Covid-19. The growing concern PPE is its role in creating waste and damaging our environment. With daily life now accommodating to new health policies the more we throw away PPE the more we will have to deal with waste.