COVID-19 is more than a health crisis; it is also a human rights crisis. Many vulnerable groups, including women, children and young people, those in precarious situations or who are in need of special access to health services, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, as well as many others, have had their fundamental rights significantly threatened and violated. Additionally, in many countries, leaders have used COVID-19 as a pretext for neglecting their human rights obligations and even, in certain situations, to limit the rights and freedoms of a civil society. Human rights education is essential for those who have found themselves in vulnerable situations because it restores the tools that they need to defend and protect their rights. Human rights education is fundamental to the protection of vulnerable groups in a pandemic and needs to take place while strictly following local health and safety measures.
Equitas recognizes the many impacts that COVID-19 has had on the whole of humanity, as well as the additional challenges the pandemic poses in the sphere of human rights. We also recognize our need for diligence and our responsibility for protecting our personnel, our partners, our participants, and our volunteers against any additional harm associated with our activities during the pandemic. We are committed to offering safe transformative human rights education programs that uphold and protect the rights of all. The safety of our employees, partners, and participants in Equitas’ activities is always our priority.
Equitas has made most of its activities virtual since March 2020. The guidelines that we follow are constantly adjusted to conform to government and public health recommendations. Currently, the majority of Equitas’ employees are working from home, depending on their province of residence, and we will continue to adapt to official recommendations throughout Canada.
Since March 2020, all international trips have been cancelled. While we give preference to virtual activities, some of our initiatives, such as training and workshops, do take place in person when the regulations of the country involved permit. When an activity is organized, Equitas’ staff always collaborates remotely with our partners who are responsible for logistics and running the event.
Equitas’ partners play an active role in analysing the risks of our activities and implementing the relevant safety measures in each setting. Guidelines are therefore developed based on the local situation and in collaboration with our partners. Equitas acknowledges the expertise of our partners in the South and that context, lived reality, and constraints vary from one place in the world to another and we take this diversity into account.
Our organization is committed to providing the necessary information and resources to our employees, partners, and participants so that we can reduce the risks they may be susceptible to during our activities. Equitas requires that its employees, partners, and participants adopt pandemic-appropriate behaviours to minimize the risk to themselves, others, and the organization.
In-person activities only take place in countries where government regulations permit them. About two months before organizing an activity, we implement a rigorous risk-evaluation process with our local partners. If the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak is deemed to be moderate or high and this risk cannot be attenuated by applying preventative measures, the activity is simply canceled.
Equitas’ Canadian activities currently take place online and we will continue to adapt to government regulations. In countries where we work that permit in-person activities, our local partners help us to ensure that adequate security measures are taken. The public health regulations of the country where the in-person activity takes place must be respected: they are the minimum threshold for holding our events. However, Equitas and its partners may go beyond regional recommendations if they are judged to be insufficient. In such cases, we rely instead on norms that have been recommended internationally or in other countries. Here are some of the measures that we consider to be non-negotiable and obligatory for every one of our activities: