The scale of the crisis we are living is due to “a disease that represents a threat to everybody in the world and… an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past”, said Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General. Like many other NGOs, we at Artistri Sud are witnessing the transformation of what started as a global health crisis into an economic crisis but also a humanitarian crisis, which is exacerbating existing inequalities.
A global phenomenon…
In an era of globalization, economies tend to be highly interdependent but a pandemic of this amplitude brings about an even bigger focus on how we are all interrelated. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is truly a global phenomenon that transcends all borders, being a reality for Artistri Sud here in Canada but also in Vietnam, Ecuador and Chile where our graduates live and try to earn a livelihood.
While many businesses are struggling to maintain their production due to issues in their supply chain, the reality of Artistri Sud graduates is different. Program participants typically create and sell products made using locally-sourced materials, which encourages their local economy and avoids dependencies. While many businesses are struggling to maintain their
production due to issues in their supply chain, the reality of Artisti graduates is different As a result, their struggles are more on the demand side with travel restrictions having in effect put a stop to tourism, thereby significantly reducing their pool of buyers. In addition, the travel restrictions and other lockdown measures mean that while some restrictions on shops and markets have been lifted in Vietnam, Ecuador, and Chile, many are still struggling to sell to their tourist target markets and new safety precautions are difficult to implement by independent businesses. Due to this, many are losing their livelihood and it is undeniable that there will be an urgent need for support as this global crisis unfolds.
… with different impacts
Although this crisis is global, its impact does vary a lot from one place to another as well as from one social class to another, further widening some existing gaps.
Unlike in Canada and many other developed nations, government initiatives in Vietnam and Ecuador have not provided relief measures that would allow entrepreneurs to replace part of their lost livelihood for an interim period of time. Similarly, while businesses here have been able to continue their operations by leveraging their existing online channels or investing in some digital tools, this type of opportunity is harder to seize for women with limited access to online technologies, a lower level of proficiency in digital literacy skills, and who have close to no savings available to invest in a change of sales strategy.
Gladys, from Ecuador, who has used her time in quarantine to improve and expand her social media presence, as to reach out to her customers in a different way.
In Vietnam, about three hours away from Wuhan, prevention measures began in early January. These preventative measures included actions such as temperature screening for travellers arriving from Wuhan and, soon after, implementing restrictions on travellers from Wuhan. Due to Vietnam’s strong efforts regarding contact tracking, savvy social media campaigns and quarantine measures the country has been able to have zero fatalities as a result of COVID-19. Since mid-April, Vietnam has started to lift the strict movement and social distancing restrictions with businesses opening and the economy progressively restarting. However, most of our graduates live in Sapa, a region whose economy is almost exclusively tied to tourism with about 2.5 million tourists visiting Sapa in 2018, generating approximately VND4 trillion in tourism revenue. From being tourist guides to selling handcrafted items to tourists, our graduates have been severely affected by the inability to earn income and some are suffering food shortages. While our graduates in Vietnam are facing hardships, many of them have experience with farming and have returned to or expanded their agricultural activities to be able to provide for their families.
Although from a health perspective there is an advantage to living in a rural area that does not have overcrowded spaces as it reduces the risks of contagion for these women and their families, it also means reduced access to mobile technology that can be crucial to access important information, such as essential guidance on preventive measures. In this respect, our coaches and staff locally have maintained their channels of communications with our graduates to share information, inquire as to their safety but also try to accompany them in finding innovative ways to earn a livelihood. For example, Mây Thanh, who had been making cosmetic bags as part of the ASSET Program mock fair, repurposed her sewing skills to make masks from hemp material, addressing the increasing demand for those.
Mây Thanh, who is using her sewing skills to make masks.
In contrast to Vietnam, the COVID-19 crisis in Ecuador is still very prevalent. Citizens are under lockdown; elders and those at risk cannot leave their homes and other family members are only allowed to go outside one day per week within a specific window of time. With limited time and access to grocery stores, Ecuadorians in the cities have been relying heavily on mobile applications that do deliveries, such as Grubhub. “But these mobile applications, as well as the ability for some families to have their children continue school online are privileges that are not possible for marginalized women, such as the participants of our ASSET Programs”, explained native Ecuadorian Adriana Lara, Lead Coach in Artistri Sud’s year-long Coaching program in Ecuador. In light of this reality, Paty, one of our participants who used to make jams and tomato sauce, decided to prepare meals and sell them to people in her community. The governmental measures also include restrictions from moving between regions of the country, leaving the remote and rural areas where our participants live more isolated, with increased vulnerability due to reduced access to information and inability for their inhabitants to get their hands on basic products such as candles (for light) and soap. We are working with partners to find ways to support them in these difficult times.
What’s next for Artistri Sud?
We have yet to make a decision regarding whether or not our ASSET programs in Ecuador in September and Vietnam in October will run as scheduled. The health and safety of our participants remains our top priority. We are closely monitoring the situation in both jurisdictions and there is a high likelihood that they may have to be postponed until later in the year for health and safety reasons as well as the fact that we now have limited time to carry out the steps that precede our ASSET programs. Participants will be informed as soon as possible with information about how and when the programs will proceed.
In addition to this, we are also preparing for the post-COVID 19 world, by equipping our participants so that they can capitalize on opportunities that may arise at the outset of the crisis. Our coaching program is being adapted with homework that specifically addresses the current situation and encourages the participants to find alternatives and develop reflexes to plan in the long run.
As agile as our graduates are proving to be, we are facing an unprecedented situation that will continue to present challenges down the road. “It’s certainly difficult to plan with so many unknowns,” says Dr. Jennifer Lonergan, Executive Director of Artistri Sud, “We rely heavily on committed donors and we are already seeing a reduction in funds. But the need is intense–now more than ever. Like our graduates, we’re adapting to the circumstances, figuring out how we can support them in real-time.”
Do you want to support women globally to become financially independent and make their voices heard?