On December 10th Prof. Dr. Dr Tzu-chi Ou at the International College of Innovation (ICI), NCCU hosted an online workshop entitled “Facing Up to Sustainable Development Goals in the Wake of the Covid 19 Pandemic: Decent Work, Equality, Justice”. The event was sponsored through NCCU Office of International Cooperation’s Deepening Exchange Subsidy program.
The aim of the event was to investigate how the unexpected breakout of Covid-19 in 2019, and its continued prevalence around the world, has exacerbated global inequality. Taking stock of its impact on the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts speaking at this event were invited to address two critical questions: How has the pandemic affected the wellbeing of migrant workers when they continue to work to ensure their and our survival? How has the pandemic affected the wellbeing of women and children when they have been confined to their ‘home’ and when their contact with the outside world has been constrained. Dr. Isabelle Cheng, Dr. Hsin-Chin Evelyn Hsieh, and Dr. Ou served as the chairs of three panels. Dr. Bonny Ling, Dr. Lana Chikhungu, Dr. Ottis Mubaiwa, Rutvica Andrijasevic from the UK, Ms. Ratih Kabinawa from Australia, Dr. Andika Wahab from Malaysia, Dr. Beatrice Zani from Canada and Dr. Jens Damm from Germany provided their insights to the topics from their perspective. This workshop originated from projects undertaken by three participants at the University of Portsmouth, namely Drs Cheng, Chikhungu, and Mubaiwa, whose research focuses on, respectively, marriage and labour migration in East Asia, demography and health in African countries, and harmful cultural practices, particularly female genital mutilation (FGM).
Addressing the first question, Dr. Ling reminded that migrant workers, who were subject to poor treatments during the pandemic, faced more discriminations, lacked access to COVID-19 treatment and vaccination, and experienced harsher mobility restrictions put in place by their brokers, employers, and the government. This led to isolation of workers from the outside world. Her timely warning was echoed by Dr Andriiasevic and Dr Zani. Dr Andriiasevic urged the public to understand how the global supply chain of electronics industry took advantage of EU labor mobility and exploited workers of various nationalities in Central Europe by dispatch work and zero contract employment. Dr Zani focused on home-based Rumanian care workers, who found they were either stranded in Italy after losing jobs or continued to work exposing themselves to health risk. In spite of these structural difficulties, Ms Kabinawa reported how Southeast Asian migrant workers have self-organised and defended their rights. Addressing the second question, Dr. Chikhungu reported that women and girls around the world both in developed and developing regions have also faced all sorts of violence – rape, defilements, homicides, physical injuries and emotional violence. Dr. Mubaiwa pointed out that lockdowns has left many girls at risk of having no access to essential protection and support services. As a way of concluding and bringing Taiwan to the picture, Dr Damm reported how Taiwan and its Covid-prevention measures were perceived by German media and thus facilitated a comparative lens from which to juxtapose Taiwan’s self-identity with its intended international audience.
In 2015, 195 nations committed themselves to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. However, the prolongation of the pandemic has made it clear that some of the SDGs are not to be met in the near future, such as poverty eradication, zero hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, decent work and inequality reduction in the Global South and in the Global North. Experts spoke at this workshop reiterated that all these issues existed before, but the pandemic and the preventive measures have shed more light on how vulnerable migrant workers and women in East Asia, Europe and Africa are under current circumstances.
The realization of the SDGs is relevant to Taiwan because of Taiwan’s commitment to their universal values. This international workshop demonstrated that a comparative perspective is most effective to gauge the lingering impact of Covid-19. It also showed that the setback of the SDGs has to be assessed not only in terms of regional variations but also with regards to different segments of society. As shown by this workshop, making this comparison available for Taiwan-focused scholarship and activism has helped to promote transnational collaboration among scholars and will deepen their collaboration in future.