Volunteer Blog – Pandemic Privilege

By Zainab Habib
August 6, 2020

Aasia wakes up at the crack of dawn, to the sound of her four year old son crying due to hunger. She looks around the tiny place she once shared with her late husband, where her seven children are crammed in a small dark room with no ceiling. One of her children moans restlessly, whilst the other coughs incessantly, as the call to prayer rings out from a nearby mosque. Aasia used to work at a local stitching factory before the COVID-19 pandemic put her, and many of her coworkers from her village, out of work. As she sets out to find work for the day, her heart is heavy, because she knows. She knows no matter how hard she works, the current situation is not at all favorable to her. She will go to sleep again the same night, knowing that her children are hungry, unable to do anything about it. But it’s not just Aasia who is facing these concerns; it is millions of other people who have had the misfortune of living in destitution during a time like this.

This tale of Aasia is an imagined personification of a woman living in a rural village and how the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has had severe effects on global economy and individual livelihoods. The unprecedented challenges that are the result of this pandemic include job losses, employment uncertainty, and an increase in poverty. A recent survey estimated that there are 61.7 million employed people in Pakistan and the number of people at risk of unemployment due to coronavirus is 28 percent of that total number. Hence, 17.3 million people are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic. (Gallup Pakistan, 2020)

Being economically stable during a time like this is one of the greatest privileges. I wake up every morning to the news announcing the latest statistics of coronavirus, information on social distancing protocols, and the impact on those affected by the pandemic. I check my phone and see stories of celebrities posting their medical results on Instagram and trending hashtags that are being updated every hour. I video call my friends and we discuss how quarantine is affecting our day to day lives and how much we miss each other. School has shifted online and my biggest concern is waking up on time so that I’m not late to my online chemistry class.

If you search online on how to pass the time during quarantine, you will find suggestions ranging from reading books digitally, to making ‘easy’ recipes with one’s families. Yes, there is a large audience who view these tips and hacks; however, not everyone has the means to engage in such activities. I feel as if it is high time we redefine our definitions of ‘easy’ and ‘affordable’. The least all of us can do is recognize our privilege, because not everyone has the luxury to afford the things that we do, regardless of whether we are in a global pandemic or not. It is vital to incorporate the concept of giving back to our society, in our daily lives.

Daily-wage workers have had to deal with the worst impacts of this pandemic. Having looked at the positive effects of Kaarvan’s work, I feel proud of being part of such an initiative. Kaarvan has helped multiple women in finding a platform to showcase their talents, and earn livelihood for themselves and their families. There are various cases of Kaarvan providing vocational training to women in rural areas, empowering them to step up and take charge of their own futures. With proper training, it allows them to earn for themselves and for their families, enabling them to become equal and productive members of their communities and society at large. A lot of women, who relate to the aforementioned story of Aasia, have benefitted from Kaarvan’s work. It has not only provided families with hope, but also with the means through which they may better their future. It has allowed women in rural areas to break social norms and work independently and take charge of their own stories. It has inspired and empowered multiple women, who once believed they had no hope left.

Human beings have the capacity to be unjust and selfish. However, it is extremely important to lead with empathy, and try to see things from another person’s perspective as it plays an important role in our social lives. It allows us to understand other individuals and motivates us to take action to relieve another person’s suffering. Giving back to our society is one of the primary reasons behind forming Kaarvan, and as a result of this, they have positively impacted hundreds of people. In order to break the systems of oppression within our society, it is high time we try and progress towards understanding, acknowledging, critiquing and accepting our privilege. It may be an ongoing exercise, but we should all try and make it a part of our daily consciousness.