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OSCE’s Koja: Women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced hit the hardest amid pandemic

Coronavirus-related lockdowns have affected everyone, especially vulnerable groups of citizens, most notably women, children, people with disabilities, those marginalized and the displaced, Ambassador Clemens Koja, Head of the OSCE Mission to North Macedonia, has said.

Skopje, 3 May 2020 (MIA) – Coronavirus-related lockdowns have affected everyone, especially vulnerable groups of citizens, most notably women, children, people with disabilities, those marginalized and the displaced, Ambassador Clemens Koja, Head of the OSCE Mission to North Macedonia, has said.

In an interview with MIA, he talks about the Mission’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

In addition to donations for the police, health workers and journalists, the OSCE Mission is also working with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to food packages for distribution to registered victims of domestic abuse, who are among the most vulnerable in society during this crisis.

What is the Mission’s response to COVID-19 situation in the country? How are you adapting to challenges in the time of pandemic?

During these hard times for all of us, we at the Mission are doing what we can to assist the Government and people of North Macedonia in responding quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have donated critically needed personal protective equipment to the government for use by the police and healthcare workers who are risking their lives to fight the virus.

We have donated personal protection equipment to the Association of Journalists for distribution to media workers, who are playing a crucial role in informing the public about the pandemic as well as the governmental measures to address the crisis, and a car to the Tetovo Red Cross to help their brave volunteers distribute necessary supplies to towns and villages across the municipality.

At the moment, we are working with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to donate food packages for distribution to registered victims of domestic abuse, who are among the most vulnerable in society during this crisis.

You mentioned helping those who are in need. How do you think the COVID-19 situation affected the most vulnerable in our country?

The COVID-19 related lockdown has affected everyone, but some more than others. Among the most vulnerable are women, children, people with disabilities, those marginalized and the displaced.

Solidarity and an effective institutional response are needed to tackle challenges such as the increased risk of domestic violence when families are forced to remain at home almost all day, every day.

Another vulnerable group is made up of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and medical personnel who work around those infected by the virus. It is important that they not be harassed or have their human rights violated, as we have seen happen in some countries.

We noticed that the Mission has been proactively advocating for an effective response to addressing the cases of domestic violence. What made you focus on this specific issue?

Lockdowns around the world have led to an increase in domestic violence. Having this in mind we work closely with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence to address this challenge. Because a survey we carried out last year showed that domestic violence remains largely underreported, we are working with our partners to reach out to victims of domestic violence and direct them towards the existing institutional support available to them.

What do you think about the disinformation spread during the COVID-19 crisis?

COVID-19 has generated a parallel pandemic of misinformation and disinformation. This is why we kept reminding everyone that it is important that they only trust and share information from reliable sources.

OSCE mission is active in media sphere, but although journalists are in the front lines of fighting COVID-19, still many of journalist and media workers are afraid of losing their jobs due to the economic crisis, your comment?

The Covid pandemic has created the greatest economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression. Sadly, millions of people throughout the world have lost their jobs and in all too many cases fallen into poverty.

Our Mission does not have a mandate in the economic field, but we will do whatever we can within our limited means to support the government’s efforts to soften the social consequences of this double crisis. This, for example, why we are providing food for victims of domestic violence, many of whom are left with extremely limited economic means when they leave abusive relationships.

Before the postponement of the elections due to the pandemic, the OSCE-ODIHR held a press conference announcing that early elections will be monitored by 250 short-term observers, but also by representatives of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe, as well as its long-term observers. It is uncertain when elections will be held, but given the new situation involving COVID-19, is OSCE-ODIHR ready to carry out the announced mission?

The ODIHR has deployed numerous election observation missions to this country and we have no doubt that our colleagues in Warsaw remain committed to continue monitoring elections in North Macedonia.

The pandemic opened a new chapter in education with the introduction of online learning. To what extent, according to your knowledge, is there a possibility for online learning in the country, especially in smaller and poorer communities?

Many experts say that the crisis is going to increase inequality throughout the world. Education is a case in point. With education online, the children of poorer families that can’t afford to buy the best technology are at risk of falling farther behind.

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