COVID-19 revealed to me how communities in Singapore have starkly different lived experiences.
In this MY 2020 series, Youthopia writers explore everything that happened in the past year – the good, the bad, the ugly – and also share their hopes and dreams for 2021. What’s yours?
With the announcement of the circuit breaker in April, many of us – myself included – dreaded being cooped up within the four walls of our homes. I remembered being anxious about my mental health.
Soon enough, however, I gathered that my struggles greatly pale in comparison with what some others are facing.
Perusing social media during the circuit breaker, I found that many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local activists had been sounding the alarm on a myriad of issues, from a spike in domestic abuse cases to the dire situation many low-wage migrant workers continued to face.
I was alarmed and saddened to learn that COVID-19 had exacerbated the circumstances in which vulnerable groups now found themselves in. For instance, the cramped living and working conditions of many low-wage migrants enabled the rapid spread of the virus.
While many of us stay relatively comfortably in our homes, restrictions on migrant workers’ movements beyond the dormitories have taken a significant toll on their mental health. Coupled with longstanding issues like wage uncertainty and salary disputes prior to the pandemic, low-wage migrant workers are arguably the most vulnerable to the coronavirus on multiple fronts.
Another example would be the LGBTQ community. Due to circuit breaker movement restrictions, a survey conducted by Sayoni found that one in five LGBTQ respondents lived in family homes that are hostile towards their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Being isolated from affirmative communities and resources during this period of physical distancing, several individuals surveyed recounted their experiences of physical, verbal and emotional abuse from unaccepting family members.
I was simultaneously heartened to learn that numerous individuals and collectives had stepped up in solidarity with the wider community.
Besides research and advocacy, many generated creative solutions for mutual aid and fundraising, such as virtual book sales, handmade pasta fundraisers, and the sale of original art works.
I was also inspired to chip in in my own small way. Besides donating some money to the Collective of Migrant Efforts, a coalition of organisations that come together to organise for migrant workers, I have also indirectly supported the efforts of a local NGO to fundraise and distribute funds for vulnerable LGBTQ people by designing publicity materials.
Not only has COVID-19 further exacerbated the challenges vulnerable groups already face, it has also made me more aware of how the quality of our individual lives are inextricably tied to the well-being of the most powerless in society.
While the pandemic is indiscriminate in who it infects, the effects are unevenly felt as evidenced by the examples of low-wage migrants and the LGBTQ community, amongst others. These communities face greater hurdles not because of their individual faults, but because they lack social, political and economic protections as a whole.
As such, I believe that we need to collectively recognise these systemic fault lines present across all levels of society. Only by doing so can we genuinely work towards forging a “new normal”.
Slowly but surely, we are emerging from a year that has greatly upended the status quo within our lives.
As unprecedented as this pandemic has been, I view it as an opportunity for collective soul-searching even while we outline our personal ambitions for the year ahead. As a society, we cannot afford to revert to old habits and schemas.
How can we more consistently advocate for the vulnerable among us? How can we meaningfully connect with others who are on the same path? How can we articulate our visions for a more equitable and compassionate post-pandemic world?
For myself, I plan to start deepening my involvement as a volunteer with non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), which advocates for the equitable treatment of Singapore’s migrant workers, in the year ahead.
By documenting qualitative stories alongside quantitative statistics, I hope to contribute to the push for greater long-term legal protections for low-wage migrants.
And I invite you, to imagine how you can be a force for change as well.
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