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New Social Compact

Comprehensive sexuality education protects children and helps build a safer, inclusive society

Image source: Council of Europe
Dunja Mijatovic

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Sexuality is an integral part of human life. Children and young people have the right to receive reliable, science-based and comprehensive information about it. Yet, sexuality education in schools is a sensitive issue. Ever since it was first introduced in European school curricula in the 1970’s, parents, religious leaders and politicians have been arguing, often in highly polarised debates, about how much, and what should be taught at what age.

Many Council of Europe member states have made considerable progress over the last decades towards delivering such education and improving its content so that it goes beyond biology and reproduction and truly equips children with knowledge about their bodies and their rights, and informs them about gender equality, sexual orientation, gender identity and healthy relationships (an approach often referred to as comprehensive sexuality education).

A renewed resistance to sexuality education

Despite overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sexuality education benefits children and society as a whole, we currently face renewed opposition to the provision of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Such resistance is often an illustration of a broader opposition to the full realisation of the human rights of specific groups, in particular women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and, to some extent, children themselves, on grounds that it would threaten traditional and religious values.

In 2019, a draft bill labelled “Stop Paedophilia” was put forward in the Polish Parliament by a group of citizens. It envisages the introduction of harsh penalties – including possible imprisonment – for anyone acting in the educational context or on school premises who “propagates or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or any other sexual act”. I expressed serious concern that the bill may be used to effectively criminalise the provision of sexuality education to school children. Most recently, the President of Poland, running for a second term, made it a campaign pledge to essentially forbid schools from teaching LGBT issues in sexuality education classes. Last year, in Birmingham (UK), religious communities and parents organised protests in front of schools that were providing information about same-sex relationships and transgender issues to their pupils. The recent adoption, in June 2020, by the Romanian Parliament of a bill repealing the mandatory provision of comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula is yet another example of this renewed opposition to the right of children to sexuality education. This move came after the adoption, in early 2020, of legislation introducing such mandatory sexuality education in schools, a development which was labelled by religious organisations as “an attack against the innocence of children.”

In Italy, as noted by the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), which monitors the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), the government’s initiative in 2015 to prepare “National Guidelines for Education to Affectivity, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Schools” was stopped due to growing resistance to education on sexuality and the stigmatisation, often channelled through disinformation campaigns on the content of such education, of those partaking in it. In the Spanish autonomous region of Murcia, it is now possible for parents to request that their children opt out from certain classes provided by external educators, should the parents consider that the subject or the providers are not in line with their views on certain issues. This could have a negative impact on these children’s access to sexuality and relationships education, as this subject, as well as other human rights education-related content, is often provided by external actors, within the context of the ordinary curriculum.

Dispelling the myths about comprehensive sexuality education

Campaigns have multiplied across the continent, disseminating distorted or misleading information about existing sexuality education curricula. They have presented sexuality education as sexualising children at an early age, “propaganda in favour of homosexuality”, spreading “gender ideology”, and depriving parents of their right to educate their children in accordance with their values and beliefs. Disinformation about the actual contents of the curriculum is deliberately spread to scare parents.

It is time to set the record straight. UNESCO has spelled out the aims of sexuality education as “teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.”

Contrary to what opponents claim, research carried out at national and international level has demonstrated the benefits of comprehensive sexuality education, including: delayed sexual initiation; reduced risk-taking; increased use of contraception; and improved attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health.

Sexuality education in schools is today all the more necessary as children in most cases can – and do — obtain information otherwise, in particular through the Internet and social media. While these can be useful and appropriate sources of information, they can also convey a distorted image of sexuality and lack information on emotional and rights-related aspects of sexuality. Through websites or social media children can also access scientifically inaccurate information, for example as regards contraception.

It is worth emphasising that sexuality education in schools comes as a complement to and not a replacement of what may be shared by parents at home. However, it cannot be left entirely to families. In what other field of science would we relinquish the education of our children to the Internet or families exclusively?

Comprehensive sexuality education is a powerful tool to combat violence, abuse and discrimination and to promote respect for diversity

The benefits of sexuality education, when comprehensive, go far beyond information on reproduction and health risks associated with sexuality.

Sexuality education is essential to prevent and combat sexual abuse against children, sexual violence and sexual exploitation. The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“the Lanzarote Convention”) requires from states that they “ensure that children, during primary and secondary education, receive information on the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as on the means to protect themselves, adapted to their evolving capacity.” The Lanzarote Committee, in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention, stressed for example that the school environment was particularly appropriate to inform about the widespread problem of sexual abuse against children within the family framework or in their “circle of trust”.

The importance of sexuality education to prevent children from falling prey to  sexual offenders online was highlighted during the period of confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As stressed by the Lanzarote Committee, during this period, children became increasingly vulnerable to online grooming, sexual extorsion, cyber-bullying or other sexual exploitation facilitated by information and communication technologies. The Committee urged states to step up information on risks and on children’s rights online, as well as counselling and support services. In this context, I note with interest that in some countries, such as Estonia, sexuality education continued to be provided as part of online schooling.

Likewise, sexuality education is crucial to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination against women. It should therefore contribute to conveying, from the early stages of education, strong messages in favour of equality between women and men, promoting non-stereotyped gender roles, educating about mutual respect, consent to sexual relations, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships and respect for personal integrity, as requested by the Istanbul Convention.

It is also an ideal context for raising awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, including access to modern contraception and safe abortion. Research carried out in the European region under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that the teenage birth rate tends to be much higher in countries, such as Bulgaria and Georgia, where no mandatory comprehensive sexuality education programmes are in place. Early pregnancy is not only potentially very damaging for the health of teenage girls, but it also results in serious limitations to their educational opportunities.

Existing sexuality education curricula often tend to completely exclude LGBTI people and issues, or even to stigmatise them. Yet, LGBTI youth frequently face bullying at school and are at higher risk of committing self-harm or suicide because of societal rejection of their sexual orientation. Like all other children, they should be provided with comprehensive sexuality education that meets their needs. Therefore, sexuality education must include information that is relevant to them, scientifically accurate and age appropriate. This means helping children to understand sexual orientation and gender identity and dispelling common myths and stereotypes about LGBTI persons.

By providing factual, non-stigmatising information on sexual orientation and gender identity as one aspect of human development, comprehensive sexuality education can help save lives. It can contribute to combating homophobia and transphobia, at school and beyond, and to creating a safer and more inclusive learning environment for all.

Children and young people have the right to receive comprehensive sexuality education

International human rights bodies have established that children and young people have the right to receive comprehensive, accurate, scientifically sound and culturally sensitive sexuality education, based on existing international standards. These include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and, at European level, the European Social Charter and the above-mentioned Lanzarote and Istanbul Conventions.

The right to receive comprehensive sexuality education derives from a range of protected rights, such as the right to live free from violence and discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health, but also the right to receive and impart information and the right to quality and inclusive education, including human rights education. In a 2010 report on sexuality education, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education stressed that “sexual education should be considered a right in itself and should be clearly linked with other rights in accordance with the principle of the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights.” The need for sexuality education is also acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations and is necessary to achieve several of the goals included in the agenda.

Key steps to improve the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education is part of a good quality education. Thus, it should be provided for by law, be mandatory and mainstreamed across the education system as of the early school years. It is of concern that, according to a 2018 survey, sexuality education was mandatory in only 11 out of the 22 Council of Europe member states reviewed.

Opponents to sexuality education often advocate for a right of parents to opt out on behalf of their children from mandatory sexuality education. However, international human rights standards on the right to freedom of religion or belief do not entitle parents to withdraw children from sexuality education classes where relevant information is conveyed in an objective and impartial manner, as also stressed in an Issue Paper on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights published by my Office in 2017. Therefore, I was pleased to learn that in January 2020, the government of Wales removed the possibility for parents to prevent their children from attending classes as part of the curriculum on inclusive sexuality and relationships.

The curricula and teaching methods should be adapted to the different stages of development of children and take into account their evolving capacity. The 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education covers a range of age groups, from 5 to 8 years old up to 15-18+ years old. As highlighted in UNESCO’s Technical Guidance, it is essential for children to learn about sexuality and safer sex behaviours before they become sexually active, in order to be adequately prepared for healthy and consensual relationships. UNESCO also recommends using participatory and learner-centred approaches that allow children to develop critical thinking.

Information provided to children as part of sexuality education should be relevant and based on science and human rights standards. Sexuality education should not include value judgments or perpetuate prejudices and stereotypes. The European Committee on Social Rights stressed that “sexual and reproductive health education must be provided to school children without discrimination on any ground” and that it should not be used “as a tool for reinforcing demeaning stereotypes and perpetuating forms of prejudice which contribute to the social exclusion of historically marginalised groups and others that face embedded discrimination and other forms of social disadvantage which has the effect of denying their human dignity.” Curricula on sexuality education should also be regularly evaluated and revised, in order to ensure that they are accurate and meet existing needs.

It is essential to provide families with accurate information about what sexuality education really entails -and what it does not- and to explain the benefits for all, not only children. Clearly, if sexuality education is to be accepted and successfully implemented, it should take into account the communities’ and parents’ cultural and religious backgrounds. Therefore, schools should be supported to engage with them, including as appropriate with religious leaders, and to take their views into account as long as they do not contradict the very aims of sexuality education, the best interests of the child, or human rights standards.

It is important to consult and involve young people themselves, first and foremost, to ensure that the content of education that is provided to them is relevant and adapted to their needs. Peer learning can play an important role. For example, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education decided at the end of 2019 to introduce peer education training programmes on sexuality education and HIV prevention in schools, to be delivered by an international youth organisation.

Comprehensive sexuality education should also be provided to out-of-school children and youth. This is particularly relevant for children and young people with disabilities, many of whom, unfortunately, do not yet have access to mainstream education. Their sexuality tends to be ignored, or even perceived as harmful, and they are therefore often deprived of any access to adequate information on sexuality and relationships, despite their heightened vulnerability to sexual abuse and exploitation. Online sexuality education can be a useful tool for out-of-school children, provided they have access to safe and inclusive digital spaces.

Lastly, it is of crucial importance for teachers to receive adequate specialised training and support for teaching comprehensive sexuality education, irrespective of whether part of the teaching is also carried out by external actors. Integrating training on sexuality education in regular teacher training programmes, as has been done in Estonia and Finland, is an effective way of ensuring that all teachers are adequately prepared. The delivery of sexuality education by schools should also be closely and regularly monitored and evaluated.

With challenges and resistance to sexuality education increasing, what is most needed is strong political leadership to remind society that access to comprehensive sexuality education is a human right and that it is for the benefit of all. Sexuality education is about knowing one’s rights and respecting other people’s rights, about protecting one’s health, and about adopting a positive attitude towards sexuality and relationships. It is also about acquiring valuable life skills, such as self-confidence, critical thinking and the capacity to make informed decisions. There is obviously nothing wrong with this.

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New Social Compact

Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale. The Antonio Guterres Edition

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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On July 18, 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a memorial lecture in honour of the great South African leader Nelson Mandela. The Secretary-General’s speech was clearly intended as a policy statement and designed to provoke a wide response. Guterres outlined “a new social contract” and “a new global deal” that are to replace the current international and even universal social order.

Inequality as the Principal Problem

Guterres was scathing in his criticism of the current world order, comparing the coronavirus pandemic to “an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built.” The pointed accusatory pathos of his speech would have been better suited to a silver-tongued preacher or a radical youth leader than to a member of the top political elite who has headed the most representative and influential international organization for the past three and a half years. The coronavirus is “exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: the lie that free markets can deliver healthcare for all; the fiction that unpaid care work is not work; the delusion that we live in a post-racist world; the myth that we are all in the same boat.”

The pandemic has set humanity back years, if not decades, plunging the world into its worst recession since World War II. Guterres believes that, as a consequence, entire continents will be doomed to hardships, poverty and even famine. Social and economic inequality is growing at an accelerated pace: the financial assets of the world’s 26 wealthiest people already equal the combined assets of half of the rest of the world. Glaring inequality feeds corruption, provokes financial and economic crises, fuels crime and causes epidemics. The number of risk groups is expanding rapidly and includes refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples and minorities of all kinds that are discriminated against and exploited. Inequality breeds political and religious radicalism, social cataclysms, destructive international conflicts, and civil wars.

The coronavirus pandemic introduces new dimensions to the issue of inequality: rich patients have higher chances of receiving quality COVID-19 treatment, and the Global North is better prepared for the pandemic than the Global South. The long-term economic and social consequences of this upheaval will also differ for individual social, professional, ethnic, and other groups.

What are the roots of inequality in the world? For Antonio Guterres, the answer is very clear: colonialism and patriarchy. The Global North is responsible for the shameful history of colonialism, whereby it established its centuries-long economic and political dominance of the Global South. Even though many decades have passed since the decolonization process concluded, the historical legacy of the colonial era has not been overcome. This legacy makes itself felt on a regular basis as everyday racism, institutional racism, the rise of “white supremacy,” the system of the international division of labour and global trade and the distribution of the rights and responsibilities of individual states within the global political system.

The patriarchal system that we live in today is the result of the traditional “male-dominated culture,” which for millennia has discriminated against and humiliated women. While great strides have been made in women’s rights (just like decolonialization has brought certain successes), it would be premature to say that we have finally resolved the gender issues that haunt our societies. The UN Secretary-General called himself a “proud feminist” and reported that “gender parity” has been achieved in top UN jobs (let us note parenthetically that, in 2016, he took the office that many UN members believed should have rightly gone to a female candidate).

So how will the “New Global Deal” advanced by the UN Secretary-General benefit the world? First of all, it promises to achieve social harmony by overcoming inequality – gender inequality, social inequality, racial inequality and inequality between states and continents. The “New Global Deal” is an instrument for establishing egalitarian humanism, where access to quality education, healthcare, food and water, decent jobs and social security is an integral part of our fundamental human rights and is not determined by an individual’s income or family wealth.

Guterres’s ideal and goal is to create a global community where people of any origin, country, ethnicity, social standing or gender can and should fully realize their potential to the benefit of all humankind. The UN Secretary-General supports the idea of universal medical insurance and universal basic income. In general, the world that looms on the horizon follows the principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”

Antonio Guterres and Ivan Yefremov

Reading Antonio Guterres’s speech, I was, for some reason, reminded of the leading Soviet sci-fi author Ivan Yefremov’s famous utopian novel Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale, which depicts a remote communist future. The world of Ivan Yefremov, just like the world of Antonio Guterres, is a world of egalitarian humanism. One’s place of residence, family status, gender and race have absolutely no meaning for Yefremov’s characters. They are all a thing of the distant past. Humankind has successfully overcome the cult of excessive consumption, and basic human needs for education, healthcare, welfare, social status, etc. are guaranteed by birthright.

This world is populated by beautiful, strong, somewhat poster-like people who have virtually no human weaknesses. For them, the meaning of life lies mostly in the arts and sciences and other elevated forms of self-realization. Personally, Yefremov’s utopian society has always seemed somewhat cold and uninviting, but in any case, it is much preferable to the current chaotic state of the global society.

Of course, one cannot suspect Antonio Guterres of directly borrowing Ivan Yefremov’s ideas. I doubt that the Portuguese statesman has ever read Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale or any of the Soviet sci-fi author’s novels, for that matter. Additionally, the concept of a “New Global Deal,” unlike Yefremov’s utopia, is not entirely communist. Guterres’s egalitarian world does have a private sector, but it is radically different from the one we have today.

First, the “New Global Deal” would involve significantly raising taxes for big businesses throughout the world, eliminating financial loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid paying taxes. Second, the private sector would switch its focus from making profits to social responsibility. Guterres is an ardent supporter of restoring the trade union movement in order to balance the relations between labour and capital. On the whole, one gets the impression that the UN Secretary-General sees the Northern European social state as the optimal state model.

How can global social harmony be achieved? Take education, for example. In order to overcome global inequality in education, we need to at least double the spending in this sector in the Global South, to USD 3 trillion annually. Clearly, the South does not have that kind of money, it can only come from the North. But in addition to education, we need to think about healthcare, infrastructure development, the “green economy” and gender inequality, where the South still lags significantly behind the North.

Essentially, the UN Secretary-General is calling for a revolution – if by revolution we mean a historically compressed process of a radical redistribution of economic resources and political power. The “New Global Deal” is focused on transferring resources and power not from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat within individual states, as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin had suggested, but from the rich North to the poor South. That is, the collective North is the nasty “global bourgeoisie,” while the collective South has the honourable role of the “global proletariat.”

The redistribution of power presupposes the reform of international institutions created mostly by the Global North, including changes to the top management of the United Nations, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund. The redistribution of resources means restructuring the international debt accumulated by the Global South, writing them off at least partially, increasing financial aid programmes for developing states and changing the terms of global trade so that the South will gradually move up global value chains.

Just like the classics of Marxism-Leninism idealized the proletariat and demonized the bourgeoisie, the UN Secretary-General idealizes the South and demonizes the North. Appealing in 2020 to the dark colonial legacy as the principal cause of the backwardness of developing states is only slightly more convincing than explaining the current archaic nature of Russian politics by the pernicious legacy of serfdom. The experience of post-colonial development is too variegated for such generalizations. For instance, South Korea experienced decades of extremely harsh Japanese colonial rule, and then the totally destructive war of 1950–1953. Nevertheless, almost no one would call South Korea a backward state today, or a victim of its colonial past.

Antonio Guterres has brought his many years of experience as a European social democrat to the activities of the United Nations. This experience certainly remains relevant today. However, the attempts of European social democrats over the years to resolve gender, social or global problems by mechanically redistributing resources have repeatedly demonstrated their limitations. It is no coincidence that European social democracy today is going through a clear identity crisis. To prepare the next edition of Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale, the UN Secretary-General should find a co-author with a radically different experience, someone like Elon Musk.

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Life and travel in a new normality

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Weary of the COVID-19 epidemic and feeling the pinch of significant financial losses during the months of the coronavirus crisis, the world is in a hurry to open borders, restart air traffic and resume tourist travel without even waiting for the pandemic to fizzle out. Simultaneously, many countries are doubling down on developing and testing vaccines and drugs against this dangerous scourge. Many heads of state hope that once this pandemic is over, everything will return to normal. Will it really? Will we have to live in a changed reality?

… Many scientists, physicians, experts and politicians around the world are trying to find answers to these questions. Many researchers believe that international tourism, which until recently had been on the rise, was among the economic sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. It is no secret that many small, and not so small countries now live off inbound tourism. According to experts, this year the tour industry as a whole may lose up to $3.3 trillion and a huge number of jobs. Small wonder, therefore, that after three months of isolation and border closures, the industry just can’t wait to get back into business and make up for the lost time. It is against this backdrop that the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is publishing new data about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this popular sector.

UNWTO analysts emphasize the need for responsibility, safety and protection of tourists when travel restrictions are lifted, and reiterate the need for a strong commitment to supporting tourism as an important driver of a global economic recovery.

While in some parts of the world, above all in Europe and America, tourism, domestic as well as international, is now resuming, many travel restrictions still remain. Fully aware of this, the UNWTO has reiterated its call on governments and international organizations to support tourism, a lifeline for millions and the backbone of the economy. Measures being implemented to this effect by governments include a gradual lifting of restrictions, creation of tourist corridors, resumption of some international flights, and improvement of safety and hygiene protocols.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is urging tour industries around the globe to mandate the use of face masks as protection against the spread of the COVID-19 infection. Moreover, such safety measures will have to be applied for quite some time. In addition, the WTTC recently released new guidelines for safe and hassle-free travel, including testing and monitoring, frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and more.

Responsible Travel Guidelines have been developed for the entire global travel and tourism sector focusing on measures to safely steer business to car rental companies, airports, tour operators, sightseeing attractions, etc.

European media, meanwhile, continues to report paradoxical cases in the countries of Ibero-America. For example, Spanish newspapers write about Barcelona’s historic Liceu Opera opening for its first concert after months of lockdown. However, instead of playing to an audience filled with art-loving VIPs, the UceLi string quartet serenaded a leafy audience of 2,292 plants. The “Concert for the Bio-Public” conceived by conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia marked the theater’s reopening to the public after Spain ended its state of emergency in June. The well-educated, albeit disturbingly silent audience, that featured a variety of plants, including fig trees and palms, brought in by local nurseries, enjoyed the performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi before being handed over tolocal health workers “in recognition of their dedication to the pandemic.” The concert was broadcast live on the theater’s website.

Recent polls in Spain show that more than 65 percent of the country’s citizens will spend their vacations at home. According to a survey conducted by the Spanish government’s Center for Sociological Research, most Spaniards are not going on vacation this summer, and only one in ten plans to go abroad. After the coronavirus pandemic, 65.7 percent of respondents said they ruled out going on vacation, and seven percent were undecided. Of the meager 27.2 percent who intend to go on vacation, over 90 percent will opt for domestic destinations, and only six percent would like to go abroad. Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 28,000 deaths, is opening its borders to almost everyone in the European Union.

However, representatives of Spain’s tour business, which accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP, fear that in the event or a new coronavirus outbreak their clients could become infected or get stranded in a foreign country. Meanwhile, people in some countries already feel the psychological impact of the pandemic, with studies showing that those who survived the quarantine now value their work and personal space more than before. Going to work reflects a certain degree of harmony in one’s life, when someone does not feel alone, left one-on-one with everyday home routine. Not to mention the importance of earning money, of course. As for personal space, people have learned to enjoy being alone, reading a book, writing poems, whatever.  Not so when there are several people sharing a small apartment and having to give up some of their habits and hobbies. People get tired of each other. In April-May, many complained about family problems and divorces, but psychologists say that the number of such complaints has been going down and that the need to maintain social distancing has taught people to build personal boundaries  – a habit, which in some countries was seriously weakened during the times of collectivism. The modern generation has also learned a lot about viruses and infections, hygiene and sanitation. And, of course, after months of forced self-isolation, many people now prefer to promenade and travel more than they did before.

Experts say that the worldwide slogan “We Will Travel Again” contains not only a promise to return to normal life, but also a commitment to rebuild a sector faced with the need to resist, rethink and adapt to new market demands and make sure that tourists always feel safe wherever they go.

The prominent Spanish tour business expert, journalist and publisher José Carlos de Santiago recently saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” In an article, published in his magazine Excelencias, referring to the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of tourism activities in the world, he writes that recent global research gives a reason for cautious optimism, not only in Europe where the pandemic curve begins to go down, and more decisive measures are taken to contain the spread of infection. In the Americas, the Caribbean islands are opening their borders to international tourism: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Montego Bay have courageously reopened to international visitors and North American planes are already landing there in compliance with strict COVID-19 health regulations. New standards include sanitary controls, travelers are checked before flying, the use of digital technologies has been expanded, additional disinfection is done both inside airports and on the planes, payment for tickets and services are made with credit cards and when with cash, then with the mandatory use of face masks. José Carlos de Santiago adds, however, that according to World Tourism Organization experts, the first signs of recovery will not be felt before the last quarter of 2020, and underscores the need to move towards more sustainable tourism in economic, social and environmental aspects. The road to recovery is just beginning, and as the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer, many questions still remain, the journalist concludes.

Caribbean News Digital online newspaper on tourism has published a list of nine major short- and long-term changes that the tour industry will go through in the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Thus, when they reopen, the theme parks, museums and other highlights that usually attract a great number of people will deal with smaller and more controlled crowds. The museums will also try to make sure that visitors feel safe and are properly separated from each other. The requirement for wearing face masks may also remain, and antiviral cleaning will be carried out throughout the day.

Airlines already require that passengers and personnel all wear face masks, refuse to serve food and drinks during flights, and increase the frequency of cleaning. Some are now asking travelers to fill out medical questionnaires, and check passengers’ temperature, but federal authorities are taking additional steps to get this done.

In a recently released guide, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) outlines a list of new regulations. Airports are also changing their modus operandi and may revise some rules for the passengers’ movement in and around the terminals. When travel resumes in many countries, the initial focus will be on domestic tourism. As for international tourism, much depends on the situation with the epidemic in each country. While airlines may believe that they charge passengers for everything, from seat selection to baggage check-in, in fact, deregulation has reduced the cost of one mile of flight, making international travel more affordable than ever before. Some travelers fear, however, that due to the pandemic the airlines may reduce the number of passengers flying overseas, thus jacking up the cost of other international routes.

Since the big problems caused by the COVID-19 epidemic arose in mid-March 2020, there are two main questions that have been dogging the cruise industry: when will ships return to sea with passengers? And what will cruise tourism look like in the future?

One thing is clear: it will take some time before cruise ships return to sea. When they do, they will hardly be as full of passengers as they were before the pandemic struck.

Temperature tests are likely to become routine. The construction of new cruise ships will almost certainly be delayed and travel routes may temporarily change.

Some major cruise operators recently announced that, among other measures, they are going to replace air conditioners on their cruise ships with so-called “medical grade air filters,” introduce contact-free temperature control for passengers and increase the frequency of cleaning all areas.

Temperature control will become mandatory, self-service buffets will close, and the number of seats on tourist buses during coast-side excursions will be reduced. What remains unclear, however, is how many people will be willing to go sailing again, given the number of victims of the virus worldwide and high-profile outbreaks on ships. But cruise ship executives are still optimistic about their prospects for 2021.

A revised cleaning procedure will bring an important change to the vacation rental market, with the coronavirus pandemic having redefined the very notion of cleanliness and health care for tourists. Some experts believe that this new focus on healthy travel will be expanded in the future. Many cafes and restaurants are expected to be closed for economic reasons, and the comeback of domestic and international tourism will certainly play an important role in the reopening of restaurants, especially in big cities and capitals worldwide. The same with hotels, whose success will likewise depend on the quality of their sanitary provisions. Their clients should expect more frequent cleaning, cleaner rooms, hand sanitizers galore and fewer contacts with employees as hotels are encouraging people to check in online and use their cellphones as room keys. Some guidelines instruct room service staff not to enter suites while the occupant is inside, unless expressly invited to do so. All these precautions will undoubtedly spoil the hospitable atmosphere that the hotels promise their guests.

Meanwhile, countries are in a hurry to start restoring domestic and international tourism and improve their relations with the outside world. And while more cautious experts wonder “how are we going to live in a new normality?”, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported a new uptick in coronavirus infections in Europe and a catastrophic situation in the US, Brazil, India and dozens of other countries.

If this process is not stopped, it will once again push the European countries’ health systems “to the brink of the abyss,” the WHO warns. According to Latin American media reports, Argentina’s business sector would welcome the adoption of the National Emergency Tourism Law, which would offer it a wide range of benefits. According to the new law, due to the emergency situation in tourism, within a year from the end of social isolation measures, payment by the government of 50 percent of wages will also cover small and medium-sized tour operators until October this year, they will enjoy nationwide tax deferrals until December 31, 2020, be exempt from paying tax on debits and credits, provided with zero-interest loans for the purchase of medical equipment and technology related to COVID-19. The new legislation will also halve the hotels’ VAT payments by March 2021 (applies only to residents of Argentina) and provide subsidies for tour guides, equivalent to the minimum wage through October 2020…

…The three main problems that the tour industry may face in the future are economic one, a lack of customer confidence and tough competition. All of this creates uncertainty for the end consumer, and this is where communication must come into play and restore consumer trust. In other words, the press, all media outlets are responsible for restoring our life in a new normality. Truthful and objective information is what will help the world community to cope with the pandemic and achieve its goals. “We need lots of accurate information to inspire consumer confidence,” experts say.

How is Russia opening to the world? The ban on the entry of foreign nationals expires on July 31, 2020. The restrictions do not apply to Russian citizens leaving the country: it was officially reported that persons with dual citizenship, a residence permit, as well as holders of special categories of visas (for medical treatment and work), had already been able to leave the country. According to media reports, even Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov does not know when the borders will open for everyone. In a recent media interview, he said that the ministry will be bringing the government up to speed in real time on the epidemiological situation abroad and on exactly which countries are opening to the outside world and how.

… Anyone, who is guided by the saying “God helps him who helps himself,” will certainly take all necessary precautions both in everyday life and while traveling in the new normality. Therefore, we advise our readers to keep in mind the recommendations listed above, which will help avoid many troubles, and maybe even save their lives.

Notes:

What do experts advise COVID-19 patients to eat? This is the question ordinary people often ask scientists and seasoned nutritionists. Scientists in different countries are researching this issue. In Germany, they recently found that cabbage can be helpful in cases of suspected coronavirus infection. They have also determined that different varieties of cabbage are popular in countries with low death rates from coronavirus. For example, in Germany and South Korea, the number of fatalities from COVID-19 was significantly lower. It is noted that cabbage contains substances that prevent a severe course of the disease. For example, sauerkraut contains antioxidants that enhance the body’s defense against pathogens. Earlier, Spanish nutritionist Alejandro Canovas and head of the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) Eusebi Chiner named products that help protect the lungs from coronavirus. According to Canovas, eggs, whole rice, sea fish and walnuts can help strengthen the respiratory system. Chiner explained that when the lung condition worsens, the body’s need for protein increases. He added that eggs contain fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and high-quality proteins.

From our partner International Affairs

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New Social Compact

A better normal must mean tackling workplace violence and harassment

Manal Azzi

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Violence and harassment is a persistent and pernicious issue in the world of work.

It transcends national boundaries, socioeconomic conditions, occupational sectors and working arrangements. It can manifest itself between co-workers, managers and subordinates, or between workers and their clients or the public, threatening the safety and health of all those subjected to it.

Violence and harassment takes different and shifting forms, not just physical or sexual. Psychological harassment, in particular, can be insidious and abusive in the most subtle of ways, and the mental toll it takes can lead at times to suicide.

The negative impact on workers’ well-being also affects businesses, contributing to absences from work and increased staff turnover, related to fear, illness and injury. These changes imply significant costs for enterprises, and can also damage productivity and performance.

During the current public health crisis, violence and harassment has appeared to increase. The unprecedented restrictions imposed on people during the pandemic have exacerbated stress levels. In some cases, this has led to violence and harassment being directed against essential personnel, healthcare workers and others on the pandemic frontlines.

There have been reports of doctors in Wuhan, China, being beaten and threatened in overcrowded hospitals. Essential workers in grocery shops have been subjected to violence and harassment when those stores ran out of supplies. More recently, a security guard in the United States was killed attempting to enforce a policy of wearing face masks in a store.

There has never been a more important time to recognize and address the causes and manifestations of work-related violence and harassment. A new ILO report, Safe and healthy working environments free from violence and harassment, does just that. It examines the scope of violence and harassment in the world of work and looks at existing occupational safety and health frameworks, initiatives and areas of action for preventing and addressing workplace psychosocial risks, including better Occupational Safety and Health management systems and training.

Last year, at the Centenary International Labour Conference, the ILO’s 187 member States adopted the groundbreaking Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190) and accompanying Recommendation (No. 206). In doing this, they defined a global commitment to eliminating this scourge.

However, such an overarching commitment needs to be backed by grassroots action. Systems, cultures and individuals that perpetuate such harassment or allow it to continue need to be called out and corrected. We all want to build a ‘better normal’, post-COVID. Workplaces free from violence and harassment should be part of that equation.

ILO

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