From 18 to 21 November 2021 took place in Vallodolid, Spain, a seminar about “Social security, gender equality and COVID-19 – challenges and opportunities for young people”, organized by JOC Europe (Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne - Europe), with the support of EZA and of the European Union.
28 young representatives of workers’ organisations from Belgium, Germany and Spain participated in the seminar.
The crucial aspect of the seminar was the direct exchange between key persons from different national organizations. By exchanging about the reality of young workers in their countries and the ways, the different organizations address their problems, young leaders heard about other forms of generating improvements in societies and can now apply this knowledge in their home context.
The focus on our experiences with the pandemic in interaction with gender equality and social security/precariousness opened a space for discussion about the role of the pandemic in these fields. After having almost two years of experience with the effects of Covid-19 and the different measures, now is the right moment to reflect about the aspects in our societies and our work that have been affected most and those inequalities which have become more obvious.
The topics discussed moved around the fields of gender equality, precariousness and the effect of the pandemic on the lives of young people especially in the mentioned fields. There were several concrete topics discussed on the basis of the realities of the different countries:
- The especially insecure situation (during the pandemic) of young people who were not in jobs with access to social security in Spain and Germany.
- The effects of the measures against the pandemic on mental health for young people in Spain.
- Precarious situation of young people without papers in Belgium.
- The increase of the gender-care-gap in Germany.
- Facing sexism and gender inequality in society and our own organizations.
The most important result of the seminar was the mutual learning among the participants. As every organization presented some of their work and the reality of live of young workers in their country, there were similarities and common topics identified and the participants took away inspiration and new points of views for their work.
- People who live in small spaces (e.g., rooms with parents, shared apartments, dormitories, small apartments of their own) come under great psychological pressure as a result of lockdown.
- At the same time, public spaces that are part of their everyday lives for many have been closed or severely restricted.
- People working in precarious jobs (e.g. gastronomy, parts of the service sector, "student jobs") lose their jobs or find themselves in permanent stand-by.
- People in education and training are often left to their own devices and experience high pressure from the loss of their income and, at the same time, from the new challenges of digital learning.
- People with low incomes have much worse chances of being able to implement digital learning profitably with the appropriate equipment.
- People whose work was not covered by social security systems often have no/little access to government assistance.
- Gender inequalities are persistent in all parts of our society and made more obvious in some fields (e.g. gender-care-gap, female dominated work-spaces, etc.).
- Many young (mainly) women feel the need to get organized to reflect about these injustices and change the way, gender influences our opportunities in society.
As young people, we see that the challenges of our realities of life have been significantly aggravated by the pandemic - while there are many similarities between different countries.
At the same time, we are dissatisfied with how the governments and also parts of the societies in our countries have dealt with this exceptional situation: We have the feeling that our needs have consistently been taken less seriously than the wishes of business associations and major lobbying organizations.
What we see, however, is not a result of the pandemic, but part of a system in which people are not the center of decision making.
For us, therefore, this pandemic is above all a wake-up call: it points out where injustices already prevailed and makes it particularly clear that the economic system in which we live does not permit a life of dignity for all.
The delegations from each organization took some time during the seminar to reflect on their findings and learnings. Each organization will be followed-up by one responsible of the preparation team to help use the results in their own contexts.
- In emergencies such as this pandemic, the realities of life for young people and other vulnerable groups need to be taken seriously. These include, for example, housing situations and the importance of educational and public places for mental health.
- Young people and women, who are particularly affected by non-full-time and precarious employment, must be able to count on the state's support in an emergency situation just like the rest of the population.
- Young people also need access to employment with social security and should not have to struggle through low-paid, insecure jobs until they are old enough to get a permanent job.