By Sophie Squire
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Pandemic has worsened inequality and state repression, warns Amnesty report

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Issue 2750
Black Lives Matter protesters march through London last summer as part of a global wave of revolt
Black Lives Matter protesters march through London last summer as part of a global wave of revolt (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Inequality, oppression and state repression have deepened across the globe during the pandemic, according to a damning new report.

The Amnesty International human rights report for 2020-21 found a rise of sexism and homophobia. “Support organisations across the world reported a marked increase in gender-based and domestic violence,” it says.

That’s because “many women and LGBT+ people were confined with abusers under lockdown”.

The report highlights some of the shocking statistics about the increase in violence against women globally.  “In South Africa, sexual and gender-based violence continued to soar with a rate almost five times higher than the global average,” it states. 

And in Brazil “almost 120,000 cases of physical domestic violence were reported in the first six months of the year”.

It also found that there has been a widespread dialling back on women’s reproductive rights. This includes attempts to bring in more repressive abortion laws, such as the ones that prompted massive protests in Poland. 

Many governments have also moved to class women’s reproductive health services as “non-essential” during lockdowns.

The pandemic has also led to a rise in racism, with refugees and migrants’ rights under attack. The report describes how closing of borders has led to hundreds of thousands of people stranded or thrown into squalid camps and detention centres. 

Meanwhile, the rights of indigenous peoples are also under attack. The report says, “Indigenous Peoples in the Americas were heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic because of inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, health services and social benefits.”

Alongside growing inequalities, the report found that governments have used the pandemic to step up repression.


Governments in Russia, eastern Europe and central Asia have attacked the right to a free trial.

Our right to speak out has also been severely dialled back in the last year. The report highlighted how in Mexico at least 19 journalists were killed during the year and in Nepal the government introduced bills that threatened freedom of expression. 

Yet while repression is widespread, the report noted that protests and resistance have grown in strength. It details a number of examples of health workers fighting back. In Tunisia and Morocco, for example, workers fought back after receiving inefficient PPE protective kit and access to testing. 

The state—whose side is it on?
The state—whose side is it on?
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In Zimbabwe 17 nurses were arrested for breaking lockdown regulations after they began protests to demand improved wages and working conditions. 

And more broadly, protest has continued despite many governments’ attempts to cut down on our right to freedom of assembly. The report cites the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, abortion rights protests in Poland and Myanmar’s movement against military rule as examples of impressive fightbacks. 

The report also says it was ordinary people, no the rich, who kept society running during the pandemic. “Exceptional leadership came not from power, privilege, or profits,” it says. “It came instead from nurses, doctors, and health workers on the frontlines of lifesaving services.

“It came from those who cared for older people. It came from technicians and scientists running millions of tests and trials, frantically searching for vaccines. 

“It came from those who, bunched together more often at the very bottom of the income scale.” 

This past year has exposed and amplified brutal inequality, but it’s also shown that ordinary people can fight back against the system. 

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