AICHAH SOOGREE

It started with a picture posted on Facebook, that of Malagasy women making safety masks for Aquarelle in Madagascar applauding the Malagasy president who was visiting them. I was struck by the fact that comments also applauded the production of masks, the product, yet not realising that the women making those were putting their lives and that of their loved ones on the line when coming to work.
It was a feeling of disbelief that after the death of Sydney, a homeless man of Covid-19, no alternative shelter allowing social distancing for the homeless are being offered despite schools being free because existing shelters for those who are homeless are not appropriate to stop the propagation of the virus. This is a call for change, real change because the coronavirus affects us all and requires us to take care of everyone. And we need to start with those that have been traditionally shut down, excluded, downgraded…
Like those Malagasy women who are going to work, delivery workers, carers, cleaners and many of those hands working to make life go on for the rest of the population are not the best taken care of.
Women are excluded from discussions regarding their work, the thing that they are asked to do daily, which is not normal, they are paid less when they should be paid more. Because women, especially working class working not only for money but find themselves automatically enlisted as reproductive labour. They have to care for the younger and older generation living with them. So we need to think in terms of what is safer for these employees, parents and members of communities. Do they have basic utilities, running water to start with? Do they have any means to socially distance themselves should there be a need for it? Are they properly sheltered? Are they and their households receiving proper nutrition? Can they stop working for 2 weeks should they feel any symptom? Can they get tested? And what about the employees of Amazon in the US who, in the first place, have not been notified of tested positive cases in some of the warehouses? According to the press, many were forced to go on working despite very high risks. Here, employees working in the port sector are now on normal shift which makes it difficult for many of them, especially those with young children to buy food supplies on time. Which brings the issue of the post-confinement? Will there be safe accessible day care for the young and old members of the family while the parents are working? How are those battling with addiction therapies doing right now, what is plan post-confinement ?
People need proper housing, we need to shift away from the metal boxes, shacks like in Baie du Tombeau that were given to people that heat up in the sun like ovens. Homes that were eventually lost in the heat of a fire last year, yet rebuilt in the very same way to house those who cannot afford secure homes with proper insulation. We need to shift away from those all inclusive big five star hotels that are nested on the beach. We need economic structures that work for the community, the micro and macro climate and that works for the preservation and maintenance of the environment. This means no more building on beaches, wetlands and other vulnerable areas. Covid-19 is the consequence of our invasion of the natural space of the wild and we need to stop invading spaces that have developed to house very vulnerable beings. We need as a species to care and take back our place within the cycle of life, not destroying. This means that our production system needs to change, it needs to be more equitable, more local, away from big sugar estates to provide more jobs, to give us more resilience. We need to redefine the use of land, especially agricultural land and go more towards models where cooperative-like groups of people work on pesticide-free farms that belong to the community. We’ve been imposed boxes that we must fit, ignoring our needs, the real ones, discarding discussion on real issues till they explode.

Rethink work, land, nature. Instead of investing in PR campaigns to show care for the environment, invest in those who really care for the environment, abolish lease of forest, of beach fronts for long periods. Rethink and rework spaces to accommodate every living being. Stop the import of decorative exotic plants. Give people that work better salaries and working conditions and rethink the power structures. Because right now, we’re excluding because we’re not used to think in terms of people, even as decision-makers.