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FRIAS Lecture Series - Alicia Ely Yamin

Alicia Ely Yamin
Law, Harvard Law School Cambridge
Lecture Series recorded on May 25, 2021

Pandemic Inequalities – What Covid 19 has revealed about Global Health and Human Rights


Before the pandemic, we already lived in a context of growing distrust of democratic institutions and multilateralism, impending climate cataclysm, and mass migration and displacement.  We already faced the consequences for health and human dignity of hyper-globalization and hyper-concentration of private wealth, and the ensuing ravaging inequalities within and between nations, together with toxic synergies between ethno-nationalism, racism, and misogyny. COVID-19 has the potential to significantly exacerbate the underlying drivers of health and other rights violations enormously, both within and between countries.  Nevertheless, this pandemic and the radical upheaval it represents provide an opportunity, and an urgent imperative, to reflect on the profound structural injustices in the world we inhabited pre-pandemic, and on the directions for human rights praxis in health in a post-pandemic future.

Here, I argue the key to discerning future directions is understanding  the duality of the historical narrative of applying human rights in global health. That is, just as health-related and other social rights were being articulated, increasingly intrusive global economic governance, often in synergy with anti-democratic centralization of power at national levels, was limiting the political possibilities to realize them.

As the possibilities for progressive intentional transformation through politics became ever smaller over these decades, national politics become increasingly stagnant and performative. In turn, these developments fueled a self-fulfilling narrative of the need for the private sector, and for market-based solutions to social problems.  But this sweeping crisis, and the economic and social dislocation it has wrought,  provide a window for pushing through significantly more progressive social agendas at the national level in many countries—and substantial reimagination of global economic governance.