A 50-year-old mother was left at the Sakhipur forest in Tangail at night by her children as they suspected her to be a coronavirus patient.
Local vendors are hanging posters on their shops that say that no migrant workers will be allowed to purchase anything from their shops. An aged woman could not gain access to her own house in Rangpur city just because she traveled back to her home from Dhaka.
Her neighbors and relatives forced her to stay on the street in the middle of the night. The local civil surgeon's office along with law enforcement agency representatives had to help her out of this unfortunate situation.
These are frequently happening in Bangladesh after Covid-19 started spreading at the community level. The question is why are people behaving in such an unfortunate manner with their relatives or neighbors? The simple answer is stigma.
Social stigma is the extreme disapproval of a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of society. According to the sociologist Erving Goffman, there are three types of Stigma; mental, physical & identification, which are associated with a particular race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc. Social stigmas are commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence, and health. Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease.
History has shown that epidemics and pandemics tend to provoke xenophobia and social stigma. In the case of an outbreak, this may mean people are labeled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease. In the case of the global Covid-19 pandemic, there is an increasing number of reports of public stigmatization against people from across the world. Even it has brought up many issues and concerns regarding the health and safety of our colleagues, friends, and families in our country even.
One of these important issues which merit our attention is social stigma. Social stigmatization arises from an excessive sense of fear and anxiety, which can express in ugly and disheartening ways, such as through hateful street encounters, verbal attacks, and cyberbullying.
These events have been particularly intense for Covid-19 patients and their family members or frontline workers (doctors, medical professionals & Law Enforces Agencies members) as many of them have been harassed just because of they are Covid-19 positive or are exposed to this virus.
Viruses do not attack people based on their ethnicities. Regardless of race, religion, or creed, we are all susceptible to this global pandemic that is in front of us today. As we seek to make sense of our new normal, we can be equally susceptible to the fear that comes with this crisis. As our nation faces this unprecedented crisis, we must act as one community to support, help, and protect each other.
During times of crisis, it is important to remember that we are all in this together, and everyone must help combat this virus and the stigmatization associated with it. We all have a responsibility to be aware of and address the hate speech, xenophobia, and racism that is present in the workplace and community.
We can stop the spread of social stigma by calling out a hateful rhetoric when we hear or see it in person or online and report such hate speeches to the platforms that host it. We can support individuals who we witness suffer from the brunt of hateful or derogatory comments by being beside them when these incidents occur and letting them know that we do not tolerate bigotry or discrimination of any type.
Youth are agents of change and always come forward to tackle the crisis. They are taking it to the streets and are using online social networks and communities to connect, express their voices, and campaign for change. They are fighting for sustainable development and a better future for the current and new generations.
United Nations believe that the broad inclusion of young people in the peace and security agenda and society is the key to building and sustaining peace. Their role in the workforce and economic development of our nation is critical as they represent, at any given moment, one-third of the workforce in our country. We firmly believe that in this crisis moment young people also have an important role to prevent this social stigma against frontline workers and Covid-19 patients.
To help build and support a peaceful and tolerant society, UNDP Bangladesh's Partnership for a Tolerant, Inclusive Bangladesh (PTIB) launched a creative platform named Digital Khichuri Challenge (DKC) since 2016. The DKC is a competition for Bangladeshi young change-makers who are interested to make the digital space a safer and more tolerant place.
To address these social stigma issues, DKC is offering a special online "social-distancing" version of the challenge that will promote digital solutions against these stigmas and discrimination faced by Covid-19 patients and frontline workers. We are expecting that visionary Bangladeshi youths/ startups will join this challenge to develop platforms and alternatives that will help address issues of intolerance raised throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as the deeper social challenges.
Shidartho Goushami is a project officer of Partnerships for a Tolerant and Inclusive Bangladesh (PTIB) Project, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangladesh.