More than Defending Borders

The Concept of Human Security during COVID-19

2 July 2020

While Central Europe is showing considerable resilience in confronting the pandemic, threats to personal security are being amplified during COVID-19.

The outbreak of the pandemic has meant for many citizens in Central Europe a  heightened sense of personal insecurity. While the clearest implications of COVID-19 concern health and prosperity, the consequences are also felt in many other areas of human activity. Whether it is domestic violence or corruption, these factors affect the sense of security have been experienced throughout the region.

Human Security in Central Europe was the subject of a recent V/I Breakfast discussion. The regular gathering format continues to take place online, which allows for a greater number of participants to discuss ongoing developments in Central Europe and to make sense of what is happening at times of the pandemic crisis.

Prevention is the best way

During the online meeting, former Ambassador and Senior Officer for NATO Public Diplomacy Division Tomasz Chłoń discusses the notable fact that people have started to focus on other issues than geopolitical security because of the pandemic.

However, he thinks that NATO remains the main organisation in this regard and has much to say on the issue. In terms of human security and all its components, the best way is to ensure them through human safety and prevention.

Chłoń does not mean simply defending borders, but rather defending the one billion people living in the NATO member states and protecting their system of values, democracy, individual liberties and the rule of law, which are enshrined in the Washington consensus.

He notes that after the Cold War, NATO extended the human security umbrella to over one hundred and twenty million people and helped to create a security environment for unprecedented economic, social and political development and created a security environment for countries with difficult, painful, and sometimes tragic histories. Thus, NATO enlargement is the best thing to happen in Europe after the end of the Cold War.

Bigger geopolitical frame

For Kerry Longhurst, Jean Monnet Professor at Collegium Civitas and a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe, human security an important area that requires a lot more research, especially with regard to gender-based violence and how these two subjects link together.

She thinks it is important to see it in a bigger geopolitical frame because after all, gender-based violence is not just about harm to women.

First, the lockdown measures have a direct effect on the potential for more and more gender-based violence.

Second, the changing economic situation is definitely affecting women and particularly young women as women tend to have jobs with negligible contacts and earn less money.

Third, there is a common assumption that gender-based violence is massively underestimated. Certain UN documents point out that only 40 per cent of the assumed crimes against women are reported – and they are not.

Hence, Longhurst considers we should assume, based upon that knowledge, that the extent of gender-based violence is more prevalent than official statistics.

Women made dependent upon male breadwinners

The Central European region, according to the data, is below the EU level in these regards. In addition, it has the characteristics of a region with economic abuse or economic violence – meaning holding back income, not declaring full income to the family household. This can include preventing women from going out, having a social life, mixing with their friends, i.e. essentially making them dependent upon the male breadwinner in the house. As a result, it deprives women of agency and makes them partly owned, solidifying ownership over them.

Another characteristic in Central Europe, as we know over the past few years, is that civil society and relevant non-governmental organisations have essentially been demoted.

As for the recommendations, it has to be about education and awareness, raising it essentially to normalise what happened in the region of late and this should begin at school level – as an attempt to make the language more relatable, to teach about why this is wrong and why it is needed.

It is better to be aware of it and not just these boys about it, but the girls and the boys together. Tackling these issues on a higher level is not a lost cause. As for the formal policy-making process, it has to look at gender equality.

Vice President at the Res Publica Foundation Magda Jakubowska concludes the meeting by stressing that the current pandemic is a real test for the human rights in general and gender rights in particular.

The critical issue in these regards is the accessibility to help women who have been harassed. Without addressing this issue at an early stage, she thinks we will not be able to go further with the gender equality agenda.

All the relevant international organisations have this issue high on their agenda, but it has to be endorsed by particular states as well. The process around the Istanbul Convention is illustrative in these regards.



A video of the entire discussion will soon be available here.


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