Internationales Zentrum für Ethik in den Wissenschaften (IZEW)

Caring for others – looking to the Global South

von Solange Martínez Demarco1

05.05.2020 · These days, thinking about the “others” has become popular, as it is a way of linguistically demonstrating your solidarity with the world. “I am thinking about other people but myself, I recognise there are vulnerable groups and that I am privileged”. The problem is, though, that there is a need to reflect on this concept of “other” in more detail, as it is heavily loaded with colonial pasts, with imperial histories and the oppression of an “other” that is once again overlooked during this pandemic. More than ever, it is time to take values such as solidarity and responsibility into account and look who currently is addressed by those and who is not.

It seems that all which is currently done by means of physical distancing, lockdowns, and working from home (for those who can do it) is motivated by thinking about others. Caring for the other, solidarity, and responsibility are widely shared values, but they seem to have a different strength depending on what and who they are addressed to. This article focuses on examples from the Global South, understood as the "others", to reflect on this concept and how caring for the other, solidarity and responsibility should also be taken into account for them.

It has been constantly repeated that we are all nowadays vulnerable to the virus, due to underlying health and/or psychological conditions (of oneself, family, friends, and acquaintances), (domestic) violence, and/or jobs and incomes lost. But amidst this vulnerable situation in which all people are in, there has been diverse opportunities to show that we do care for the other. It has been the case through offers such as doing the grocery shopping for the neighbour or abiding by the social distancing rules. It has also been the time to show compassion and solidarity, to recognise and value the work and effort of those at the frontline in these very difficult hours as well as the invisible labour of the feminised care work, delivery, logistics, transport, retail, postal services and utilities, and all those who have to still go out every day risking their health for them and us. But it should also be the time to acknowledge that we, those living in the Global North, are privileged. We can rely on financial and social safety nets, governments’ policies specifically adopted to support households, self-employed, companies, and on the healthcare system, water and sanitation infrastructure, and we can isolate in houses meeting quality standards. Nevertheless, this is not the case around the world.

Some 500 years ago Europeans arrived in America (South, Central and North America, and the Caribbean). They brought their culture, ideas, weapons - and viruses, of course (Cook 1998; Betrán Moya 2006). They decimated local indigenous populations, and entire cultures were lost. Millions died but the colonizers did not care much because the indigenous were not seen as ‘people’; they were not white-male-Europeans. Nevertheless, more than 500 years later a large number of people and even some historians still debate about the damage caused, and the terrible consequences produced during these times (Molina Martínez 2012). The emphasis is on the ‘backwardness’ of the indigenous groups and the development that Europeans brought to their territories through their science, culture, religion, and weapons. However, those privileges were not given to the locals, either indigenous populations or mestizos, and the land-grabbing, destruction of the environment, and implementation of slave-like working conditions only reinforced the difference between the two groups (Mira Caballos 2009). Although viruses did not have the same effects in other parts of the so-called Global South, hoarding of resources and unfair working standards, including slavery, repeated. This process generated a different type of other, one that is not only unprivileged, but that nowadays also does not seem to receive the same type and strength of care.

So, what about these “others” who happen to be unprivileged and also vulnerable during this pandemic? They live in countries where healthcare infrastructure is weak and lack the economic means to acquire equipment and protect their population2. While there are talks about debt relief for poor and developing countries3 and the UN call for a 2.5 trillion emergency package to support them in managing the effects of the pandemic4, garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and other countries are losing their jobs5. They are the ones producing the clothes that most of us wear, but due to the very low wages they have been paid they have no savings and therefore no food, access to little or no social security, and they live in slums or villages without basic sanitation. Slums and refugee camps are also sites where social distancing is not possible, which combined with lack of infrastructure makes the risk of infection several times higher6. In an already vulnerable situation, their residents are further marginalised due to the lack of hospitals and clinics in their areas as much as their potential denial of admission if they reach a healthcare facility7. Finally, around 3.6 billion8 people around the world, of course most of them in the Global South, do not have access to internet, which hinders their opportunities in terms of working and/or learning from home as much as accessing accurate and timely information regarding the virus.

What about the remaining population of indigenous tribes that live in places like South America? One teenager from the Yanomami community in the Amazon recently died due to coronavirus9. Lacking immunity to most of the infectious diseases, previous epidemics of smallpox, measles, malaria, and influenza had devastating effects in their groups. It is estimated that Brazil has 850.00010 indigenous people and that the Yanomami represent 38.00011 of them. They fear the virus because they are the largest isolated community in the region – they rightly do so.

In sum, is it possible to think of a good life for us when there are others – and yet people like us – that lack access to nutritious food and drinkable water, decent housing and internet connection, affected by economic exploitation and private and institutional violence and discrimination? These others – the vulnerable – are probably close to you, perhaps they are even living next door, but most likely, they are beyond the borders of your local community, your region, your country. They are struggling to survive the day-by-day and now the pandemic has added an extra weight to their shoulders. Hence, to be responsible, to care for and show solidarity should not be restricted to the present situation. Beyond a common answer to the virus threat, a sensible discussion about the type of global future we want to live in with the “others” should take place.


Betrán Moya, José Luis (2006): Historia de las epidemias: en España y sus colonias (1348-1919). Madrid: La Esfera de los Libros.

Cook, Noble David (1998): Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, 1492-1650. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Mira Caballos, Esteban (2009): Conquista y Destrucción de las Indias (1492-1573). Tomares: Muñoz Moya Editores.

Molina Martínez, Miguel (2012): “La leyenda negra revisitada: la polémica continúa”, Revista Hispanoamericana. Revista Digital de la Real Academia Hispano-Americana de Ciencias, Artes y Letras Nº 2.

Kurz-Link zum Teilen:

1 In Cooperation with Cora Bieß, Katharina Wezel, Matthias Bornemann and Cordula Brand