Stigma and Discrimination in the midst of a pandemic

This was the third panel of a three-part panel series hosted by the Columbia Global Centers| Nairobi and Columbia Global Centers| Rio de Janeiro. The purpose of this panel was to bring together experts and community members to talk about their experiences with and perceptions of stigma and discrimination in informal settlements in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and to hear their strategies and recommendations for addressing stigma and discrimination in these communities.

July 14, 2020

During this pandemic we have seen countless examples of how stigma, bias, and discrimination are exacerbating existing inequalities and causing additional harm to individuals and communities around the world. Stigma and discrimination are also on the rise in informal settlements, and are likely to hinder efforts to prevent and manage the virus. The purpose of this panel was to bring together experts and community members to talk about their experiences with and perceptions of stigma and discrimination in informal settlements in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and to hear their strategies and recommendations for addressing stigma and discrimination in these communities.

Program Moderator:

Amy Kapadia – Lecturer at the Columbia School of Social Work



Robinson Ocharo (Kenya) – Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi

Christine Amollo (Kenya) – Peer Educator and Community Mobilizer

Rita Borret (Brazil) – Family Physician in Rio de Janeiro

Mariana Galdino (Brazil) – Educational Leader at Cidade de Deus (City of God)


Webinar Highlights:

Amy Kapadia – COVID-19 provides significant distinct challenges for containing its spread and receiving adequate treatment in low resource settings. People living in informal settlements are some of the most vulnerable due to their high susceptibility of COVID-19 since basic needs are inadequate or nonexistent. Unemployment, low-paying work and high or risk work conditions, violence, challenges with substance use and mental health create all added complexities in the fight against this virulent disease. (Time frame from minute 06:22-06:57)

Amy Kapadia – Anti-black racism, a global phenomenon with deep historical roots, is an example of devaluation in relation to dark non-white skin color. Discrimination, we can consider it to be a component of the stigma process and an outcome of racism, is the behavioral response of devaluation that occurs on multiples within individual, community, and government and institutional levels. The concept of stigma offers an understanding of the process by which devaluation occurs. (Time frame from minute 08:17-08:52)

Robinson Ocharo – Britain had to sell back the Kenyan land to the Kenyans. Therefore, you find that with the world to do are the ones who settled in the developed areas because they could afford to buy that land, we call them settlement areas. Instead of racism taking a front row, class and class discrimination took the first row. Once that started, now we have the rich versus the poor. The Kenyan servant versus the Kenyan employer who now will treat the lower class in a way that is human. (Time frame from minute 15:05-15:54)

Robinson Ocharo – The slum is characterized by congestion, is characterized, quote-unquote, by criminal behaviors, is characterized, quote-unquote, by diseases. Everybody points the things as they are highly vulnerable. (Time frame from minute 17:29-17:55)

Robinson Ocharo – Kenya, like any other countries that are borrowed heavily, were given the condition of structural adjustment. This is where not the slum people, informal settlement people, are getting affected. The reason for being their being vulnerable and the reason for they are being discriminated because they can’t fit in that class. And the reason for they are being treated as another group of Kenyans is that, with this condition of IMF and World Bank where the condition was that the state has to charge for every service they offer. (Time frame from minute 20:46-21:24)

Rita Borret – When we look to the percent of the unemployed people in Brazil are Black people still. So nothing changed. Nothing changed quite much. When we look to the percentage of the population who are poor in Brazil, like the 10 percent of the population who has less money in Brazil, we are talking about three-quarters, 75 percent of this population, the poorest population, they are Black people here in Brazil as well. (Time frame from minute 28:29-29:01)

Rita Borret – In Brazil, we have a big problem, which is called racial democracy myth. In the beginning of the 20th century, a sociologist named Gilberto Freddy who writes the book explaining to the world how in Brazil we have a social we have a social democracy, how in Brazil is a racial democracy, how in Brazil it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or if you’re White. Everyone is respected as well. That has never been true. What we do understand is that the White people would be in a hegemonic power because they earned it, and Black people would be in other conditions because they were not good enough to be in other positions. (Time frame from minute 29:07-30:00)

Christine Amollo – There’s been an issue with this COVID-19 time that people are afraid to go get tested because if you get tested, there’s a fee. If they find that you’re positive, you have to pay 2,000, I think it’s about 20 dollars a day, for the number of days you’re being held there. (Time frame from minute 33:37-33:47)

Christine Amollo – There is profound fear, mostly among women who are single (single mothers), who do not have anyone else to support them. Just in case someone in these times of COVID, if they find you with COVID, you definitely have to be in quarantine for a while. So the fear is that who’s going to take care of your children, who takes responsibility for them in case you go. So then that keeps them off the testing. (Time frame from minute 33:49-35:21)

Christine Amollo – Once you’ve been tested and you’ve gone to quarantine and they’ve retested you and it’s negative, you go back to your community. There’s a lot of stigma around that. People are going to avoid you. By the time you get back there and your neighbors knew that you’ve been tested positive for it, you’ve been under quarantine, no one is going to get near you. (Time frame from minute 36:08-36:30)

Mariana Galdino – Black people here are ostracized by society in general. Their bodies are discriminated against. When it comes to a pandemic, it gets even worse because the public power, of the public government, which should be accessing everybody who’s already ostracizing that community emphasizes even more race discrimination and racism here in Brazil. (Time frame from minute 42:10-42:45)

Mariana Galdino – Due to the verticalization of power and the demands, the narratives of their people are being used as an instrument, as a tool, by the public power to ostracize them even more. (Time frame from minute 43:54-44:25)

Mariana Galdino – the violence of what COVID means to people in favelas and people in informal settlements, and the notion of racial democracy exacerbates another level of violence that Black people experience here. The idea of trying to communicate with the communities in favelas that COVID-19 is highly dangerous, it’s life-threatening, it’s not necessarily a priority because they’re being violated in so many other ways that COVID-19 is not necessarily their main threats. (Time frame from minute 45:50-46:32)

Mariana Galdino – In terms of stigmatization and discrimination, the media is looking who to blame who keeps going out on the street and not respecting isolation orientations. But what happens is that Black people who are already discriminated against, who already need to go after their informal jobs because they have not had access to formal jobs and have not had job securities. But this is a neoliberal agenda that is blaming those who are already ostracized into spreading the disease. (Time frame from minute 47:25-48:29)

Robinson Ocharo – In this informal settlement, the only social connection they have is basically horizontal connection: slum versus slum, underclass versus underclass. It becomes so difficult for them to look to anyone else for assistance and that’s why she [Christine Amollo] said they fear coming out, they fear going tested. (Time frame from minute 51:28-51:54)

Rita Borret – When we do have the Ministry of Health saying that people should wash their hands and people should stay home because staying home is the way to prevent from getting coronavirus. What we do understand is that the government does not realize that there are a lot of people in Brazil that has no access to water. There are a lot of people here in Brazil who doesn’t have access to a housing and there’s a lot of people here in Brazil who cannot do social isolation in their house because there are 5, 6, 7 people living in a very small house. (Time frame from minute 55:49-56:32)

Christine Amollo – The government should take responsibility for the cost of people who have suffered from COVID-19, submit the treatment to encourage people to get tested and then go out to seek the services. The second point is that it’s important to sensitize people that the government keeps sensitizing people again and again. Just like the time when HIV and AIDS were discovered and there were a lot of issues around that and stigma and discrimination. The government took charge and set people on the ground and then they spoke to others and then the community embraced anyone who was suffering from it and made their lives better. (Time frame from minute 1:04:19-1:05:09)