Inequality in the face of COVID-19: how grassroots communities are taking action


COVID-19 has demonstrated stark social and economic inequalities, with vulnerable and marginalised groups being disproportionately impacted. These vulnerable communities are at the frontline of any global crisis, including the climate emergency. During this webinar speakers working with social movements and grassroots organisations examined how organisations are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we can learn.

Last updated 28 January 2021
Market traders wearing face masks sell produce

Sellers continue work at a vegetable market in Madagascar during the COVID-19 crisis, part of the informal economy in Antananarivo City (Photo: E. Raboanaly/ILO, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequalities for groups that are particularly vulnerable to disasters, such as female-headed households, children, people with disabilities, indigenous and ethnic minority groups, landless tenants, migrant workers, older people, and other socially marginalised groups.

People living in densely populated informal settlements fall into this highly vulnerable category, with poor access to public services including health care, water, and sanitation. It is these communities that are also on the frontline of the climate crisis.

This online event brought together speakers from social movements and networks working with indigenous people, people living in informal settlements and women working in the informal economy, to reflect on the response of their communities to COVID-19.

The speakers reviewed inequalities in impacts and coping strategies, and discussed mechanisms to address inequality and manage future risks and shocks.

How do we make room for innovation, how do we become more accepting of risk and increased experimentation? And what we can learn that will help us tackle the climate crisis?

About the series

London Climate Action Week logoThis is the second online event in a series hosted by IIED and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) on the climate crisis and COVID-19 - working together for the change we need which will be hosted between June and October 2020. This event is also hosted working in partnership with ICCCAD and Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and is also a part of the London Climate Action Week series of online events.

In conversation with colleagues around the world, from civil society organisations, universities and governments, this series will look at what we can learn to make us more ready for the new ways of working we need to tackle the climate crisis.

Building resilience, capacity, and adaptation have always provided a pathway to change – how can we use what we know and have achieved so far to ramp up our climate ambition? Drawing on lessons learned through capacity building, advocacy, and grassroots action, how can we catalyse a different future?

See other events in the series:

Event coverage

You can see a video recording of the complete event below, including the question-and-answer session with webinar participants, and on IIED's YouTube channel.

About the speakers

Saleemul Huq (chair) is the director of ICCCAD in Bangladesh, and is an expert on the links between climate change and sustainable development, particularly from the perspective of developing countries.

Sheela Patel is the founder and director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) India, which is based in Mumbai, and works in partnership with the National Slum Dweller Federation and Mahila Milan.

Martha Chen is a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and international coordinator of the global research-policy-action network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

Suranjana Gupta is advisor on Community Resilience at the Huairou Commission, a global coalition focused on grassroots women-led development. 

Tracy Kajumba is a principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group.

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Juliette Tunstall (, internal engagement and external events officer