The Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on subaltern and minority identities and communities in Asia Pacific are spotlighted in this issue of Perspectives, which tackles the important topic of Pandemic Politics and the Peripheries. The past year has seen governments around the world scramble to come up with effective strategies and responses to manage the multiple crises—public health, economic fallout, and so on—caused by the pandemic. However, the pandemic’s onslaught on societies and economies have exposed not only critical shortcomings and contradictions in the governments’ handling of the crises and recovery efforts, but also the embedded structures of power and inequality which underscore the precarious situation of marginalised individuals and communities that form the peripheries of the global order, including migrant workers, women and children, among others. An excellent example is the recent politicking over the global vaccine supply chains, which have been threatened by production shortages and by restrictions imposed by certain governments in the West. The hope of returning to “normality” that is offered by the vaccine breakthroughs in recent months is thus dampened by the (neoliberal) politics of vaccine equity, as the bottom billion struggle to gain access to the vaccine supply while developed countries continue to dominate and control the vaccine market. Still, many more narratives and voices of the peripheries have escaped media attention, while the complexities engendered by the pandemic, including the relations and intersections between the national/local and international/global, or between identity categories of class, race, gender, sexuality and others, remain underexplored.
In this issue, the following contributors provide invaluable insights into Pandemic Politics and the Peripheries by exploring the effects and ramifications of the global crises, in particular, economic insecurity and precarity, on class, race and/or gender in the peripheries.
Victor T. King, Professor of Borneo Studies at the Institute of Asian Studies (Brunei Darussalam) and Emeritus Professor with the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, is a leading scholar of Southeast Asian studies who specialises in tourism and heritage. Focusing on the challenges faced by the tourism sector in Southeast Asia as a result of Covid-19, King examines how the global crisis has affected the marginalised identities and communities of the sector: illegal workers and migrant labourers, minority ethnic groups, women and children, as well as the small stakeholders of the industry, such as the stall-holders and street-hawkers.
Known for her notable work on women and gender in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, especially Indonesia, Kathryn Robinson—the Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National University (ANU)—casts a critical eye on another vulnerable group in Asia Pacific: women and girls. In her article, Robinson questions the effectiveness of the gender policies developed by governments to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically the fifth SDG and its aim to achieve gender equality and empowerment. More pertinently, she asks whether these policies can adequately address the gender systems of inequality that have been reinforced by economic insecurity and uncertainty in the time of the pandemic.
It is hoped that both articles will contribute to the growing discussion on pandemic politics, not to mention the rethinking of the current neoliberal economic and sociopolitical discourses and practices, which have been revealed to be unsustainable in the face of Covid-19.
Grace V.S. Chin
Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Perspectives are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the journal’s or the publisher’s position.