COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, including that we shouldn’t value people based on the way they dress writes Metolo Foyet, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Cotonou, Benin. She argues that those who are smartly attired for work are treated like their jobs are more important than low-status workers. COVID-19 has however taught us that every job counts. She believes if it wasn’t for the workers we often ignore, we would have been suffering even more during the pandemic.
Smartly dressed in black suits over their white shirts, wearing black shoes, and carrying a suitcase, one would assume that these workers are CEOs or at least clerks at big companies in town. They are street vendors. In Africa, and particularly in countries like Ghana, wooden-tray-on-head bread sellers, small-time “koko” (porridge) sellers, “kofi brokeman” (roasted ripe plantain and groundnuts) vendors and a range of supposedly small-time earners wear suits as they conduct their respective businesses. When asked about their dress code, some reply that they want to attract more attention and improve customer engagement. Others confess they wear the suit to boost their own perception of self-worth.
But how important is what we wear? Does it define who we are and what we are able to achieve? In most societies, appearance is indelibly linked to our natural ambitions and desire to be valued.
Each career or job has a place on what seems like a globally agreed hierarchy. Those who hold the jobs that are considered to be higher on the hierarchy dress in particular ways so we have white-collar and blue-collar jobs, for example. We look down on some jobs in our societies while parents sometimes force their children into what they see as respected career paths, to fulfil their unfulfilled dreams.
What the pandemic has shown us is how jobs, which are considered low skilled or menial, can be critically important. From the cleaner to the president, everyone has an important role to play. We need to quickly come to this realisation as we rebuild post-pandemic. As I heard an old man once say, the world is like an electrical circuit with screws, wires, batteries, switches, ammeters, voltmeters and all the other components, that each plays a key role for the sole purpose of producing light.
Strip off the clothing of the world’s most powerful president and he is just a human being, born as naked as the bare-chested man begging on the street corner, in his dirty tattered trousers. We need to reconnect with this basic element of our humanity and see the value in everyone.
To be human is to give, as well as to receive. To be human is to dream even though sometimes you barely get to sleep. To be human is to show the same amount of respect, love, kindness, humility, integrity, and gratitude to others you want to receive. To be human is to be real, creative, and not to ruthlessly succeed by any means. Now more than ever, kindness, understanding and support for one another are a must.
Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerability of our reality and the societal structures that we have created. If it wasn’t for the hospital cleaners, how many more people would have died? Cleaners became so important in the pandemic era. Covid has highlighted the importance of recognising our value as human beings and realising that, whether we are cleaning the streets or running the country, we each have a critically important role to play.
Photo credit : The Commonwealth’s Asset Bank
About me: I have a keen interest in using research and policy to spur innovative solutions to the environmental and social problems we face. Academically and professionally, my focus has been on Politics, International Relations, Security and Environmental Studies. I strongly believe Africa’s ills are linked to poor resource governance and that the sustainable management of the continent’s human, natural and capital resources will solve many of our problems.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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