by Massimiliano Masini
As of Monday, April 20th at 2 am Geneva time, 2,285,210 cases of COVID-19, including 155,124 deaths, have been reported to WHO. The three most affected countries are the United States, Spain, and Italy with, respectively, 723,605, 191,726, and 175,925 positive patients and 34,203, 20,043, and 23,227 victims. Yes, this is also another article about how grim the current situation is. However, it is not just that. Personally, I feel uncomfortable with how most media have covered the pandemics and with the public construction of the emergency. If you are also sick of it, just skip the first couple of paragraphs (it will also shorten your reading time!).
“At least 93 percent of the global population now lives in countries with coronavirus-related travel restrictions,” reports the New York Times. Despite the possible progressive relaxation of such measures in Europe (at least within national territories) we still have a lot of doubts about the potential evolution of the pandemics, especially in relation to its impact on states that do not seem to have been affected dramatically yet (or at least this is what I understood from the amazing episodes of the Health Intl. podcast). Moreover, the best estimates available suggest that the “Great Lockdown” will be followed by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Global growth rate for 2020 is expected to fall to -3%, per capita incomes to shrink in 170 countries, and the economic effects of COVID-19, which could amount to a cumulative loss of 9 trillion USD, to last for a significant amount of time.
So, why are Feminist Voices needed right now? Why is gender a relevant category of difference in understanding the pandemics if we are all in this together?
Well, because we are not all in this together. Migrant and precarious workers, homeless people and those with poor living conditions, the elderly and individuals with special needs are just some of several social groups for which COVID-19 and the related measures have created deeper layers of difficulty and oppression. Women, specifically, are more affected by the pandemics. Yes, you may have read that apparently men are more exposed to the virus and die more frequently because of it. However, these two statements are not contradictory. And that is not only because when we men get a cold, we tend to act as if we were bitten by a plague-carrying rat, whereas women go on with their lives despite being ill (or at least this is what my very astute scientific observation of the dynamics between my mom and dad point to).
Firstly, there is widespread evidence of the disproportionate representation of women in both paid and unpaid care-work. Not only do they constitute a higher percentage of the healthcare workforce, but they tend to bear greater responsibilities within the household. Secondly, if staying at home has different meanings depending on one’s social positioning, especially when we think of domestic abuse and violence. Clearly, women and LGBTIQ+ people are not the only victims, but they are probably the most statistically visible. Finally, when resources are limited, as they will be because of the crisis, women’s and girls’ access to health, education and other resources shrinks dramatically. This brief is of course not exhaustive, and much more could be said about the ways in which COVID-19 disproportionately affects women.
But there is more. It may sound obvious and unnecessary, but I believe it is important to underline that COVID-19 did not land in a gender-equal world. The above-mentioned issues are not contingent to the pandemics, but, on the contrary, are somehow amplifying the articulation of pre-existing gendered hierarchies, which are hidden by the public construction of the emergency. The numerous ways in which our lives are affected by gendered relations of power have not become less relevant. Reproductive rights, for instance, are still under attack. More generally, COVID-19 has not affected the extent to which our daily lives are impacted by dominant notions of masculinity and femininity as well as by normative expectations of how they should intersect with our sexes and sexualities and their entanglement in public discourses of power. This remains true for a vast range of other connected forms of oppression.
By now you may think I am at least decent at pointing out the issues. But what about how to target them? Why are Feminist Voices needed?
Current conditions make it especially hard to keep mobilisation and activism alive. From Hong Kong to France to South America social unrest has been left away to civic responsibility. On a more localised level, all the initiatives of the Institute have had to adapt with the mutated conditions. This is visible when looking at the cancellation of a certain discussion concerning gendered relations of power at the Institute, involving Prof. Burrin and the Student Body. Clearly, this is not the best moment for activism. However, today I feel like sharing Slavoj Žižek’s optimism: we cannot see each other but we are still connected.
Therefore, a column. For sure, it is not enough nor comparable to the amazing work undertaken by several feminist organisations, for instance in finding alternative ways to support victims of domestic violence. However, for now, it offers us a way to critically reflect on what is happening in order to plan new strategies for the aftermath of the crisis. Personally, I hope it will represent a platform to discuss how to start to mobilise again once the restrictions and the closures will end. One thing is clear to me from this pandemic (even though I feel it was quite evident even before it, so maybe it does not resonate with you): we need a strong political change of direction. Targeting gender inequalities may be one way to start (and maybe it will also help us to target COVID-19 better).
Feminist Voices is a fortnightly column curated for the Graduate Press by the Feminist Collective in collaboration with QISA. It aims to be an open and eclectic forum of discussion on issues concerning institutional and lived inequalities due to hierarchical power relations amongst people of different sex, gender and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they identify monolithically with their perceived categories. Why is it necessary? Well, give a look at the article above.
If you want to write a piece, to be part of the Collective, to give us feedback or to just say hello reach out to us on our Facebook page and group (IHEID Gender Dialogues), Instagram, or by email (email@example.com).
Featured photo by sumanley on Pixabay.