5 reasons why the COVID-19 crisis needs a feminist response now

5 reasons why the COVID-19 crisis needs a feminist response now

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Author: Christin Becker and Mara Brückner, Oxfam Germany

COVID-19 is currently occupying the entire world and requires action that takes into account the most vulnerable. Good crisis management requires more than just scientific research - it also requires a political and social response. Feminism has already developed the ideas that can now close the existing gaps of inequality, which have become even more obvious in our current shared time of crisis.

So here are five reasons why we need a feminist response now:

1. Each and every person is valuable.

Our actions must align with the fact that every person is valuable – accepting this fact is critical for each of us to live together in an increasingly interdependent world. The measures that governments take today will shape our future in the medium and long term. Anyone who sees existing inequalities and discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnic origin, age or state of health – as marginal issues that are not pressing in times of crisis, is missing the point.

2. The crisis hits some people harder than others. We need answers that address inequalities.

We are all worried about our loved ones and ourselves right now. We all feel uneasy and sometimes even afraid. After all, the pandemic has reached every corner of our world. However, it is also true that this crisis hits each of us differently. People who do not have a (safe) home, who live in poverty or have exploitative working conditions, as well as those who are chronically ill are worse impacted. Above all, older women and single mothers, who according to the United Nations are over represented among the poor and those at risk of poverty, are most severely affected by the current state of emergency.

A look at previous pandemics gives us an idea of what long-term the consequences of the crisis could mean for women in particular. Although all income fell as a result of Ebola in West Africa, “men’s incomes have returned to pre-epidemic levels more quickly than women’s,” health researcher Julia Smith told the New York Times. And even under normal circumstances women worldwide earn 23 per cent less than men, who in turn have 50 per cent more assets. This inequality is being exacerbated by the crisis.

Meanwhile more than 70 per cent of healthcare workers worldwide are women. Women also carry out more than 70 per cent of unpaid work worldwide, performing three times as much unpaid work as men. This responsibility is intensified by school closures and increased illness, which leads to a growing burden for carers - a burden for which political answers are often lacking.

This must change now. Unpaid, as well as underpaid, care and nursing work must be spread over different (and more male) shoulders. Instead of continuing to systematically devalue this work, it must be given the status it deserves and recognised globally for its role in social cohesion and propping up economies. If the answers are really to meet the challenges, women and local women’s rights organisations should not only sit at the table when decisions are made, but should also actively participate in building this table.

3. Fair pay is not a marginal issue.

Working from home, stocking up on supplies or washing your hands regularly? This is simply not possible for women farm workers, who are already paid less than men for the same work, often earn too little, live from hand to mouth and often have no access to (clean) water.

Dismissals and reduced working hours have become a particular threat to existence during the pandemic. The textile industry in Bangladesh, for example, shows that women in particular face an existential threat. The cancellation of orders by textile companies puts jobs and thus the livelihoods of garment workers, and women in particular, at risk.

Recognition and appreciation for essential professions and carers is important - but what is needed is adequate pay and safe working conditions for all workers – many of whom are now holding up our world – during the crisis, but above all in the long term.

4. Health and health care are not tradable commodities.

Especially for people who live in fragile states or in confined spaces, the risk of infection and serious or fatal illness is particularly high due to inadequate medical care. This is particularly evident in the Moria refugee camp, where a single toilet is sometimes used by over 150 people and where there is often no soap or the water supply is interrupted. The lack of (clean) water is also a bitter reality in other parts of the world. The equation is as simple as it is cruel: no clean water, no health.

Equal access to medicines, preventive protective measures or medical treatment must be ensured for all, and not only a select circle of wealthy people.

5. We can’t afford to lose sight of human rights, gender justice and environmental protection.

Even in times of COVID-19, politicians must not lose sight of their other responsibilities on human rights and environmental protection.

The answers to COVID-19 must not lose track of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the pandemic, the climate crisis has taken the back seat. Individual voices in politics and industry are already calling for existing environmental protection measures to be reversed for their own benefit. That would be a step in the wrong direction. The crisis requires sustainable answers. These also include strengthening global social and healthcare systems and gender-equitable social security systems that address specific risks for women.

Social and gender inequality is a core issue and has to be tackled now. Governments must not forget this in their political decisions to contain the virus. And if they do, we must stand together and remind them, wherever and whenever necessary.

This post is an translated and adapted version of the original, published on the Oxfam Germany website.

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