30. März 2020

Emergency and long-term alternatives – Pandemics are not gender-neutral

“The COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting women and girls who are made vulnerable by our patriarchal and neoliberal capitalist system: a system that is not working for people or the planet, and most definitely not working for women and girls…” (EWL)

“Stop the pandemic named war and fight the illness that destroys our world. Women, children, handicapped and displaced persons are most in danger to be victims of the virus….” UNSG Guterres

Yes, we are in a state of emergency, not just because of totally reduced mobility and physical isolation from others, friends, family, neighbours, clients. Some can rely on a functioning health system others less, especially regarding reproductive health – when everything is focussed on emergency. Basic social security and income are at risk (rents to be paid without income, closing of food banks and social services for poor, homeless, elderly and people with disabilities). Cases of domestic violence are growing without possibilities to escape the abuser. 

Women make up the majority of “system relevant” jobs: in hospitals, in the care sector, in the cleaning services. In emergency situations like the one we are going through at the moment, we can see how care work is existential not just for immediate assistance, but for community life and the functioning of our societies and the planet. Imposed austerity measures and privatisation have brought us to a point where necessary assistance in crisis is lacking. This is the moment to thank all those who help out!

War in Yemen, in Syria has not stopped, weapons continue to be produced for the benefit of multinationals to fuel future wars and people buy small arms because of fear of the “other” and plundering. The strong appeal of UNSG Guterres is one to be strongly supported by peace women. But we have to strengthen also our arguments that conflict can never be solved by the use of weapons!

More questions than answers at the moment

What about putting democracy in quarantine like Hungarian president Orban and others? We have to be aware what they are selling us as remedies – not business as usual!! Civil Society needs so much more courage to resist and stop ongoing de-democratisation. 

What about ongoing conflicts, military attacks, air strikes, pushback actions for refugees and mass detention centres because of closed borders? It is high time to remind our politicians that this is not just a horrible waste of money – what we/WILPFers say since more than 100 years – but this is a direct attack on human beings and life as such.  even not in wartime. We have to refuse the war-rethoric from president Macron and more and more in the street of simple people buying arms. Our feminist pacifist answer can only be: disarm your imaginary and stop arms production and market.

What about all the small and bigger peace initiatives focussed on dialogue, cross-border meetings, trust building measures, creative women peace makers in short and long-term projects. Are they forced to stop their activities because of the imposed isolation, closing of national borders and re-allocation of funds in “security” (not Human Security) and economy to keep business (and neo-liberalism) going? 

What about the refugees and IDPs between air strikes, hunger, closed borders, “disappeared” international law – between them so many women and children – let’s adopt  and support women’s organisations and courageous laywers, social service providers such as Women Refugee Route.

Looking towards a better future

In order to cope with the restrictions and the imposed changes of our daily life and habits, fear, aggression, a restricted inside view of individual losses is understandable, but not a recipe to develop transformative dynamics for the future. This will have heavy and long-term consequences on the way we get involved in politics, in democratic living together, on the safeguard of international law and the universality of women’s rights as Human rights for our protection and well-being. 

We observe closer and stand in solidarity with those impacted the most by the crisis, refugees and IDPs, imprisoned people, women in conflict zones and exposed to poverty, violence and hunger. 

We urge our politicians to leave no one behind, to re-consider the importance of care and social security and to build adequate responses to trans-border dialogues and support continuously peace initiatives in the complex sense of Human security.

We are deeply concerned by long-term consequences for individuals and collectives standing for democratic rights, the guarantee of asylum laws to avoid humanitarian catastrophes for refugees and IDPs. UN HR rapporteur: “To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health“. We encourage States to remain steadfast in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic, in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with rule of law and human rights protections,” the UN experts said.

The result of the actual crisis proofs that imposed austerity measures for capitalist profit which cut and privatized social and health services in the past – criticized from us since years – show now total under equipment in hospitals and services which cannot be compensated quickly as they should. Investments to keep the business world alive should strongly be orientated towards a transformative agenda in the spirit of SDGs, renewable energies, the green new deal, and many more sectors neglected until now. This is the necessary link to Extinction rebellion, Friday for future, Climate women and many more. 

Across the world, women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic. For too long, politicians have assumed that childcare and elderly care can be “soaked up” by private citizens—mostly women—effectively providing a huge subsidy to the paid economy. This pandemic should remind us of the true scale of that distortion. Stress, alcohol consumption, and financial difficulties are all considered triggers for violence in the home; the quarantine measures being imposed around the world will increase all three. The British charity Women’s Aid said in a statement that it was “concerned that social distancing and self-isolation will be used as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour by perpetrators, and will shut down routes to safety and support.”

We strongly defend women’s meaningful participation on all levels of decision making – which is the only way to build peaceful and sustainable societies. We raise our voices: Peace is and will be the major goal and militarism is definitively killing our economies – so move the money now to health, education, peace initiatives, climate justice. Donors should invest long-term in peace initiatives strongly supported and carried out by women and women’s organisations.

We have to define how we want our future to look like and to reclaim a voice for that!

There is already a lot of food for thoughts

“These pandemic times have been showing us how interlinked and fragile our societies are, and the immediate and unequal impacts of a global health crisis to the economy, the environment and the people. It is a good opportunity to reflect on our overwhelming living and working standards, and our real needs: a safe and healthy environment and home, good food, a sound, accessible and affordable health system, all of which is depending of the care work of many others. In this edition, we will share some insights on how to cope and act in these times, in solidarity with those who have less means or lack access to resources and services to cope well in time of crisis” (Gender CC).

”The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the toxic effects of a system that has for far too long dominated every aspect of our societies. Neoliberalism, as an economic ideology of capitalism, has depleted our public services, turned our education and healthcare into profit-driven businesses, hoarded profits at the expense of undervalued and underpaid workers, favoured profitability of a militarised world over human security and well-being, and aggravated inequalities between people and countries.” (Nela Porobic/Women for a change in Bosnia and for FEP)

“Compassion, care, and collective action will see us through this crisis, and will be the bedrock upon which we can build a world beyond capitalist exploitation, militarised security, and environmental destruction. The time to start imagining and structuring that world is now.” (Ray Atchinson/RCW)

by Heidi Meinzolt