None of us were prepared to face yet another challenge caused by a coronavirus discovered at the end of 2019. We realized the vital importance of organizing a coordinated, global approach for this new health threat while still needing urgent solutions for climate change, human rights, economic development, and social issues.
Looking back on 2020, we can see that there's been an increase in gender violence, workplace discrimination, and sexism due to COVID-19. Many female-identifying individuals face exacerbated burdens caused by this pandemic because of the already existent context of economic, social, and political tension worldwide.
What COVID-19 revealed about inequality
After the first confirmed case of COVID-19 spread to various countries, international organizations and governments realized that a multifaceted solution was necessary. The flaws in our economic and social conditions became even more visible as prevention and treatment programs were implemented.
Production and work restrictions showed that large businesses with higher social and economic privileges were able to “reinvent themselves” by promoting remote work — providing all the technology needed for employees to work from home. On the other hand, many small businesses were unable to operate virtually and consequently filed bankruptcy. Businesses that remained considered how to cut costs by running with fewer employees.
Migrants were another population highly affected. The closing of borders was reinforced due to pandemic restrictions. Those able to enter met the challenges of purchasing technology for remote study and work by allocating finances that would otherwise be used to meet their basic needs.
Critical issues the pandemic creates for feminism
Advocates for feminism face several challenges now because gender inequalities and violence have become even more palpable. The "new normal" of living under government restrictions to contain virus spread has been correlated with higher domestic violence rates from partners, husbands, parents, and close acquaintances.
Women, children, and older adults tend to be the most affected by violent situations in their homes. This extreme violence has impacted the growing numbers of women murdered because of gender prejudices, also known as femicide.
Gender violence significantly affects transgender and non-binary women, who face constant hate and discrimination. Abuse is not only physical or sexual but can also be in the form of verbal mistreatment. Feminists must be inclusive of all gender identities by advocating for everyone’s right to live, work, and have personal security.
5 steps we can take to promote equality right now
We need to act now and can begin by initiating this discussion within our social circles. Is gender ever a valid reason to violate someone's rights — even to the point of threatening their life — or restricting their access to fundamental needs?
Even though many of us would quickly respond that these actions are never justifiable, women's fundamental rights continue to be threatened. Here are some ways we can make an impact individually and collectively.
1. Ensure legal justice for women
The first thing we must do is ensure the prosecution of people who've abused or attacked women, including cases of femicide. In Latin-American countries like Mexico, Argentina, or Colombia, to name a few, impunity in these types of crimes is high when the offender is male-identified.
There is a clear discrepancy in these rulings since female-identified individuals accused of committing crimes are frequently prosecuted and sentenced to home imprisonment. This negligence has prompted the mobilization of women asking their governments to enforce existing laws, including jail time for the perpetrators. Different organizations have a myriad of approaches on how to solve this issue. Get involved with these groups on WeAct to help fight for justice.
2. Have women in decision-making roles of power
Research from the beginning of the pandemic shows that regions with women in charge of preventing the virus's spread resulted in better outcomes. The results were more people reporting that they felt safe compared to other regions.
Germany's Angela Merkel, New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, and Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen are examples of these leadership successes. As a result, the idea that women should have better access to roles of power and political participation has become more globally accepted.
3. Oppose toxic gender roles and provide equitable alternatives
Now that schools are mostly running online, many women have decided to leave their jobs to stay home with their children. While women have been in charge of household care historically, female-identified leaders frequently prove that community care is an economic and social issue.
The more we assume care for ourselves and others as a social responsibility the better we can respond to threats in our society through the collaboration of an entire population.
Women in positions of power have also shown that we must reconsider our idea of masculine gender roles. As Ivan Jablonka says, men need to see themselves as something other than oppressors or the dominant gender. In terms of care and gender rights in the household, families can divide chores in ways that challenge traditional gender roles. Men and boys can learn to do their part without thinking they are "helping" women but instead taking shared responsibility as part of the family.
Managing this idea could have positive repercussions on the way we engage with communal tasks and activities. Care is something we all can do for ourselves and others — it's not only the woman's role in society.
4. Treat technology as a human right
As technology has also become imperative in times of the pandemic, it's necessary to improve access. Many women in STEM fields have started the conversation with governments and international organizations that accessing technology is a right which should be guaranteed.
Those warrants should also focus on decreasing gender inequalities at the root of technology disparities by giving better opportunities to girls and women of all ages globally — without ethnic, race, or social distinctions.
5. Create comprehensive healthcare systems
It's imperative to make changes in the public health sector to include mental and emotional care for women in gender and family violence cases. Diffusion of information focused on women's protection, including access to emergency phone lines, can save lives by helping people feel less lonely and disconnected.
Forming support networks and making these topics visible is vital, especially since discrediting the validity of victims experiences is the most used tactic of manipulation in these types of violence.
It's imperative to consider ways inequality and injustice appear in times of deep conflict so that we can ensure the whole population's rights remain protected despite moments of struggle.
By educating ourselves on equality and human rights, we can better prevent violence and discrimination. An informed community will always find better ways to improve social, economic, and political conditions. When #WeActTogether, we can be stronger against hate and violence.
Written by Laura Flórez-León.