Around the world, it has become clear how disproportionately the pandemic has affected women, especially women from what is called the Global South, in aspects of economy, human rights and security, and decision-making. Many women lost their jobs or economic independence. Women instead of men assumed most of the additional care work or domestic work. Incidences of violence against women, children, and LGBTQI persons increased.
The pandemic has shown the fragility of the economic system — capitalism — that has made the world go round. With most of us confined at home, this is a time for meticulous documentation of everyday life. This is also a time for questioning a lot of things, including feminism.
A New York Times article says that in a blink of an eye, the pandemic has ruined everything that feminists have long fought for — employment opportunities, proper wages, maternity leaves, etc. According to the article, feminism has failed because it has not managed to protect women from the crash of the system.
But if we look at other parts of the world, or even at marginalized areas in countries like the US, we can see that feminist organizing is alive and well. For example, in Chile, the group La Coordinadora Feminista 8M immediately released an emergency plan for women against COVID-19. The plan calls for care of the self, the family, and the community; warns against gender-based violence; calls for a strike for any work not related to pandemic response. According to the plan, workers must be allowed to work from home and ensured proper care and protection. Informal workers must also be protected and supported. The plan calls to prioritize the health of people rather than profit:
Faced with the emergency the Coronavirus presents to our lives, a feminist emergency plan is – necessarily – one that prioritizes health, life and care above corporate profits, and which also makes visible the conditions in which those who carry care work are situated. We are facing a crisis that will intensify precarity, patriarchal and racist violence, as well as a global ecological crisis and crisis of care.La Coordinadora Feminista 8M, 2020
Meanwhile, the Tricontinental Institute of Research published a comprehensive study about the relationship of COVID-19 and patriarchy. The study was researched, written, and designed all by women. The study looks at the effects of what is called “CoronaShock” on society and on labor, on care work, on the increase of incidences of patriarchal violence. Then, it lists down demands from states.
The enormous challenges that we face today are how to craft a strategy that takes the current emergency into account and that transcends it, and how to make sure that the impact of the pandemic doesn’t leave us even poorer, more subjected to violence, and more exploited. At the same time, we must work towards structural transformations that disarm relationships of power that reproduce violence and inequality.Tricontinental Institute of Research
In Iraq, a statement was written by the collective She is a Revolution, which describes itself as a “feminist platform active in civil society.” Unlike the previous statements, theirs directly address the women from different sectors, calling on them to join the fight against COVID-19: “We call on working women, whether in the public or private sector, to pressure the Iraqi government to guarantee their rights in these difficult circumstances, and we ask them to share their concerns with us, and allow us to show solidarity with them in turn.”
Meanwhile, the feminist COVID-19 policy drafted by the Feminist Alliance for Rights was signed by 1,600 feminist organizations around the world. It was designed and translated for dissemination in the Philippines by the Center for Migrant Advocacy.
History has shown us that while there is oppression, there is resistance. This is true among women’s movements in many parts of the world. Despite the pandemic, hundreds of thousands and millions of women and men go to the streets to protest about issues that are specific to women.
For instance, abortion. The protest that is currently happening in Poland against the abortion ban is said to be the biggest protest action in that country since the “fall of communism.” As of last week, the protest has lasted three days. The fight against the abortion ban started in 2016, when Polish women launched what is called Black Monday as an initial form of protest.
In Latin America, the women’s movement for abortion and against violence has reached many countries. The Green Wave protest in Argentina is said to have gone on for decades, but again caught fire in 2018 when the law to legalize abortion was being considered. Now, the Senate did pass the bill to legalize abortion, a triumph. The protest for abortion and against domestic violence and femicide has spread to other countries in the region. The protests have concrete effects on the laws and constitutions of these countries.
Women’s protests in recent years, including those held on International Women’s Day, have become the largest mass actions in many countries. Examples of these are the Women’s March in the US in 2017, and the IWD commemorations in Mexico and Chile in 2020. In Mexico, the women launched A Day Without Us on the Monday following IWD. “A day in Mexico without women would mean they couldn’t go to school, couldn’t go to work, couldn’t buy anything at the supermarket or from their local vendors. They couldn’t post on social media, use public transport, visit their relatives, or go to social gatherings. It was a day for people of all social classes to realize the value of women and young girls in society and their economic impact.” This is connected with the growing protest against the rise of femicide in Mexico, where reportedly 10 or 11 women and girls are killed every day. The protests in Mexico were sparked by cases involving the kidnapping, rape, murder, and mutilation of girls and young women whose ages ranged from 7 to 27.
A Mexican feminist collective called Bloque Negro led the occupation of government offices in Mexico City in September and November 2020. They vandalized the building walls and artworks with the names of rape victims. Then, they converted the building into a shelter for women and children. Mothers of victims of violence join the take-over, and say that they are expressing a long, deep rage over the government’s inaction towards VAW.
The Ni Una Menos or Not One Less movement started also in Argentina in 2015 and spread to Chile, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Spain. What sparked this in Argentina was the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez, whose body was discovered under the house of her boyfriend. She was pregnant. Ni Una Menos’s first mass strike was launched the next year after the rape, murder, and impalement of 16-year-old Lucia Perez.
It was also femicide, or specifically the murder of 27-year-old Pinar Gultekin, which started the mass action of Turkish women in July 2020. The campaign was supported by the mostly misunderstood #ChallengeAccepted on social media.
In the US, the Black Lives Matter movement burst into a series of riots after police murdered George Floyd, but the women kept Breonna Taylor in the narrative. Taylor was a black woman who was killed by police in her own home in March 2020.
We can also see women’s participation in various mass actions that are not directly about women’s issues, such as in the student strike in Thailand, the military take-over in Myanmar, and the farmers’ protest in India. In India, women are part of the protest — said to be the largest in human history — as protesters, speakers, organizers, documenters, cooks. According to an Oxfam report, “the Agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India which comprises 33% of the agricultural labor force and 48% of the self-employed farmers. However, when it comes to owning the land, only 13% women farmers have complete control over it.” Their situation is the same as that of our farmers in the Philippines.
Aside from actual participation in rallies, feminists have employed various ways of dealing with the pandemic. Some made zines, or started a collective journaling project, launched a photography project, or organized online exhibits. It seems that the need to document and archive the world that we are leaving and the new world we are imagining was strongly felt by women during the pandemic.
There were also those who started projects that already take the form of our ideal future world. In China, young women launched a campaign to collect feminine hygiene products for medical frontliners, because these products are not deemed as essential. In Chicago, one can buy pandemic masks from a center that hires former refugees. In the Philippines, many community kitchens opened, at least here in Metro Manila. There are also efforts from groups to help mothers in communities grow their own food gardens.
The People’s Forum in New York also launched a free, international online course called Revolutionary Feminism. The course identified the enemies of modern humanity: Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism (and Hybrid War, according to the TIR). The course is such a wonderful project because it reminds feminists and organizers of different nationalities that we are not alone, that there are ways to push back against isolation and vulnerability which the enemies force upon us. It reminds us that the world we are working for is not only for each of our own countries, but for all countries. The course reminds us of the importance of continously Educating, Agitating, and Organizing — most of all, of Educating. Not only of one another, but of ourselves. In the long and endless process of becoming true revolutionaries, facing and overcoming crises such as COVID-19, the importance of studying, by ourselves or with comrades, cannot be emphasized enough.
First presented in the Southeast Asia Feminist Action Movement national gathering, February 7, 2021.
Artwork by @mara.crapz