COVID-19 and the care crisis

Dec 17, 2020

This Covid-19 crisis has affirmed our belief that the centrality of life is and should be our most important value. We know that care is essential for life, both human and nature. The crisis has made visible the interdependence between human beings and the ecodependence of humans on nature that ecofeminism teaches us. 

Covid-19 has also made visible the magnitude of the crisis of care in our societies: a crisis that has developed over centuries of failure of the patriarchal, racist capitalist system to care of peoples, nature and territories, and its reliance on the work and bodies-territories of women to make up for and fix the damage caused by the neocolonialist, extractivist exploitation. Through the sexual division of labour, women have been and continue to be socially responsible for, and burdened with the care of families, children, the elderly, the sick and communities in their homes and as workers in front line services of health, aged care, child care, education, entertainment, etc. In the current crisis, the women confined to their homes with their families (including our colleagues and comrades) have taken on even greater care and domestic work responsibilities as they home school their children and look after other family members, while continuing their professional and activist work remotely. 

The front line health workers, of which women are the majority, are facing even greater exploitation with inadequate salaries for the risks they take and the responsibilities they have for others, lacking protective equipment, and clothing and with extremely high levels of anxiety for themselves, their patients and their families, but continuing to work with the increasing burden of mental health issues. Working class women and families and single mothers have to make the choice between confining at home versus working to feeding their families with the risk of catching the virus. This is particularly true for women of colour. Women’s bodies-territories have once more become a battleground for fundamentalist, conservative political authorities and religious leaders who have declared women’s reproductive autonomy “non-essential” as they close down abortion services and drastically reduce women’s access to pre-natal care and other sexual and reproductive care.

Women are suffering a brutal rise in violence and feminicide across the world and with the directives to stay at home in many countries, this now means many women and their children are trapped in unsafe homes with aggressors and perpetrators. Many women have nowhere to go and no avenue to seek help (even in “normal” circumstances and in most countries, there are not enough safe houses, support services and investments in prevention and support). It is much harder to organise collective support for women victims when public services have been significantly reduced and “non-essential” workers are quarantined at home. Many safe houses and shelters are closing or not accepting new residents during this crisis and police (where they are considered part of the justice system for women) are moved to duties around enforcing the lock-down. Women in many countries are now experiencing increased violence in their homes, in the streets and public spaces. They are at increased risk of violence and harassment at the hands of the police and military, particularly women of colour and indigenous and first nations women. Many of our countries are rapidly sliding into becoming police States with the effective suspension of democratic processes and the concentration of power in executive branches that is being used – under the guise of the pandemic – to push through conservative right wing agendas that ultimately will further harm people and the planet. 

This crisis has made visible and more acute the inequality and systemic oppression’s of patriarchy, racism, class oppression, neocolonialism and capitalism that structure our societies and our relationships with each other and with nature. It is these mutually reinforcing oppression’s that have contributed to this crisis and determine whether we live or die during it. The current response by governments from around the world appears to be to bail out capitalism, continue a refined version of neoliberalism and hope things will return to “normal” once the crisis has passed. But we refuse to go back to the old “normal”: the dominance; the extractivist neocolonialism; the patriarchal, racist capitalism; the crisis of care. We demand an end to violence against women – both domestic and by the State – and against nature, an end to exploitation of women workers, the reorganisation of care work so that the responsibility is shared between men, women and the State, and well-funded public health services. 

Our reactions now will shape what comes after the crisis. Our movements know the way forward. We must use this opportunity to fight for and build system change through the dismantling of patriarchy and all systems of oppression for environmental, social, gender and economic justice in our territories, communities, countries and internationally. This is a moment to create new paradigms with justice and life at their centre, a new relationship with care (and therefore with women’s autonomy, work, bodies) and a new relationship with nature, living within ecological limits.

For more information contact:
Sam Castro,
Friends of the Earth Australia,
Gender Justice & Dismantling Patriarchy Working Group

Mai Taqueban
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center
Gender Justice & Dismantling Patriarchy Working Group