What kind of future do we want after COVID-19?
Women – particularly low-income women and women in marginalised communities – are bearing the brunt of the immediate COVID-response burden. Post-pandemic, will this inequity be entrenched, or can we catapult society’s priorities in this time of upheaval towards caring, human rights and real gender equality?
At a macro level, the rāhui is arguably a feminist response to pandemic: it is collective action prioritising lives over short-term financial gain. This may explain why lockdown is seemingly anathema to misogynists such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson; and why the crisis work is shouldered mostly by women. Carers, nurses, cleaners, checkout operators: these low-status, low-paid and unpaid jobs – often carried out by women of colour – are “essential”. That is, essential to keeping us all as healthy as possible.
Not that it necessarily follows that caring workers will be rewarded and protected. While more men than women are dying from COVID19, women are collectively experiencing more detrimental effects of the pandemic response: discrimination, exclusion and violence.
- Domestic violence and abuse will be increasing under lockdown/rāhui.
- Researchers overseas expect the pandemic will have a “disproportionate negative effect on women and their employment opportunities.”
- More women than men are in the often-impossible position of working professionally from home while also looking after children.
- Home support and healthcare workers have had difficulty in accessing PPE; lack of appropriate support increases their risk of disease exposure.
These gender inequities could be entrenched. While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is garnering international praise for her leadership, elsewhere “there is a serious risk that the people making decisions that will affect us all over the next days, months and years are not thinking about equity,” states Jess Berentson-Shaw. For example, all the people named thus far on the “shovel-ready” projects taskforce are men.
The pandemic has exposed our health and social welfare systems as broken. They did not meet human needs even prior to Rogernomics and have been systematically diminished by neoliberalism from 1984. This government has made some improvements but has not taken the big bold moves necessary to eradicate the inequities in the system. The COVID-fuelled jump in unemployment will expose even more people to the many inequitable welfare rules such as the lack of individual entitlement to benefits.
However, because so much is changing so rapidly, calls for gender equality may succeed. Alison Mau points out those calls should be radical, because softly softly approaches are unlikely to work and anyway, there’s no apple cart left to upset: “the apples are already rolling down the road.”
So: how do we stop prioritising corporate well-being over human and environmental rights? How do we enable and value the care of children and our vulnerable whānau? Should WINZ wipe all beneficiary debt? What do Mātauranga Māori responses look like? Would a Universal Basic Income or Universal Basic Services help? Would the Living Wage as a minimum wage? Would public campaigns be able to encourage and support men to do half the home caring? The main limit may be our imagination.