Covid-19: a mirror to reflect current risks and challenges

The shock of a deadly pandemic combined with the subsequent confinement period has made us concentrate on what is important, our values but also the way that we should defend them in a consumerist world.

I totally endorse the topic that was chosen for the next IAW Congress: A caring Economy putting people and the planet over profits. 

Our economy will be deeply threatened but so will many other things. It seems to me that Covid-19, a natural phenomenon, has brutally reminded us that the human species is like any other living species on the planet and can be deeply threatened by a virus. Covid extends to us a mirror, reflecting the very real risks that are menacing us in spite of our technological progress, our arrogance, and our profit-hungry societies. These are the first thoughts I would like to share coming from my French experience during this period.

First of all, Covid-19 has demystified globalization. It has spread rapidly and surreptitiously, breaching boundaries, visas, and human as well as technological devices of detection and repression. It circulates freely between countries and even inside countries, it creates its own contamination clusters, menaces of a new epidemic. The same globalization which was supposed to bring so many benefits can also very quickly bring devastating catastrophes. These catastrophes are currently at work and governments, completely unsettled, have looked for solutions. There is no magical formula. China, who was at the start of the pandemic reacted very rapidly with energetic measures, therapeutic research, protection pieces of equipment. Other countries have had lesser resources and bigger difficulties: inequality of globalization.

Concerning the fight against the epidemic, Covid-19 has demystified our combat strategies as well as our form of organization. In France, citizens were stunned by the unpreparedness of health services, the lack of coordination and the contradictory explanations given to justify those. The number of deceased exceeds 30 000 and Parliament is carrying out auditions of those responsible, including the health ministers that have succeeded one another. Local authorities revealed their efficiency and the medical staff was admirable, but the epidemic took a heavy toll on caregivers since many doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers, assistant nurses died, even though they had been demonstrating for months against their poor work conditions.

Hence the traditional approach of government and deciders has been debunked, in a period of crisis where Covid shed light on diverging conceptions of crisis and emergency medicine: the first oriented toward therapeutic emergency in order to heal and save as many lives as possible, the other a dogmatic medicine advocating for the research of long-term solutions validated on a methodical and scientific level, as if a necessary distance had to be kept from the emergency.

Even more preoccupying, Covid shows us that our neoliberal system seems to attach more value to the pursuit of the economy than to the pandemic, and that substantial profits can be made out of the pandemic. On top of the black market small profits made in response to the unsteady supply of masks and tests, a stunning campaign seems to have been launched by big international pharmaceutic laboratories to try to impose new and more onerous medication (hence more profitable for them), by systematically denigrating cheap therapies which have been shown to work in the prevention of viral charge.

We were scandalized to observe that during Covid, such a prestigious medical journal as The Lancet published a so-called “Big Data” study conducted in several countries denouncing hydroxychroloquine as very dangerous. Researchers worldwide mobilized to criticize the study’s lack of rigor in so far as the data was collected. They denounced the erroneous conclusions of the study, thus causing the resignation of doctors who supported it and the removal of the study by The Lancet. Without the vigilance of true medical researchers, a wide campaign of disinformation was launched and abundantly relayed by the media. Every means of persuasion had to be used in order to influence public opinion.

As far as Women’s Rights are concerned, it seems the declarations in favor of the resilience of the economy might result in relegating some of these rights to the domain of so-called feminist policies. In the context of the French government reshuffle, the new minister for gender equality is supposed to represent diversity (she is French and Cap-Verdean). She is a distinguished woman entrepreneur, and what weighed most in her designation was her competence in economic matters – versus other priorities defended by CEDAW and feminists.

Finally, the last reflection emanating from the Covid-19 mirror is the demystification of the poor level of consideration we have for our planet and its ecology. The ice floe is melting in the Antarctic, so is the permafrost. It will release elements likely to be dangerous and to contain new viruses. Covid-19 might be the precursor for other pandemics.

I wouldn’t want to be a doomsayer, but a few years ago I read a remarkable novel written by Jared Diamond:  “Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed”.

More recently, after seeing an exhibition at the Louvre on Forgotten Kingdoms – those which existed in the Middle-East and in the Miocene period and that disappeared brutally at the end of the Bronze Age – I read with great passion a book on the subject by an American archaeologist, Eric H. Cline: “1177 BC: The year Civilization collapsed”.

During the confinement period, I reflected on the disappearance of these civilizations, all destabilized by natural phenomena (earthquakes, epidemics, invasions…) and these events questioned me: History sometimes repeats itself. Shouldn’t we see this mirror Covid-19 extends to us as a warning? This had happened in the past, we should look out for the future.

IAW should help us look ahead. And we should all help IAW look toward the Planet’s future and its own future.


13 responses

  1. Dear Renée,
    My congratulations for this excellent contribution to our lives under the pandemic. With you, I very much welcome the topic chosen for our forthcoming Congress. Whoever made this choice had done well against the proposals voted in Geneva. We only can hope that there will be sufficient time during Congress to discuss this theme in a thoughtful manner it deserves. It is IAW’s opportunity for us to look ahead and should become IAW’s contribution to a feminist and green recovery after Covid-19.
    Did the lockdown really make us concentrate on our values and priorities? Maybe in the private sphere. Didn’t I read or listen to much national egoism, a prioritizing of the “us” against the “others”, the revival of the “homeland” ideology that an open European society, based on the four liberties/pillars (free movement of people, of goods, of capital, and establishment and provision of services) should have had overcome since long ago?
    Hand in hand with this ideology women experienced a renewal of the housewife glorification. Young women may have experienced it for the first time under home-schooling and home-office conditions, but we elderly recalled it very well, from the situation of dependency of our mothers to the hypocritical films of the 1950s.
    Applauding those women and men who kept essential services running during lockdown, may have been signs of general gratefulness. Why is then that now feminists have to claim investments in the care economy, thus reacting to cuts in public health structure, staffing, services; privatisations and stripping away worker’s rights, instead of governments acting in consequence of their own appraisals? Did Covid-19 bring change in this neoliberal thinking? Not really, as you rightly point out, as it seems more interested in the pursuit of the economy looking into the “substantial profits” that can be achieved by the pandemic.
    The few weeks since lifting lockdown have had curious consequences and only seem to support my pessimism as to the capacity of learning from experience of the majority of people. How can we explain the apparent thoughtlessness in which people restarted life, as if corona would have disappeared together with lockdown. Personal responsibility? Consequences for a more sustainable lifestyle, demystification of globalization and our combat strategies? I wish I could believe in it.
    One last point, dear Renée. And speaking as a grandmother. What did the closing of schools and universities during lockdown do to our children? What consequences will our societies have to face from these serious cuts in personal mobility, in a youngster’s life where social bonds, friendships, clubbing, get-together are being forbidden, or restricted? I wish somebody would tell me not to worry in this case and to have confidence in the ability of our youth to overcome.

  2. Dear Rosy
    Thank you for your comments, so accurate and so interesting.
    During the lockdown we had an opportunity to think over the challenges but it seems that new challenges have emerged when we consider the behaviour of young people, their frenzy to get together in large groups,to dance, to feel alive again disregarding that the COVID 19 is still there gaining ground

    Food for thought:
    Re IAW plan of action and our younger members
    It seems that they don’t realize that there is a danger that they have integrated a consumerist behaviour (having lived all their lives in the consumption society), that they are not aware that they have a responsibility not to contaminate others, even their parents
    All the best

  3. Dear Rosy and Renée,
    To me the Covid19 pandemic has laid bare teh great inequalities within and between countries.
    Inequalities in my country:
    the neglect of culture and art workers, the poor payment of “essential” workers, the black markets for medical equipment.
    In other countries: the plight of domestic workers in Arab countries, the thoughtlessness of the Indian government in calling a sudden lockdown, forcing people to walk to there villages, without money and food.
    We may very well link the subject of our Congress to the SDG’s as decided in Geneva. Anything to end the harshest inequalities, and neo libealism. Fortunately there is talk of the poorest countries introducing a basic income , though temporarily. Lyda.

  4. Dear Renée,
    As to the situation of young people under Corona I couldn’t find a text more corresponding to my own feelings concerning the situation of youngsters under Corona as this one taken out of the British Shop Newsletter, August 2020.
    “Young people deserve special mention at this point, who behave considerately, even though it is more difficult for them than us older people for various reasons: They have seen less to look back on with gratitude and are full of lust for life and impatience. Exactly what is most important to you is subject to severe restrictions: traveling in groups, getting to know people, falling in love, dancing, making music together, partying at festivals – almost everything is difficult or impossible at the moment. Respect how well so many of them get along! So let’s not concentrate on the outliers like the party-goers in Manchester who were just in the headlines, or the shooters – but rather on the others, who at least in our experience are significantly more numerous. Thanks to the next generation, we can rely on you!”
    My grand-children are behaving as such. And I have to acknowledge that they live up to a responsibility that our generation of consumerism, individualism and neoliberalism would never have been able to achieve.

  5. Just a tiny quibble: Jared Diamond: Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed is not a novel, it is a work of non-fiction.
    I am reading Eric H. Cline: 1177 BC: The year Civilization collapsed now for a discussion on it in April 2021. I am sure it will still be relevant as SARS-CoV-2 resists all our efforts to wipe it out before it does us in.

  6. The story of the Lancet articles (there were at least 2) is more complex. It is important to mention that following these articles ethical questions were raised: leading to renewed international discussions on the ethical acceptability of conducting human trials.
    Resulting into the WHO to publish criteria for such ethical acceptability on the advice of an international working group. WHO includes in its statement “there should be public engagement and broad consultation with civil society” on this.

  7. The discussion is supposed to focus on the risks and challenges – the Lancet article is none of these
    So as I told you it should be another discussion involving opinions of different actors (you mention WHO but we saw that researchers, physicians, scientists had differences of opinion )
    If you are interested and if you believe that IAW might benefit from this new discussion, you might start it.
    Personally, I am very concerned about the social and economic global impact of the CoViD crisis on human societies (and on women in these societies). It is why I quoted the books of Jared Diamond and Eric Kline and I want to indicate a new book by Amin Maalouf in French: Le naufrage des civilisations 10 Juin 2019

  8. Covid 19 is still with us and many resarches show that women are badly hit by unemployment due to the crisis
    Regarding the total population statistics shows that the death rate of men is higher than the one of women .some hypothesis suggest a genetic element due to a chroosom
    In old’s people homes where the risk of contamination is high and the lockdown strictly observed there are more women than men (their life being expected higher )but they are often poorer
    In Unesco a group of NGOs started a network with their affiliates in different coutries .They were amazed to see the resilience of people especiall women in countries that did not have access tosophisticated medical services

    Survival is another new challenge revealed by this crisis

    Problems of governance had been pointed out .Their magnitude is higher than what could be expected .Even the governmants are confronted with tremendous public health problems but also their impact on economy ,on working conditions,on unemployment and social life
    IAW has affiliates in many countries and we should feel solidarity with our sisters sufferig all over the world

  9. Salut Renée et al.
    I was doing much work internationally prior to the Covid outbreak and subsequent travel bans. What I came to recognize is the need to collaborate virtually across borders. The pandemic has also spotlighted the necessity for development models, where ‘Western’ consultants were flown about the globe to “lead” equity projects to go by the wayside. Covid has created the important awareness, among some, that the work being done at the grassroots level requires the support of but not the leadership of international consultants. In this spirit, I founded the Emergent Equity Collective, a burgeoning network of women all working for women’s empowerment across sectors and continents that meets informally online to discuss our work, to be inspired by one another, and to share ideas. It’s the beating heart of my work at the moment, and I can see, on each call, how much it means to members to be connected, across space and time, to other women whom they might not ever have met. It presents opportunities for learning and mentorship and interdisciplinary dialogue that is, in my mind rather unique. I wish you well in your continued work. I hope to join the IAW.

  10. The pandemic Covid 19 devastated the planet for one year and it seems that its many variants might represent a threat for the future
    We anticipated risks and challenges, We are now facing them . Governments had to find and adapt their stratégies to cope with the disease and its socio economic consequences due to lengthy lockdowns, which disorganized the economic and social life, working system (‘webinars , web working )aggravating the digital social fracture.
    Women are hit by the pandemic . In a short time it proved that DOMESTIC VIOLENCE increased during the lockdown especially in the cities. Unemployment hit women harder than men. Poverty hit badly single moters in charge of young children.
    Many publications documented these new happenings

    lNGOs have been concerned and attempted to bring their contribution
    We want to report two examples of NGOs initiatives in two international and interparlementarian organisations where IAW is represented.

    In UNESCO a small group of NGOs initiated a networking group with their affiliates around the world and they were amazed to see the resilience in countries where medical structures were not ready to cope with the pandemic; The friendly exchanges in that time of stress were geratly appreciated

    In the Council of Europe a resolution presented by a working group was adopted by the INGO Conference: ” Call for ethical and Human rights compliant management ” ( below see the attachment of this resolution in French and in Englis h.
    During the recent IAW meting of the 13 February I was glad to learn that a young Canadian girl, one of the IAW delegation to CSW 65th is a member of a “Parlement des Jeunes” and as such she had herself written a “law” concerning Covid.
    We would welcome more comments from our sisters in the affiliated national associations and federations to share with us their efforts to cope with the challenges arising from that stressful situation.

  11. Dear Renee,
    Your idea to discuss this issue is very good. I am of the view that COVID-19 has made more visible the impact of the crisis on women. Despite that member states do not seem to understand that the impact of the crisis is different on women and men
    and that they should take measures to strengthen the resilience of women to poverty Both men and women lose jobs and earnings but who loses what depends on the structure of the economy and the extent to which policies are gender blind or gender sensitive. An example of serious shortcomings has to do with data. Women are more likely to change jobs frequently and to be in temporary and /or informal work. Measures of unemployment and redundancy therefore often fail to capture adequately women’s specific experiences.There has been far less disaggregated study of increases in economic inactivity or in informal or vulnerable work or on the quality of life for women beyond the labour market (e,g. access to quality services and participation in community activities )
    Best regards,

    In my view, the ongoing financial crisis that has engulfed the whole world is not the outcome of COVID-19 only, but is a consequence of the financial architecture of capitalism that poses threats to gender equality, poverty and many other SDG’s. Moreover, the response of feminists to the crisis is not gendered enough. Feminists must work together to produce critiques that could help create an alternative vision of development, grounded on human rights and gender equality.
    The current financial crisis is a consequence of the failure of the governance of finance. Finance has been allowed to grow too big, compared to the real economy. The governance is gendered because there is a large underrepresentation of women in financial decision making and as a result, the goals prioritized have been the requirements of finance at the expense of paid and domestic economies. The role of gender inequality in creating the crisis should be acknowledged. Recovery plans and structural adjustment programs have not integrated a perspective, while austerity measures have disastrous effects on people’s lives, especially women’s lives.
    There has been a complete rewriting of the social contract from protecting people to protecting creditors and corporate rights, through processes of decision making that violate basic principles of participation and threaten democracy. The priority given to finance, including the financialization and speculation in means of livelihood is a violation of human rights.
    Continuous denial of the gender impact of the crisis, combined with the exclusion of women as part of the solution, runs the risk of returning to business as usual that is a recovery strategy, which in the long term will have detrimental consequences on the real lives of women, men, as well as the environment.

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