The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the essential roles care work and reproductive labor fulfill in our societies. But will it lead to gender liberation?
Roar Mag, August 19, 2020
he COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated nearly every kind of social injustice. In the Global North, it has disproportionately killed poor people, Indigenous people and people of color. Working-class women, and especially women of color, are not only more at risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying from it, they are also over-represented in essential care work roles including nursing, elderly care, childcare, food service and domestic labor. Confinement in the home has rendered the double burden of everyday domestic labor into an untenable situation even for white, relatively affluent women.
At the same time, the social crisis of COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on the ways that care workers — both paid and unpaid — keep us alive. Care work, of course, is overwhelmingly relegated to women, who are perceived as “naturally” nurturing, loving and gentle. Feminists have always raised issues of life and death. The pandemic has inspired and empowered social movements that place care workers in a position of moral and material leverage to enact change. For the second installment of the ROAR Roundtable series, I posed the following question to a panel of activists and scholars:
How has COVID-19 affected specific struggles for women’s liberation and struggles to transform reproductive labor around the world?
In retrospect, we should have asked the question in reverse; What does feminism have to contribute to the fight against COVID-19? Indeed, each respondent has, in her own way, answered that very question. With climate change, mass incarceration, intensified state violence, policing of the movement of people across borders, the twenty-first century is becoming a biopolitical century. Given the rapidly changing attitudes towards care work and reproductive labor as our globalized society combats COVID-19, it may finally be time to recognize gender liberation as a practical and necessary achievement.
— Eleanor Finley, Associate Editor