Feminism and the Coronavirus: A Debate on Leadership in Times of Crisis

gender equality Feminism Covid BELatina

It seems that the month of March lasted 100 days, and with it went all the political and social debates not related to the coronavirus.

But if there is one thing we should have learned by now, it is that no crisis is about just one thing — even if the politicians of the day pretend to make us believe that it is.

The social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have shown only the surface of a much deeper iceberg: from domestic violence to the risk of an irregular count in the 2020 Census, the worst public health crisis in recent years promises to bring to light everything that does not work in this fictitious democracy.

Particularly when it comes to inequalities, the world has seen communities of color face a much more Dantesque scenario than privileged people; and women, for their part, continue to see gender inequality take hold in quarantined homes.

Not only are women one of the groups most exposed to the coronavirus — especially in healthcare work and housework — but they are often the ones who have to deal with the education and impromptu care of their children at home.

“Across the world, women — including those with jobs — do more housework and have less leisure time than their male partners,” writes Helen Lewis for The Atlantic. “Even memes about panic-buying acknowledge that household tasks such as food shopping are primarily shouldered by women.”

While thousands of couples around the world question their decisions once locked up in the house for long periods of time, the inequalities seem to remain intact.

However, when it comes to leadership, the issue takes a different turn.

As happened in periods of World Wars, where the workforce was supplied by women at home while their husbands, children, and parents died on the frontlines, the coronavirus crisis calls again for gender equality in order to better deal with the unprecedented situation.

Recalling the G20 virtual leaders’ summit last week hosted by Saudi Arabia, The Interpreter highlights how women continue to be confined to the “domestic” back burner in hot situations around the world.

“Gender equality is a fair-weather friend quickly abandoned when ‘real problems’ arise, as much as we can have the formal policies and rules that institute equality in good times,” the media explains, contrasting exceptional cases such as that of female leaders in countries like Norway and New Zealand, where responses to the pandemic have focused on children, teachers, childcare workers and aged care workers.

“When women are represented in the highest positions of leadership, they are more likely to look out at the gendered impact of their decisions, even those made in crisis,” the media adds.

In other words, while the world’s male leadership is focused on solving the issue from an economic point of view, the few women leading countries are looking for solutions that keep the social base as strong as possible.

And, at the same time, they are the ones who keep the frontlines at home, with fewer wage benefits and a higher risk of unemployment.

Should we then stop talking about feminism during the pandemic?

We don’t think so.