COVID-19 has upended everything except inequality.
Gender scholars and activists are documenting how the COVID-19 crisis and the economic disaster unfolding in its wake exposes the stark inequalities that prop up our entire economic system. Everything from global trade policy to local decisions about when to reopen child care centers has gender, race, and class dimensions that shape both the immediate response and its long-term effects.
We stand at a precipice. Our workplaces, homes, social protection, and medical systems are under immense strain as we fashion a collective response to a crisis with information that is far from perfect and changing by the day. The danger is that in the face of uncertainty, policy makers will fall back on familiar assumptions about gender: assumptions rooted in the invisibility of women’s labor, an acceptance of quotidian violence, and overly formalistic definitions of equality and liberty that limit the imagination.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The crisis created by the virus exposes the cracks in our social structures. The virus does not discriminate, but our responses do. We can patch those fissures up by applying the same old sexist and racist legal and policy band-aids. Or we can demand intersectional approaches that tackle the root inequities, emerging from this horrible time to build a more just world.
The question, then, is where to begin?
As the crisis started to break, we at the Women and the Law Program at American University Washington College of Law, started to collect, magpie-like, articles that illuminate the gendered aspects of the COVID-19 crisis and response. These articles are not necessarily our usual pointy-headed scholarly fare—many are blogs posts, hastily written NGO reports, opinion pieces, and journalist’s dispatches from the front lines. The first draft of history, if you will. Soon, we’ll start to see more formal works emerging, as intelligent people take the time to process the huge amounts of new information they’ve had thrown at them.
Even first impressions, however, contain valuable insights about both how our world works and how it could work. After all, it’s not like feminist, queer, and critical race scholars haven’t been working on the issues suddenly apparent to everyone for decades. Care. Wages. Health disparities. Violence. Poverty. Inequality. For many, it’s a matter of applying hard-won insights to our new, new reality. For the most supple-minded, it’s an opportunity to rethink their own assumptions and sharpen their ideas.
Sharing information about how gendered social structures interact with legal and political structures is a key component of the Women and the Law Program’s mission. For the next few months, we’ll be collecting and posting our Gender and COVID-19 reading list on our website, with occasional Medium posts curating some of the most informative or thought provoking pieces. We don’t necessarily agree or disagree with any particular entry—but all of them have made us think about the gap between the world we have and the world we want.
The Reading List is admittedly random and has massive holes. The good news is that you can help us to fill them. If you know of or have written a work you think should be added to the list, we’d be grateful if you’d reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re especially eager to highlight works by women, non-binary people, and writers of color, so don’t be shy. Send them on over.
While you’re here, you can also learn more about what we do at the Women and the Law Program at American University Washington College of Law or find out about our LLM degree in Gender, International, and Comparative Law.
Daniela Kraiem, Director of the Women and the Law Program
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”Audre Lorde