All entries for June 2020

June 29, 2020

Global Insights: COVID–19 and Gender Divides

Gender Panel Global Insight

Authors: Ann Fitz-Gerald, Juanita Elias, Jenna Hennebry, Sehin Teferra, Liane Wörner, Thespina (Nina) Yamanis

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). This series of Global Insights has finished and the next series will resume in September. You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panellists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Moderator – BSIA), Juanita Elias (University of Warwick), Jenna Hennebry (Wilfrid Laurier University, BSIA), Sehin Teferra (Setaweet), Liane Wörner (University of Konstanz), Thespina Yamanis (American University)

COVID-19 has exposed the deeply gendered inequality that defines many aspects of our society. The burdens associated with everyday tasks like caring, maintaining and provisioning for the home have multiplied for women. The panel consisted of five female professors all with specific qualifications in different gender studies, all of whom are working full time. Their reflections are thus both professional and personal.

Broadly speaking, what has the pandemic meant for women’s rights?

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on women across the educational, professional, and personal spheres. On the one hand, the pandemic has allowed for widespread recognition of the key roles that women play in the economy, paid and unpaid work, and greater attention to female leadership. However, the pandemic has also exacerbated gender inequalities, as we have seen women’s double day in paid and unpaid work significantly exacerbated, the re-entrenchment of gender roles and heightened gender inequality, and increase gender-based risk with a rise in domestic violence. Studies have already shown that mothers have spent 36% more time with their children during the pandemic, whereas fathers have only spent 9% more time. Given that men generally earn more due to the gender pay gap, many families have to choose economic stability thus requiring the woman to stay at home. The pandemic has also limited female participation in the labor force, particularly for women who have children, many of whom may permanently exit the labor force. In low and middle income countries, girls education is at risk and food-security is a particularly significant concern. In Ethiopia for example, 36% of women work for pay while women and girls are primarily responsible for securing food and water, both of which are in high demand due to the stay at home orders and increased hygiene.

Some commentators have called the economic downturn a “She-cession”? What is the impact in terms of economic equality and participation?

Income inequality rises for five years after a pandemic. In the U.S. female unemployment has exceeded male unemployment, which differs from the Great Recession of 2008 because many women are in jobs that require face to face work. In terms of professional participation, women are under increased pressure to do the triple burden of childcare, work, and societal care. Some evidence suggests that female business owners are not taking advantage of the payment protection program. In the academic sector, for example, women’s journal article submissions have declined significantly, and women are often expected to reduce teaching and project responsibilities in order to care for their families. In the Global South, we will see low-income households seeing worse effects as women are called upon to serve as a caregiver and exit the labor market. Many women participate in the informal sector, meaning that they do not have social protections such as unemployment benefits or social security. With respect to gendered migration and remittances, countries in the Global South are already feeling the effects of this. Ethiopia receives more money in remittances than exports and foreign direct investment. In the UK, the social care sector for the elderly has been catastrophically impacted by UK government austerity policies since the 2008 crisis. Such policies have decreased funding in the sector, further deterioration of work conditions, increased privatization, and reliance on women to take over unpaid care work. The policy response has centered on the response to the National Health Service at the expense of the social care system, for nursing homes, special needs care, and childcare. This has disproportionately placed ethnic minority women and migrant women, who make up the majority of employees in the sector, in a particularly vulnerable position due to low wages and exposure to COVID-19.

How is the pandemic affecting women’s physical and mental security, as well as other health outcomes?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on women’s physical and mental security around the world. In Ethiopia, for example, child marriage is on the rise since the closure of schools in March. Families who do not wish or are unable to spend money on their daughters arrange such marriages as children are no longer in school. According to UNFPI, women represent 70% of health and social sector globally. Their work environments already expose them to increased risk in the workplace and in the home. COVID-19 related deaths are higher among healthcare workers and those caring for people with COVID-19, who tend to be women. We must also consider indirect deaths due to COVID-19, as people not going to the doctor for normal chronic conditions, or providers who have to shift to pandemic response and are not available. As in the case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, there is potential for a decrease in vaccination rates, an increase in facility maternal mortality ratio, and an increase in teenage pregnancy, all of which occurred during the Ebola outbreak. Even further, there is a high likelihood that we will see a decline in ability to control HIV, particularly in countries that are heavily impacted by HIV, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where girls have 2-3 times more cases than men.

Women’s shelters have been closed during lockdown measures, help lines were unavailable, and many female police officers, who play an important role in cases of gendered violence, are home taking care of their own children. Initial studies show that women have been less likely to call the helpline or shelter due to a fear that they will not be answered. Additionally, gender inequality is part of a wider tapestry of injustice, as such we can’t just look through the gendered lens. In the UK and the USA, Black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to die from COVID-19, exemplifying COVID’s deeply entrenched impacts reflecting societal inequalities. How do you stay at home if you don’t have a home? How do you stay at home if you are a migrant worker far from home? Marginalized groups have not gone away simply because of the virus, and in many cases are particularly impacted due to misguided responses to the pandemic.

What might the pandemic mean for feminism going forward?

COVID-19 is both a challenge and a chance for feminism. As we have seen, countries with female leaders have been extraordinarily successful in pandemic response like Angela Merkel in Germany and Jacinda Arden in New Zealand. Rethinking gender roles on behalf of men and women is important and indicates the value of, and care for, everyone. However, the pandemic does not bode well for women in political positions of leadership, as women can’t take on new responsibilities while caring in the home. Governments must ensure that women’s voices are heard and women’s ability to engage in participatory decision making in all areas of government is not further constrained. When we look to gender and sexual orientation, transgender people face a panoply of difficulties. As we’ve seen across sectors, vulnerable communities are made more vulnerable by the pandemic. People who identify as transgender may be reluctant to seek healthcare if it is not their normal healthcare provider, gender reassignment surgeries may have been halted, hormones which need to be taken on a regular basis may have been altered (physical and mental health). Transgendered people face more homelessness, and many may not have a safe place to stay. May experience more discrimination within employment and are over-represented in sex work. Gender, of course, is not just about women. It’s about a whole range of intersecting identities and precarities. Some of which are about social norms, others about the treatment of populations.


1. Reinvest back into public infrastructure for social provision, which includes childcare, parental benefits, among other things. These provisions must be available not only for citizens but those without documentation status and in informal work sectors.

2. Sustain social protection beyond the pandemic (stimulus payments, business protection, etc.) because income inequality will continue beyond the pandemic.

3. Invest in childcare and elder-care to create a sustainable social infrastructure in which gender inequalities can be properly address.

4. Do not turn away from global human rights agreements and instruments that are trying to move forward (SDGs, Global Compact for Migration, Gender Responsiveness, Beijing Platform etc.)

5. Engender the response in real time, not afterwards.

6. Strengthen the gender-based violence response mechanism

June 24, 2020

Security or Development: UK Government’s changing priorities


WICID Executive response to the announcement merging DfID with the FCO

Shirin M Rai, Briony Jones, Oyinlola Oyebode, Maeve Moynihan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that his government will merge the Foreign Office (FCO) with the Department for International Development (DfID) should not come as a surprise. Johnson has previously said overseas aid needs to be spent “more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests” and told the Financial Times in 2019 that Britain cannot keep operating as if it were a “Scandinavian NGO”. Although unsurprising, this merger signifies yet another regressive step in Britain’s attitude to international relations. It represents the intent of current political leaders’ to restructure the British civil service. In January, former international trade secretary Liam Fox, who still influences policy making, said of the Conservative’s huge majority in parliament: “the Conservative victory has created a political moment which is as important as Mrs Thatcher’s victory in 1979”. Conservatives are seizing that moment.

Tony Blair’s government set up DfID in 1997 after a long list of scandals about British foreign aid being used to leverage lucrative trade deals. For example, the UK government spent £243m on a controversial dam in Malaysia in exchange for an arms agreement in the Pergau Dam case. A cross-party committee on international development this year noted DfID’s good reputation internationally and said, “it is clear that it stands head and shoulders above other overseas development aid spending departments”. However, the danger in this merger lies in the potential for old aspects of corruption, like the Pergdau Dam case, to return. The aid budget for the most vulnerable communities, if such areas are not attractive to trade, may be reduced and have a highly detrimental impact on low- and middle-income countries that currently receive support.

The same cross-party committee noted above found that more than a quarter of the UK’s £15bn (0.7% of GDP) annual aid budget was administered through departments outside DfID, with accountability becoming increasingly “eroded”. Between 2014 and 2019 spending outside DfID rose from £1.6bn to £4.1bn. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact warned this meant a greater focus on middle-income countries; countries which are of interest to the UK from a security, climate or economic perspective, reinforcing the neoliberal agenda and the potential threat for old aspects of corruption to return.

Despite warnings, many have expected this merger to go ahead. Civil servants have expressed concern about the merger being forced through and Labour have accused the government of making changes “by the back door”. Nevertheless, despite a brief delay due to COVID-19, the merger is now going ahead as Conservative leaders look to Britain’s future relationships across the globe.

When he announced the plan in the House of Commons, Johnson said the departments were “designed to achieve the same goal”, which suggests he sees the role of DfID as primarily diplomatic, lubricating the wheels for greater commercial and political cooperation between Britain and its partners. He also said it was no use to have a British diplomat seeing the leader of a country and “urging him not to cut the head off his opponent” if the next day another representative of the British government arrived “with a cheque for £250m”. Not only is Johnson acknowledging Britain’s relationship with governments and dictators involved in oppression and human rights abuses, but he is also rehashing colonial-era tropes about uncivilised countries that the British try to civilize. Either way, the future doesn’t look bright for how British international development money is spent abroad. As countries around the world reckon with their colonial past and oppressive societal structures after the murder of George Floyd, Johnson’s decision to merge DfID with the FCO only reinforces such problematic antiquated tendencies and pushes the UK further into the past, rather than the future.

June 12, 2020

Global Insights – COVID–19: Migration, Refugees and Borders

Migration blog image

Authors: Ann Fitz-Gerald, Maria Koinova, Alison Mountz, Maurice Stierl

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). Global Insights webinars take place every Thursday at 16:00h (BST). You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panelists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Moderator - BSIA), Allehone Abebe (UNHCR), Maria Koinova (University of Warwick), Alison Mountz (IMRC, Wilfrid Laurier University, BSIA), Tazreena Sajjad (American University), Maurice Stierl (University of Warwick)

Although the swift closure of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic shocked many, such closures were a familiar reality for many refugees, displaced people, and migrants. In the past year prior to COVID-19, over 70 million migrants (including refugees and internally displaced people) moved around the globe. Meanwhile, international organizations adopted two global compacts, with varying degrees of success and implementation. COVID-19 has changed the landscape for people on the move in a multitude of ways.

What was the situation for migrants and refugees like before COVID-19?

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the situation for migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and internally displaced people was dire. Only 1% of displaced people have access to resettlement, demonstrating that for many people on the move, national borders were already closed. For some, the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, published in December 2018, served as symbolic markers of change, however for others selective or minimal enforcement has yielded little concrete change and questions surrounding accountability remain. The compact is non-binding, as nation-states continue to be the bodies that enforce the compact, making implementation uneven. The Global Compact for Migration advocates for “safe, orderly and regular migration,” however nation-states continue to use deterrence methods that paradoxically make migration unsafe and disorderly and provide very few legal paths for movement. While both global compacts served as an achievement and recognition of current challenges, it failed to implement the basic human rights, non-discrimination, and gender responses. The compacts focused on state perspectives rather than the perspectives of people on the move. In doing so, it neglected the rising xenophobia and vilification of migrants and refugees, which warrants a legitimate human rights response.

How is COVID-19 affecting migration globally and in different parts of the world?

The pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated the stark inequalities present in the world prior to the outbreak. In an extreme sense, as millionaires escaped to private compounds, those that were already displaced or seeking protection were driven into more precarity. Those seeking protection or entry however, are forced into more fragile situations, demonstrating how the pandemic has affected people very unequally. For example, Qatar has barricaded migrant labor work areas, called “Cordons Sanitaires,” creating unequal conditions for migrant workers and others. People have framed migrant health-workers as heroes, but society has not acknowledged the plethora of other essential migrant workers, like agricultural workers. For example, while most flights remained grounded the UK considered chartered flights to bring agricultural workers from Bulgaria and Romania, and other places, to bring people and expertise to support agricultural flow and production in the UK. Meanwhile, European countries have misused the pandemic to impose further restrictions on movement, particularly in the Mediterranean. For example, the Maltese government continues to intercept migrant boats and direct them back to conflict-ridden Libya, breaching human rights and maritime conventions. However, Europe remains silent about these violations at the external borders of Europe.

What does COVID-19 mean for the protection of refugees?

The so-called refugee crisis of 2015, which is perhaps more accurately referred to as a European governance crisis, obscured the history of refugee movement and placed the focus on Europe alone as a refugee reception destination. However, countries in the Global South historically and contemporarily continue to see the largest flows of refugees, rather than countries within Europe or North America. Despite the focused attention on the Global North, the top refugee-reception countries, like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Pakistan are in the Global South. COVID-19 creates a different dynamic of emergency, people are both being forced to flee, whether related to COVID-19 or otherwise, meanwhile border restrictions are increasing forcing people to cross highly-militarised borders. In Africa alone, there are over 7.8 million refugees and an estimated 90 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), which presents an immense challenge. Key protection issues have arisen such as: diminishing asylum, the closure of borders, and a crisis of education. Principles that have come to define life during the pandemic, such as rigorous hygiene care, teleworking and online schooling, are often not easy to access from a refugee camp. This lack of access generates knock-on effects like lack of nutrition for children unable to attend school and thus unable to get meals. For refugees outside of camps, who may be residing ‘illegally’ in difficult conditions, accessing healthcare is feared as entailing potential detainment, presenting another set of challenges.

Similarly, detention centres represent threats to hygiene and medical care. Prior to the pandemic, immigrant detention had proliferated across the globe in a variety of forms. When the outbreak took hold, governments provided a panoply of responses in their decision-making processes. Within facilities, physical distancing is nearly impossible, personal protective equipment and testing are unavailable for both detainees and staff. Some governments, such as Canada, which held very few immigrants in detention, have released individuals in detention. Others, however, such as the United States, have used the pandemic to further detain and deport quickly, holding over 38,000 people in detention in March 2020. Large crowded facilities have seen significant outbreaks, such as Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego (U.S.), where Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia became the first person to die in immigration detention from COVID-19 on May 7. One can also point to the ‘floating’ detention centres near Malta, where currently about 425 people who fled from Libya are still held by Malta, now for about 5 weeks and without the ability to claim asylum.

What effect is the crisis having on border controls?

On one side, governments have used the pandemic to exacerbate human rights violations and fortify hostile practices. However, at the same time, the pandemic has made migrants more visible. For example, at the Croatian border, border police marked the heads of migrants with spray painted crosses, presenting migrants as objects to be categorised. Meanwhile, the dialogue surrounding migrant health workers in the National Health Service in Great Britain has rendered migrants more visible and their contributions and presence more important. Governments have used moments of crisis to further enforce limitations on migration and asylum. 160 countries have put restrictive border closures into place since the pandemic began, and more than 50 of them did not make an exception to refugees in such closures. Countries in the Global North are effectively containing people displaced in the Global South 84% of displaced people remain in their region of origin. The European Union and the United States dominate in ‘sophisticated’ fortifications and use technological advancement of biometric surveillance that supports the wall-building enterprise. Although there has been extensive action in the Global North surrounding walls and fortification building, the literature does not support connections between migration patterns and physical borders. Walls do not deter migration, but in fact render mobility more difficult and expensive, leading to an expansion of human smuggling, trafficking, vigilante groups, visa overstays, environmental destruction, and lost lives. In addition to such dangerous physical borders, countries have implemented bureaucratic and external borders, such as third country gatekeepers as we see with Morocco for the EU.

What might the future of refugee and migration governance look like?

Despite the current restriction on movement around the globe, people will not stop migrating. Tools of global governance to ‘manage’ migration are highly reactive in response to crises. Border externalisation and securitisation of the sea, two concerning trajectories in migration governance have already grown since the outbreak of the pandemic. The border externalization process, in which European countries outsource border control to non-democratic regimes, contributes to increased militarization and ‘militia-ization’ of border control. Governments in Turkey, Morocco or Libya are intercepting hundreds of migrant boats on behalf of Europe, often in close coordination with EU authorities. EU border externalisation in the Sahel serves as a noteworthy example of such practices. In places like Libya, Sudan and Niger, not only state authorities but also sub-state forces, including rebel groups and criminal networks, profit from Europe’s border externalisation process, and become involved in the deterrence and containment of migrants.

Securitisation of the sea, in Malta for example, exonerates nation-states from responsibility for migration management and blocking NGOs from intervening in many cases. Despite obvious negative and alarming impacts, the pandemic also provides an invitation to step back and look at the big picture. For example, as countries rethink elderly care, they may also rethink refugee management and resettlement. In what ways are existing policies causing harm. Where do people who are resilient continue to go to survive, seek livelihood, seek protection?

Key Conclusions: Five pieces of advice for policy-makers

• Do not rely on border externalisation and third-party agreements (whether with sovereign states or militias) to have responsibility over migration control as it most often leads to human rights violations and unnecessary deaths. Instead the focus should be on allowing safe passage of people in need of protection.

• As you consider solutions, take all forms of forcible displacement into account (including de jure and de facto refugees and Internally Displaced People). Furthermore, recognize that most of the world’s refugees live in informal settlements, not camps. As such, greater attention needs to be paid to their agency, leadership and perspective when considering solutions.

• Take diasporas seriously as an actor embedded in global processes (apart from their cherished remittances) and engage them in new institutional arrangements rather than ad hoc forums, to coordinate transfers of finances, expertise, and more.

• In the realm of research, take a step back to look at the big picture and ask questions about demographics, gender, and ways in which resource access has shaped individual realities. Consider to what extent existing policies are effective and how actual movement can be brought into better alignment with demand in labor markets.

• Show leadership and solidarity with international human rights law and refugee law and offer greater opportunities for refugees and asylum-seekers to engage with, lead in, and be supported for solutions that directly impact their lives.

Any solution needs to consider their perspectives, experiences and context. Furthermore, it is critical to keep in mind that most of the world’s refugees also do not live in camps—many live in informal settlements, in semi-urban and densely population urban centers in close proximity to a country’s urban poor and its internal migrants, and at times with stateless populations. Greater attention needs to be paid to the needs and agencies of these different groups and more attention needs to be paid to context, and solutions need to incorporate the experiences, perspectives and local leadership of these communities.


The Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development addresses urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level.

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Dr. Briony Jones
Dr Mouzayian Khalil

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