All 5 entries tagged Coronavirus Pandemic

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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 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.

June 09, 2020

Healthcare workers ‘at the frontline’ of COVID–19


Image created by Kevin Kobsic. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives - help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Written by Dr Sharifah Sekalala

In Susan Sontag’s seminal essay on ‘Illness as Metaphor’ (1978), she argued that military metaphors profoundly shape our responses to public health crises. ‘Fighting’ against a disease positions it as an ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, and risks stigmatising those who ‘lose their battle’ as weak or lacking courage. In the same way, describing healthcare workers at the ‘frontline’ of an offensive invokes warlike language, and the gendered nature of this discourse may lead us to misperceive the complexity of caring during a crisis.

There has been no shortage of military metaphors relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United Kingdom (UK). The prime minister, Boris Johnson, talked of a fight in which everyone is directly enlisted, and, on his return from hospital after contracting COVID-19, he referred to the coronavirus as “an unexpected and invisible mugger”, which he praised for being “suitably muscular”. Likewise, the Queen, in a rare speechin April 2020, drew on the phrase “We’ll meet again”, taken from the 1939 British song popularised by singer Vera Lynn, which invokes the idea of soldiers leaving their families to go and fight in a war.

However, these metaphors are a blunt instrument. They are designed to garner public support, and tend to emphasise the part played in the response to COVID-19 by men, overlooking serious and structural gendered inequities in healthcare. Many speeches have mentioned doctors and nurses, but, as in war, the generals at the top are valorised for their heroism, while those in the trenches at the frontline are forgotten. These most vulnerable and exposed healthcare workers are (unlike frontline troops in war) predominantly female and are overrepresented by those from poor socio-economic and racial backgrounds. For many weeks the UK government even refused to release data on BAME deaths, making it harder to know who exactly was dying. Carers in care homes were also not given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) until there was a public outcry.

In the UK, healthcare workers have been hailed as heroes, and the country is out on the streets every week clapping for them. The prime minister has even named his newly-born son after one of them, and they have been given preferential treatment by many retailers, with some restaurants even providing them with free meals. But who exactly are the people shouldering the sharp end of the burden of COVID-19? Occasionally, we read headlines about particularly brave surgeons or nurses – far less often about healthcare workers, who constitute the vast majority of those risking their lives every day to support the healthcare system. The entire system is also being sustained by largely women carers who are now doing much more caring at homeas children are off school even when they are still working remotely.

Care work in the UK is grossly underpaid and largely unrecognised. Many cleaners and healthcare workers are no longer directly paid by the NHS, and therefore do not enjoy the same employment rights as NHS workers. They are not unionised and therefore they cannot demand health and safety measures that many other workers take for granted. Many are migrants and consequently in a weak position to articulate their rights when they are violated. By celebrating carers as heroes we may make ourselves feels better while overlooking society’s responsibilities to them. Warlike rhetoric portrays the noble togetherness of a fight against this great evil, but many of the most vulnerable foot-soldiers would be better served by focusing attention on structural changes that would help the most disadvantaged of these people.

The way in which the aftermath of caring has been dealt with illustrates the erasure of some of these categories of carers. A UK backed scheme in which dependants of NHS carers who died from COVID-19 were automatically given indefinite leave to remain free of charge (giving dependants the right to remain in the UK without any time limit on their stay and allowing them to take up employment or study), had been limited to certain occupations such as doctors, radiographers, nurses, biochemists and phycologists leaving social care workers, hospital cleaners and porters ‘out in the cold’. It was only after an extensive outcry that the government relented and added these carers to this scheme.

The valorisation of certain kinds of carers is not unique to the UK and is a global problem. In the Ebola crisis in West Africa many international discussions focused primarily on the risks of violence faced by frontline health workers ‘in the field’, and the scarcity of professionally trained health workers. In so doing, the international community failed to recognise that caring during complex emergencies often necessitates that caring not only falls to professional carers but relies largely on non-professionals. This care work was gendered, and it often fell on women to provide it. Just as in the COVID-19 crisis, the Ebola crisis had different hierarchies of carers from those most protected from harm, to those least protected. The first category comprises international aid workers, primarily employed by humanitarian aid agencies (e.g. Oxfam, Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), International Committee of the Red Cross, and foreign public health agencies such as Public Health England and the Centre for Disease Control. These international health workers retained a high level of autonomy in that they had clear contractual terms about the kind of work that they could reasonably be expected to do, and always had the option of leaving the country.

The second category, medical professionals at the domestic level, consisted of doctors, nurses and other highly trained domestic health workers, such as nurse aides, nurse assistants and midwives, referred to here as domestic nurses. In both West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a severe shortage of domestic health workers, especially in the public health system, created an overreliance on nurses. In global health crises, domestic nurses are often the first responders, due to a shortage of local doctors. The nurses often worked in very poor conditions, lacked sufficient knowledge of haemorrhagic fevers, and in the early days of the epidemic often worked without PPE. Their vulnerability to infection was borne out by a systematic review(Selvaraj et al, 2018) of research on health workers in West Africa, which found that nurses and midwives — predominantly women — were particularly vulnerable to Ebola because of the intimate care they provided during the epidemic. In the West African crisis, nurses accounted for more than fifty percent of infected health workers. As employees of the state, the nurses had low bargaining power, though some managed to negotiate more lucrative employment with humanitarian aid agencies. Others had no choice but to remain at their stations in low-paid government hospitals, thereby, suffering differential and disadvantageous economic reward compared to the higher remuneration packages paid to foreign humanitarian workers and nurses who worked for humanitarian agencies. The third category was Community volunteers, such as Water and Sanitation (WASH) staff, who performed the highest risk jobs: cleaning and disposing of blood, vomit, waste, burying bodies, and educating local communities about the epidemiology of the disease. Many worked as cleaners in hospitals and treatment units, some washed clothing, while others (primarily traditional healers) helped wash and bury bodies. In the West African Ebola crisis, many of these staff were volunteers, and, although they received training, their lack of experience, and their poor work conditions, placed them at greater risk of contagion. As non-medical professionals, these community health workers fell between the category of professional workers and citizens. Due to their legal status as volunteers, their pay and working conditions were less favourable, making them particularly vulnerable.

Finally, there were individual carers in homes – who were predominantly women - who looked after families during and after the crisis. In a patriarchal culture, women’s primary designation as carers meant they were more likely to have responsibility of nursing and caring for extended families. They performed various care roles in homes, and sometimes, as a result of quarantine, had to leave their own home to reside near Treatment Units to care for loved ones in isolation — and then had to manage the precarity posed by living in temporary accommodation in a male-dominated environment.

The comparisons between the hierarchies in West Africa and those in the UK are startling and they must make us seriously rethink the ways in which caring is organised, recognised and compensated. We use the language of heroism to obscure; the very nature of the ‘hero’ identity requires that only a few people can be identified as such, and those that do meet the criteria require self-sacrifice in order to do so. In reality, both in the UK and globally, the group of people who provide care is much bigger. At the bottom are people who we have severely oppressed, and we owe it to these carers to move beyond the metaphors, and to examine and document the experiences of the categories of carers in the COVID-19 crisis if we are to remove the structural barriers to caring for them.


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 Mouzayian Khalil-Babatunde
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