?Who Will Protect Us Against the Plagues of the World
A few weeks ago, a picture was published of seven world leaders who handled the Corona crisis effectively. All are women, all are at the top of their countries: Denmark, Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Taiwan and Germany. Politically, these leaders are diverse: most of them are part of the left (socialist and green parties), a minority come from the center and one from a Conservative Party. What they have in common is that they spoke directly to the people: they explained and reassured. They did threaten but they nevertheless conveyed the serious nature of situation.
In many countries of the world, the “war” against the virus is waged by men who make threats and use war-related concepts. This leadership style does not assume that gender differences are innate but that they result from the social expectations of both men and women, concerning their life trajectories and role models.
In Israel, male leadership is very militaristic and those responsible for addressing the Corona crisis are [members of] the National Security Council (MALAL in Hebrew). They nominated two Corona Committees, both consisting of “important” people, ranging from experts from the Weizmann Institute to senior officials concerned with the economy. Who is missing from the committee? Women! There are no physicians, teachers, social workers, women living in distressed neighborhoods, the elderly, people with disabilities and women in poverty. Public pressure had to be exerted in order to include one woman, and the one they chose is with a military background.
This advisory committee and many experts and consultants are being interviewed and speaking out through the different media about what should and should not be done. They have revealed that this committee’s prestigious male membership helps to obscure its real purpose by claiming that the members speak in the interests of security. This blurring is not accidental: its purpose is to associate the concept of security with the army and militaristic powers, thus preserving the government’s power.
This response to the Corona pandemic exposes the need for a broad feminist definition of the concept of security. Safe living depends on health, a roof over one’s head, food security, social participation, equitable distribution of welfare resources, education and healthcare for women from different cultural groups, socio-economic levels and with diverse civic statuses.
Women constitute more than half of the world’s population: the involvement of women is critical. We remain responsible for maintaining family, community and society as a whole. Women make up most of the working force (at low or unpaid wages) in the areas of education, health and well-being of children, adults, and the elderly. Women also care for children and the elderly at home while we cook, feed and clean. Even in our old age, we are supposed to care for spouses, children and certainly our grandchildren.
These experiences demand a response in which we skillfully employ, persuasion, care and reassurance. Unfortunately, these qualities are seen as inferior to the characteristics of managing, commanding, and exerting power quickly and resolutely. In this context, some [middle-class] women with financial security [as well as women] with low-income jobs and/or low-socioeconomic status –[women] struggling for food, education and health for their children and themselves, and possibly lacking civil status–are deprived of health and welfare rights, and often work under conditions of exploitation.
Paradoxically, women are also most vulnerable during a health and economic crisis just as they are in daily life. During a health related pandemic, we, like everyone else, are supposed to ”shelter” in our homes, to reassure the people around us, to feed the others and clean [the home.]. Some women also need to look for new sources of livelihood [to survive] this difficult period. Some are trapped in their home with a person who threatens the well-being of their bodies, minds and lives. We live in a plague-ridden society even at times that seem peaceful to most of us. Violent men who harass, rape, and beat others create one of the longest and most difficult pandemic that women face. There is no savior, neither the state nor society. This pandemic has no expiration date. Hot or cold weather does not weaken it and no vaccine has been found for it. We’ve already tried everything: to enact laws, to set up organizations such as shelters for battered women and rape crisis centers. And yet women are still being raped and murdered, and except for other women, no one hears their cry.
This situation must not continue. The crisis presents an opportunity to build a totally new social order. Women, who make up more than half of the world’s population, need to promote a different policy of compassion, distributive justice, and respect for all. It is time to end the patriarchal control that prevents many millions of people to live in dignity and promotes violence against women and other disadvantaged groups.
We call for the transfer of social, community and political management to women from across the human spectrum, and for their significant involvement in all decision-making processes during the Corona crisis and beyond on every important social issue. [We call for a profound and fundamental change in all social systems that support human existence. We demand security for women in particular and for all of human society!
The author is a feminist activist – working on a project for women without civic status in the Woman-to-Woman organization, Haifa Feminist Center
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