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The global pandemic is not over. It will not be over for many years, and there is still more work to do before we have genuinely comprehensive and equitable health coverage for all people. The pandemic will force a re-evaluation of many existing socio-cultural barriers because these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by biological transmission. For example, traditional gender-based roles (males as breadwinners and females as caregivers) may be reversed when men are less likely than women to leave their homes because of fear for their safety. Another example is the rise in female economic activity in developing economies as travel restrictions are imposed. Through gender and social roles, men and boys have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. But they are not its primary cause and the pandemic does not make an exception as it affects them. Until we have a vaccine for meningitis – until we make meningitis a treatable condition for all – there can be no safe space in which to talk about this issue.
The violence of the pandemic and its resulting trauma, isolation, and intense psychological suffering potentially weaken women’s organizations and their initiatives by creating a climate of fear, grief, chronic illness, disability, and death. As we risk losing former allies and colleagues — people who have fought long and hard for equal rights — it is our responsibility to ensure that their activism does not go to waste. We must make sure that the issues they championed do not go unaddressed or ignored. A woman who is faced with an abusive partner will often need to rely on her resources and the community to find a safe place away from that partner. Yet fears about exposure to the virus, combined with new restrictions on freedom of movement, are likely to create additional hurdles that increase the risk for some women and their children.
I think it’s safe to agree that the pandemic is discriminatory against women and girls – that in fact, it has arisen from deeply rooted patriarchal institutions. In this country and much of the world, we have done an abysmal job of providing opportunities for all people, men and women alike. But it doesn’t follow that we should therefore see the current outbreak as a predictable backlash to the progress of feminism. But we can’t afford to stand on the sidelines while the world slips into chaos. We can’t afford to watch life expectantly, hoping that everything turns out okay. We need to do what we can to make sure that things turn out okay. And in this sense, the pandemic is an opportunity for feminism.