Peace Abroad and at Home: A Feminist Proposal to Combat COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on countries, communities, and households. Our hearts are with those who have lost family and friends, and particularly to the health workers who have lost their lives in the valiant efforts to contain the virus and treat the sick. What the pandemic has revealed most starkly are the shortcomings of healthcare systems across the globe and the huge social costs of an economic model that prioritizes markets and profits over people’s health and wellbeing. COVID-19 is exactly the kind of crisis that our neoliberal capitalist economy is ill-equipped to solve.
As the Coronavirus spreads globally, we see the failures of the multistate system. Institutions like the United Nations have been unable to act and institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) have become deeply politicized due to the calculated efforts by the US government to weaken any genuine attempt at diplomacy and human rights advocacy. Despite the fact that Iran has been ravaged by COVID-19, the WHO has not called for an end to sanctions against Iran and other countries. Sanctions prevent vital medical supplies, materials and medicines from entering countries like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. This did not happen overnight: the US has done more to weaken and undermine the UN system than any other country, providing a roadmap that other countries have followed. The US dropped out of the UN Human Rights system with a debt of millions, making it difficult for those agencies to continue their work. The current system encourages rivalries and competition between nations when we are in desperate need of collaboration and solidarity. This aversion to collaboration is a product of our entrenchment in a deeply patriarchal, racist capitalist culture. Patriarchal racialized capitalism privileges individuals over community and over life-affirming communal systems.
As anti-imperialist, pro-peace feminists, we have a unique and crucial perspective for this crisis. Under patriarchal racialized capitalism, there is no profit to be made in ensuring that all people have a high quality of life. We call for a peace and care economy where people are put before profits and life-affirming systems of solidarity are privileged over war and militarism. This peace and care economy requires the creation of systems of solidarity and a radical reorienting of priorities in order to meet every person’s most basic needs and to plant the seeds for peace both abroad and at home to flourish.
Our demands are not radical. In fact, they are necessary if we want humankind to survive and thrive after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
- We demand the immediate and permanent end to all sanctions against nations levied by the United States. Sanctions are a death sentence for many of the most marginalized people in the countries they target.
- We call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire of all global conflicts so that we can prioritize peace making, diplomacy and cooperation in this time of global crisis.
- We demand the nationalization of all resources including water, health care and utilities so that all people regardless of gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or disability may be guaranteed proper and equitable access to basic needs to live.
- We demand fully paid parental leave, creches and pre-school facilities for all parents, caretakers, guardians and families. All child-care workers must be professionalized and well-paid for this crucial work, as well as free to form a union.
- We demand the complete and total forgiveness of all student debt, all medical debt and all national debt. The loan arrangements of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have created the neoliberal conditions that are currently debilitating many Global South countries and countries like Italy and Greece. It is everyday people who are most harmed by this national debt. Additionally, we cannot continue to bail out billion dollar corporations and companies at the expense of the working-poor. It is time to “bail out” a generation of young people being smothered by debt and it is time to “bail out” all those who were forced to go into medical debt just to survive. We all have the right to get an education and care when we fall ill; no one should be punished for learning or getting sick.
- We demand an international cancellation of rent for all tenants, from those in apartments in urban centers to tenant farmers who need to work their land to survive. Housing is a human right and market solutions have failed our people, leading to a shameful homelessness crisis.
- In addition to cancellation of rent, we demand every person be guaranteed a home and safe place to shelter during this crisis. We demand our homeless loved ones be given secure housing so that they may safely socially distance. Those, especially women, whose homes are not shelters due to abusive spouses and partners must be placed in safe spaces, like hotels, so that they can socially distance without fear of their abuser. Our demand for housing for all cannot be met without the expansion and proper full funding of public housing.
- We demand the total abolition of the prison-industrial complex which is keeping imprisoned people in incredibly unsafe conditions, leading to Rikers Island having one of the highest rates of infections in the world. The prison-industrial complex disproportionately imprisons our poor and our Black, Latinx and Indigenous loved ones and is another form of state-sanctioned family separation. We must invest in people not prisons.
- We also demand the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has terrorized our undocumented loved ones for too long. Abolishing ICE means an end to all deportations and detention. ICE detention centers have a well documented history of deplorable conditions and those in detention are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. All those in detention must be freed.
Feminists are problem solvers. We do not bring forward demands without having thought about how they must be met. These solutions allow our economy to be radically reoriented from one rooted in war and militarism to one rooted in solidarity, peace and cooperation. After this pandemic dies down, there can be no return to business as usual. Our patriarchal racialized capitalist economy is what led to this disaster. A peace and care based economy is the only way out.
In a peace and care based economy, all basic needs will be met. Food, water and housing must be guaranteed in order for life to go on. New York City has already guaranteed three meals a day for all New Yorkers. Vietnam has gone farther, guaranteeing every citizen and foreigner housing, food and medical treatment. In addition to securing food, every person has the right to a safe housing situation. France has begun to house survivors of domestic violence in hotel rooms and the United Kingdom has booked hotel rooms for the homeless. When we meet the most basic needs of all people, we can tackle bigger issues of militarism, gender-based violence and peace.
While basic needs are met, a peace and care focused economy will cultivate systems of solidarity to support, uplift and care for all members of the communities to which we belong. Systems of solidarity must be created on the global and local scale. Globally, this means an end to the interstate system and its consistent playing of the blame game. What has made COVID-19 as dangerous as it has become is countries blaming one another for the pandemic when we must be working together to fight the virus. President Donald Trump has blamed China for COVID-19 while refusing to take responsibility for his own personal lack of action. The repeated passing blame obscures who is truly at fault: neoliberal capitalist companies, corporations and CEOs who value amassing billions of dollars in wealth at the expense of working people around the world, especially at the expense of women, people of color and women of color in particular in the Global South. Equally at fault are the regimes and governments that prop up these corporations and engage in theft of crucial resources in the form of sanctions and the seizure of medical equipment. We do not have to look far to see a different model - Cuba and China have sent doctors to the most affected parts of Italy. International solidarity and exchange will save us from future crises.
Creating systems of solidarity extends to the local level. This means universal child care, senior care, the nationalization of all resources and universal free healthcare. Developing systems of solidarity allows us to invest not only in ourselves and our families but in all people. No human is an island; without systems of solidarity to rely on for child care, healthcare and other life affirming needs we lose connection as a world-wide human community. Coronavirus has highlighted the particular ways low to moderate-income single, senior women are vulnerable in moments of crisis; they are at a higher risk of death from COVID-19 but single senior women in particular have less resources to fall back on and must go out into the world to meet their most basic needs. Local mutual aid networks have stepped up to help but the success of mutual aid within communities does not excuse the lack of a proper social safety net.
Whenever we demand that these needs be met, however, we are told that we cannot afford universal childcare, healthcare and the nationalization of utilities. Our feminism demands we ask in reply: how can we then afford endless, costly wars that kill innocent people? We can fund this social safety net by radically reorienting our economic priorities and taxing the rich. No one earns a billion dollars; their employees created that wealth and it was stolen from them. Taxing the rich so that everyone can live a decent life without worrying about homelessness, hunger or going bankrupt from medical costs is morally necessary.
Through creating systems of solidarity on the global scale and locally, we can more towards our ultimate feminist goal: peace abroad and at home. A feminist future is one where we can solve conflict through diplomacy and cooperation, not with arms races and war. A global community built on solidarity and exchange is one where all peoples and nations are invested in one another: when one of us struggles, we all struggle. When our nations see one another as members of the same global community instead of potential enemies or regions for imperial resource extraction and conquest, we can solve conflicts with diplomacy and problem-solving.
When we live in a world based on solidarity and support, we will see the effects in our families and neighborhoods. Anthropologist Kristen R. Ghodsee has documented that when women are able to earn a living wage and have a reliable social safety net to turn to, they develop more satisfying personal lives and are less likely to be trapped in abusive relationships due to capitalist manufactured economic insecurity. Building peace abroad and prioritizing life-affirming systems builds peace at home. We are unafraid to take on the most ambitious, large-scale feminist project of our time; we only ask that you join us in courage.
We thank all of those who took the time to work on our feminist response to COVID-19: Anna Agathangelou, Zillah Eisenstein, Jodie Evans, Suzie Gilbert, Camden Goetz, Val Moghadam, Rhoda Reddock, Caty Seger, Farida Sheralam, and Philippa Winkler.