Pandemic and System of Power: A Feminist Perspective

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The world is facing a health emergency of COVID- 19 which has forced to take some anomalous steps to save human life from this deadly virus. Humans are making efforts to adjust in this uncanny situation. Though this virus is equally dangerous for all of us but a section of society is even adversely affected because of the systematically organized power structure of our society and those are the women.

When an epidemic or pandemic affects society the entire mechanism of control from responsible governance, role of national policies, production of knowledge, patriarchy and culture all contribute in creating an environment that make women’s situation  even vulnerable in an outbreak.

Major feminist research is focused on critiquing women’s subordination in society. It is important to look into the relations of power rather than power as an individual activity. While seeing pandemic from a gendered lens with reference to power it is crucial to understand that power works through a systematic hierarchy. In many Asian countries including India women hold less power than men and this therefore creates a relation of domination and subordination.

The feminist perspective of a pandemic can be seen when various strategic system of power intersect and make women more vulnerable in an outbreak. There are various fault lines on which system of power works at every level which we need to look through intersectional perspective. These factors  may be poverty, feminization of labor, lack of proper information, financial constraints, belonging to a minority group, reproductive health, political system, age, culture or tradition and patriarchy. Many feminist scholars have argued that intersectionality is source that fuels powerlessness, vulnerabilities and oppressive system.

In the ongoing pandemic we came across the increasing percentage of domestic violence. The issue of domestic violence is the result of various insecurities majorly of public sphere. Many studies show that this pandemic will have a severe effect on world economy which might result in recession and people may lose their jobs. The insecurity of losing job or financial constraints may be a reason for increase domestic violence. As patriarchy works in a public/ private divide where public sphere is for men and private sphere for women and women are in a vulnerable position in a house hold. Other factors that are increasing the burden of this pandemic is the biology i.e having no power on their womb and gender norms such as care work, domestic chores.

Feminists have argued how different aspects works and through which power structure or patriarchy controls womanhood. This is the time when we need to stop celebrating patriarchy. Moving beyond the norms of public/ private divides we can make pandemics less gendered. Not through equality but by equity we can fight against this pandemic. More gender inclusive healthcare schemes and policies should be regulated and men and women both should be made aware of these schemes. Grassroots’ campaigns should be started to spread awareness about the pandemics and its effects on various groups (male, female, elderly, and children) of society. It is high time to make counseling centres approachable to cope with the health emergency and its after affects. By questioning the persisting power structure and stop being in the chain of this systematic mechanism we can make the pandemic less gendered.

Sarah Kidwai is senior research fellow at Centre for Women’s Studies Aligarh Muslim University. She is involved in many gender sensitisation programs. Her areas of interest are gender and education, identity politics and intersectionality.



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