Gender studies

Gender relations in times of crisis: Risks and opportunities for a more just society (session 2 of 2)

June 28, 2021 15:00
June 28, 2021 16:30

Brigitte Liebig, Institute for Sociology, University of Basel; Irene Kriesi, Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training; Martina Peitz, Sociologist, Zürich Committee Gender Studies of the Swiss Sociological Association


Sandra V. Constantin, Department of social policy and intervention, University of Oxford

Amal. M. Latif, IIT Hyderabad, India

Susanna Pagiotti, Università degli Studi di Perugia; Gaia Matilde Ripamonti, Università degli Studi di Perugia

Amjad Saleem, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva

Far-reaching societal challenges, such as those associated with armed conflicts, climate change,ecological disasters, financial crises or the current global corona pandemic, often do have consequences for our social order. As a determining part of this order, gender relations are confronted with the manifold effects of these crises in all areas of social life. The social consequences of crises often differ between the genders in terms of work, family, education, public access and sexuality. The perception, representation and management of crises in particular reveals how social, economic and gender inequalities are dealt with.

Times of social insecurity potentially go along with the emergence of new social inequalities and injustices as well as the risk of a return to traditional work and power relations, and a “retraditionalisation” of ways of life, gender constructions and identities. However, crises potentially also offer the opportunity for a renegotiation of the established gender order, for the innovation of former routines and rationalities - thus they provide new options for individual action as well as social and political reforms.

The manifold and sometimes contradictory social implications and consequences of social crises for gender relations, relationships and constructions are the focus of this paper session: It will examine past and present crises from various theoretical and empirical perspectives, including intersectional, queer feminist, post-colonial approaches:

  • What role do gender relations and constructions play in times of crises? How do men and women cope with crises?
  • Which implications do crises have for gender-related work and power relations, for work and family-related life courses and social (in)justice?
  • What significance do crises have for the social value of work (e.g. care work) and the social roles associated with it?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities of broaching the gender dimension and other socially constructed differences in the course of a crisis, its public/medial perception and its management?
  • How can gender studies contribute towards ensuring that lessons are learned from the current crises in order to enable a "good life" for everybody?

(Re) structuring work-family balance amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Switzerland, Sweden and France

Sandra V. Constantin, Department of social policy and intervention, University of Oxford

Since March 2020, families have been strongly mobilised amid the Covid-19 health crisis. They have been– with various degree of intensity - called upon to recenter their activities within the household. The lockdowns imposed in Switzerland and France in the spring of 2020 constitutes a paroxysmal situation in which work, school and leisure activities have been concentrated in one and the same place, with no possible recourse to third parties who usually supplement parents with some domestic and parental tasks. In this conference, I intend to question to which extent the Covid-19 health crisis constitute a new stage in the transformation of gender relations within families in Switzerland, Sweden and France. Do we observe a trend toward a “re-traditionalisation” of gender relations? To which extent does it open a breach for a renegotiation of the established gender order within families?

Based on a qualitative research that has been conducted in Switzerland, Sweden and France since October 2020 (ANR Project ANR-20-COV4-0002 "Fam.Conf."), I will show that, although the pandemic has required a very strong commitment of families, it has only marginally constituted a “turning point” in gender relations. It has rather reinforced gender arrangements that were already in place within families. This research is carried out at the same time in three European countries that embody a distinct management of the pandemic and three various ideal-type of welfare-state and gender regimes (Esping-Andersen, 1990; Sainsbury 1994). In each country, we conduct about 70 in-depth interviews with family members (heterosexual couple raising at least one child between the ages of 3 and 15).

In this communication, I will first discuss how families, depending on their configurations, have adapted to the new rules imposed. Changes in daily life are hardly significant. In the three countries, women have played a central role – as orchestra conductors - to re-structure family life under the pandemic. Second, the interviews conducted in the three countries reveal that while work, domestic and parental activities have been considerably reorganized since March 2020 (Bajos et al., 2020), the gendered division of labour has been only slightly transformed. Previous work-family arrangements have held quiet steady in line with existing gender strategies, despite a significant increase in the amount of work - including reproductive work - to be performed. It seems that the Covid-19 pandemic crisis has only marginally weakened families, probably thanks to women’s increased involvement within families during the pandemic. The few cases of separation encountered were the result of disorders that preexisted the emergence of the pandemic. 

Keywords: family, work, gender, (in)equality, Covid-19 

Being a Khaddama during covid19: narratives of work, home and life from migrant women domestic workers in the gulf

Amal. M. Latif, IIT Hyderabad, India

Khaddama is the colloquial version of the Arabic word ‘Khadima’ which translates into servant\housemaid. The word ‘Khadama’ also means, ‘to serve’ or ‘to assist’ in Arabic. Covid-19 has exacerbated the precariousness of the women domestic workers in many parts of the world, given the way the management and policies to contain it have directly affected the working, living and health conditions of migrant workers. Covid-19 has made historical vulnerabilities, precarity, and asymmetric social distribution of justice more explicit. As reported from the Gulf, migrant workers continue to live in squalid dormitories during the lockdown, and most of the neighbourhoods which have dense labour camps are marked as red zones. Also, the repatriation of corpses of migrant workers was and still is a difficult task for the social workers in the Gulf as the Indian state denied their acceptance during the lockdown. What was common in most of my conversations with Khaddamas was the way in which, their narratives were driven by their imagination of a 'post' Covid-19 world – whether or not they would have their jobs, whether or not they will have access to food and medicines during the lockdown, whether or not they would be able to return home, whether or not they would be able to return to the Gulf if they chose to return home. It then becomes important for me to comprehend how an epidemiological phenomenon is constructed through narratives of uncertainty within this vulnerable community – How do these uncertainties reveal what is at stake for migrant domestic workers? What do these uncertainties tell us about the way they imagined their futures? Could it provide some critical insights into how they make sense of their need to migrate to, work in, and live in the Gulf? What new challenges have lockdown in India and the Gulf posed for this demography? How does information about medicine, food supply, and safety circulate among the domestic migrant workers cooped up in their dormitories? How or where do they locate themselves within this pandemic? The Covid-19 pandemic also highlights the role of the diasporic organizations in the Gulf as an affective community. It brings forth this vital relationship of dependence and sense of duty that the diasporic community share with 'unfortunate yet their own' people. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to stringent policing of national borders and transnational movement. This will certainly impact the migrant labour community and raises concerns about the attitudes and practices of different states towards recruitment of intimate labour such as domestic work. Moreover, if the trafficking of women was a central feature in the transnational labour migration and their recruitment in the globalized world, what can we predict in the post-COVID-19 world given the more stringently policed borders? Will the need for paid labour make already marginalized communities like migrant domestic workers (who do not find employment in their own country) find more precarious ways to find transnational employment?

Keywords: Gender, migration, precarity, affective community 

Increasing disparities: Covid-19 impact on female population. The Italian case of Umbria region 

Susanna Pagiotti, Università degli Studi di Perugia; Gaia Matilde Ripamonti, Università degli Studi di Perugia

The Covid-19 is having severe consequences in Italy as one of the first and most hit countries in Europe. As the first studies on the pandemic’s socioeconomic repercussions emerged, we have understood that women are undoubtably one of the social groups most affected by the crisis. 

The Umbria region represents a privileged observation point to understand the consequences of Covid-19 for at least two reasons: the limited spread of the virus during the first months of the crisis and the characteristics of the female population. During the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic emergency in Italy (February-May), Umbria was one of the regions least affected by Covid-19 in terms of number of cases and deaths, according to data of Ministry of Health. Nonetheless, Umbria had to adapt to the lockdown as well as the other regions as the central government decided to implement national restrictive measures homogeneously all over the country. Covid-19 crisis and the national lockdown had hard socioeconomic consequences everywhere, and Umbria has made no exception. The second reason regards the structure of its labour market. For some time now, academic literature has emphasized the virtuousness of the Umbrian context in the familistic Italian welfare system. According to ISTAT data and reports (2019), female employment rate is higher than the national average (58,0 versus 50,1) as well as the presence of dual-earners’ families (52,1 versus 45,3) and highly educated female employment rate (78,2 versus 75,7). 

The aim of the paper is to understand the impact of Covid-19 on female population in Umbria region. We argue that Covid-19 had dramatic consequences on female living conditions even in a region that was not hit so hard by the virus and in which women’s participation in the labour market is above national average. 

We used a quantitative methodology: an online survey was submitted to the Umbrian population during August 2020 between the first and the second wave of the pandemic; 1,092 responses have been collected. The survey was organized in different thematic sections on demographic, socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents, reaction to the Covid-19 emergency in terms of personal well-being, appropriateness of information and restrictions. Multiple-choice and open questions were chosen to collect experiences, opinions, and data of citizens. 

As we expected, women were hit harder than men by Covid-19: 2,3% of female respondents were fired during the first wave of the crisis, for 16,5% of them job activity was suspended, overall, 61,7% of women reported a high level of stress and this is true especially for the younger ones. 

Results suggest that Covid-19 crisis hit harder female population, increasing gender disparities. For this reason, this analysis contributes to the debate on gender issues in two directions. First, it stresses out the importance of looking at gender dynamics in time of crisis even in relatively virtuous contexts, where Covid-19 has played as a “reverse gear”. Furthermore, it invites to deepen our knowledge on the pandemic impact in territories with worse women living conditions, where the crisis has played as a dangerous “handbrake”.

Keywords: gender; inequalities; covid-19; social welfare; survey research 

We need to do better to protect the most vulnerable and most marginalized during times of crisis

Amjad Saleem, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva

Issues of violence, discrimination and exclusion are interlinked – and cannot be addressed in isolation.  Inequality in resources, power and access to basic needs are root causes of violence, discrimination, and exclusion, and of the disproportionate impact that disasters and shocks have on marginalized people.  Thus, as discrimination is intersectional, vulnerability is intersectional and therefore there are many factors people are structurally marginalized by and the compound effects this has on their lives, wellbeing, and safety.  

Research done by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has shown that   violence such as against children, Sexual and Gender based Violence (SGBV), sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), and trafficking in persons occurs everywhere and all the time and is especially exacerbated during times of crisis and disaster.  COVID-19 and in particular the lockdowns have made these protection risks even more acute.  This paper will explore how the IFRC and member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies approach protection risks through a nuanced approach.  The IPE uses an approach called Protection, Gender, and Inclusion (PGI) to address causes, risks and consequences of violence, discrimination, and exclusion in an integrated way. 

“Protection” and “inclusion” refer to specific actions that are taken for the benefit of people at risk.  “Gender and diversity”  refer to the multitude of intersecting factors that we must consider in order for work on  protection and inclusion  to be carried out effectively. Combining protection, gender and inclusion emphasises the importance of jointly addressing those interrelated factors that increase or decrease risks and consequences of violence, discrimination, and exclusion. At the heart of the PGI approach is an analysis of how each individual is affected differently by shocks and crises, based on pre-existing uneven power relations, -structures and access to basic resources and how this leads to different levels of vulnerability, capacity, risks and exposure to violence. Keeping people safe and included in the short term also means addressing these root causes in the long term, so PGI is essential in both humanitarian and development work, and the “nexus” between. 

This paper will explore lessons learned by the IFRC and its member National Societies in implementing PGI in its programmes.  It discusses the need for laws and policies to be strengthened to take account of protection elements especially in relation to disaster risk management. Moving forward, it is essential to have domestic laws and regulations that enable vulnerable communities to live in safety. This approach moves us from a focus on response to a much-needed emphasis on prevention.  In order to ensure affected people’s safety in a relevant and effective manner, the paper argues that organizations must be safe and inclusive humanitarian organization ourselves themselves.

Keywords: Intersectional inclusion; protection; vulnerability