Action: Call for a Feminist COVID-19 Policy

Dear Reader,

Below you’ll find open letter prepared by the Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR) Steering Committee calling on all Member States to adopt a feminist policy to address the COVID-19 outbreak.  Please fill out this form to let us know if you and/or your organization would like to sign the letter, by  Thursday, March 26 at 8pm EDT . The sign-on form is available in this link:

Statement of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organizations from the Global South and marginalized communities in the Global North

We, the undersigned organizations committed to feminist principles and women’s human rights, call on governments to recall and act in accordance with human rights standards in their response to COVID-19 and uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination, centering the most marginalized people — women, children, elderly, people with disabilities, people with compromised health, rural people, unhoused people, institutionalized people, , refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, stateless people, and people in war zones. Feminist policy recognizes and prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable communities. Beyond the response to this pandemic, it is necessary for the development of peaceful, inclusive and prosperous communities within human rights-driven states.

It is critical that governments utilize a human rights and intersectional based approach to ensure that everyone has access to necessary information, support systems and resources during the current crisis. We have recognized nine key areas of focus to be considered in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. They are listed below with brief descriptions of potential challenges and recommendations that consider the lived experiences of people in vulnerable position — especially women and girls that endure a disproportionate impact due to their sex, gender, and sexual orientation — and steer policymakers toward solutions that do not exacerbate their vulnerabilities or magnify existing inequality and ensure their human rights.

These guidelines are not a replacement for the engagement of women and girls and other marginalized communities in decision-making, but a rationale for consultation and diversity in leadership.

Key Focus Areas for a Feminist Policy on COVID-19

Food security. In countries that depend on food imports, there are fears of closing borders and markets and the inability to access food. This concern is exacerbated for people experiencing poverty and in rural communities, especially women, who do not have easy access to city centers and major grocery stores and markets. This leads to people with the means purchasing large quantities of goods which limits availability for those with lower incomes who are not able to do the same and are likely to face shortages when they attempt to replenish their food supplies. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Increase — or introduce —  food stamps and subsidies, both in quantity for those already receiving them and in expansion of access to include those who become more vulnerable due to current circumstances
  • Direct businesses to ration nonperishable food supply to control inventory and increase access for those who, due to their income levels, must purchase over a longer period of time
  • Send food supply to rural communities to be stored and distributed as needed to eliminate the delay in accessing supply in city centers and safeguard against shortages due to delays in shipping
  • Send food supply to people unable to leave their homes (e.g. disabled people living alone or in remote areas)

Healthcare. All countries expect a massive strain on their public health systems due to the spread of the virus, and this can lead to decreased maternal health and increased infant mortality rates. There is often lack of access to healthcare services and medical supplies in rural communities. The elderly, people with disabilities, and people with compromised or suppressed immune systems are at high risk, and may not have live-in support systems. The change in routine and spread of the virus can create or exacerbate mental health issues. This crisis has a disproportionate impact on women who form, according to the World Health Organization’s March 2019 Gender equity in the health workforce working paper, 70% of workers in the health and social sector, according to the World Health Organization. It also disproportionately affects those who provide care for others.

 In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Ensure the availability of sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis, including differentiated infection and mortality rates.
  • Increase availability and delivery of healthcare services and responders, medical supplies, and medications 
  • Ensure women’s timely access to necessary sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis, such as emergency contraception and safe abortion 
  • Maintain an adequate stock of menstrual hygiene products at healthcare and community facilities
  • Train medical staff and frontline social workers  to recognize signs of domestic violence and provide appropriate resources and services
  • Develop a database of high-risk people who live alone and establish a system and a network to maintain regular contact with and deliver supplies to them
  • Provide for the continued provision of health care services based on non-biased medical research and tests — unrelated to the virus — for women and girls
  • Implement systems to effectively meet mental health needs including accessible (e.g. sign language, captions) telephone/videocall hotlines, virtual support groups, emergency services, and delivery of medication
  • Support rehabilitation centers to remain open for people with disabilities and chronic illness
  • Direct all healthcare institutions to provide adequate health care services to people regardless of health insurance status, immigration status and affirm the rights of migrant people and stateless people — with regular and irregular migration status — and unhoused people to seek medical attention to be free from discrimination, detention, and deportation
  • Ensure health service providers and all frontline staff receive adequate training and have access to equipment to protect their own health and offer mental health support
  • Assess and meet the specific needs of women health service providers

Education. The closure of schools is necessary for the protection of children, families, and communities and will help to flatten the curve so that the peak infection rate stays manageable. It, however, presents a major disruption in education and the routine to which children are accustomed. In many cases, children who depend on the school lunch program will face food insecurity. They also become more vulnerable to violence in their homes and communities which can go undetected due to no contact. School closures also have a disproportionate burden on women who traditionally undertake a role as caregivers. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Direct educational institutions to prepare review and assignment packages for children to keep them academically engaged and prevent setbacks and provide guidance for parents on the use of the material
  • Create educational radio programming appropriate for school-age children
  • Subsidize childcare for families unable to make alternate arrangements for their children
  • Expand free internet access to increase access to online educational platforms and material and enable children to participate in virtual and disability-accessible classroom sessions where available
  • Provide laptops for children who need them in order to participate in on-line education
  • Adopt measures to ensure they continue receiving food by making sure it can be delivered or collected
  • Provide extra financial and mental health support for families caring for children with disabilities

Social inequality. These exist between men and women, citizens and migrants, people with regular and irregular migration status, people with and without disabilities, neurotypical and neuroatypical people, and other perceived dichotomies or non-binary differences as well as racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Existing vulnerabilities are further complicated by loss of income, increased stress, and unequal domestic responsibilities. Women and girls will likely have increased burdens of caregiving which will compete with (and possibly replace) their paid work or education. Vulnerable communities are put at further risk when laws are enacted, or other measures are introduced, that restrict their movement and assembly, particularly when they have less access to information or ability to process it. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Encourage the equitable sharing of domestic tasks in explicit terms and through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers
  • Provide increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for homeless people.
  • Implement protocol and train authorities on recognizing and engaging vulnerable populations, particularly where new laws are being enforced
  • Consult with civil society organizations the process of implementing legislation and policy
  • Ensure equal access to information, public health education and resources in multiple languages, including sign and indigenous peoples languages, accessible formats, and easy-to-read and plain languages 

Water and sanitation. Everyone does not have access to clean running water. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Ensure infrastructure is in place for clean, potable water to be piped into homes and delivered to underserved areas
  • Cease all disconnections and waive all reconnection fees to provide everyone with clean, potable water
  • Bring immediate remedy to issues of unclean water
  • Build public handwashing stations in communities

Economic inequality. People are experiencing unemployment, underemployment, and loss of income due to the temporary closure of businesses, reduced hours, and limited sick leave, vacation, personal time off and stigmatization. This negatively impacts their ability to meet financial obligations, generates bigger debts, and makes it difficult for them to acquire necessary supplies. Due to closures and the need for social distancing, there is also lack of care options and ability to pay for care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. This produces a labor shift from the paid or gig economy to unpaid economy as family care providers. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Implement moratoriums on evictions due to rental and mortgage arrears and deferrals of rental and mortgage payments for those affected, directly or indirectly, by the virus and for people belonging to vulnerable groups 
  • Provide Universal Basic Income for those with lost income
  • Provide financial support to unhoused people, refugees, and women’s shelters
  • Provide additional financial aid to elderly people and people with disabilities
  • Expedite the distribution of benefits 
  • Modify sick leave, parental and care leave, and personal time off policies
  • Direct businesses to invite employees to work remotely on the same financial conditions as agreed prior to pandemic 
  • Distribute packages with necessities including soap, disinfectants, and hand sanitizer

Violence against women, domestic violence/Intimate partner violence (DV/IPV). Rates and severity of domestic violence/intimate partner violence against women, including sexual and reproductive violence, will likely surge as tension rises. Mobility restrictions (social distance, self-isolation, extreme lockdown, or quarantine) will also increase survivors’ vulnerability to abuse and need for protection services. (See Economic inequality.) Escape will be more difficult as the abusive partner will be at home all the time. Children face particular protection risks, including increased risks of abuse and/or being separated from their caregivers. Accessibility of protection services will decline if extreme lockdown is imposed as public resources are diverted. Women and girls fleeing violence and persecution will not be able to leave their countries of origin or enter asylum countries because of the closure of borders and travel restrictions. 

 In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Establish separate units within police departments and telephone hotlines to report domestic violence
  • Increase resourcing for nongovernmental organizations that respond to domestic violence and provide assistance — including shelter, counselling, and legal aid —  to survivors, and promote those that remain open are available
  • Disseminate information about gender-based violence and publicize resources and services available
  • Direct designated public services, including shelters, to remain open and accessible
  • Ensure protection services implement programs that have emergency plans that include protocols to ensure safety for residents and clients
  • Develop protocol for the care of women who may not be admitted due to exposure to the virus which includes safe quarantine and access to testing
  • Make provisions for domestic violence survivors to attend court proceedings via accessible teleconference
  • Direct police departments to respond to all domestic violence reports and connect survivors with appropriate resources
  • Ensure women and girls and other people in vulnerable positions are not rejected at the border, have access to the territory and to asylum legal procedures. If needed, they will be given access to testing

Access to information. There is unequal access to reliable information, especially for those structurally discriminated against and belonging to marginalized communities. People will need to receive regular updates from national health authorities for the duration of this crisis. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Launch public campaigns to prevent and contain the spread of the virus
  • Consult and work with civil society in all initiatives to provide information to the public
  • Make information available to the public in plain language and accessible means, modes and formats, including internet, radio and text messages
  • Ensure people with disabilities have access to information through sign language, closed captions, and other appropriate means 
  • Increase subsidies to nongovernmental organizations that will ensure messages translated and delivered through appropriate means to those who speak different languages or have specific needs
  • Build and deploy a task force to share information and resources with vulnerable people with specific focus on unhoused, people with disabilities, migrant, refugees, and neuroatypical people

Abuse of power. People in prisons, administrative migration centers, refugee camps, and people with disabilities in institutions and psychiatric facilities are at higher risk of contagion due to the confinement conditions. They can also become more vulnerable to abuse or neglect as a result of limited external oversight and restriction of visits. It is not uncommon for authorities to become overzealous in their practices related to enforcement of the law and introduction of new laws. During this crisis, vulnerable people, especially dissidents, are at a higher risk of having negative, potentially dangerous interactions with authorities. In response to this challenge, we call on governments to:

  • Adopt human rights-oriented protocols to reduce spreading of the virus in detention and confinement facilities
  • Strengthen external oversight and facilitate safe contact with relatives i.e. free telephone calls
  • Encourage law enforcement officers to focus on increasing safety rather than arrests
  • Train law enforcement officers, care workers, and social workers to recognize vulnerabilities and make necessary adjustments in their approach and engagement
  • Support civil society organizations and country Ombudsmen/Human Rights Defenders in monitoring the developments within those institutions on a regular basis
  • Consult any changes in existing laws with civil rights societies and Ombudsmen/Human Rights Defenders 
  • Commit to discontinuing emergency laws and powers once pandemic subsides and restore the check and balances mechanism

Endorse this statement as an individual or representative of an organization by Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 8pm EDT. The statement and signatures will be sent to Member States.

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Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus

‘Many more women could die because of violence than Covid in this period,’ says lawyer

by Maya Oppenheim, Women's Correspondent, The Independent, April 29, 2020

Almost one thousand women were murdered in Mexico in the first three months of the year, new figures show.

The news comes as campaigners warn the country is witnessing a rise in domestic abuse in the wake of the coronavirus emergency.

Government figures show the number of women killed was 8 per cent higher than in the same time period last year.

At least 720 women were murdered in the first quarter of the year and 244 women were victims of femicide, the government said.

Femicides, defined as the gender-motivated killing of women, are prevalent in Mexico and the femicide rate has more than doubled in the past five years.

Campaigners are fearful that troubling rates of violence could increase during the coronavirus lockdown, which has seen measures extended until at least the end of May.

Patricia Olamendi, a lawyer who represents victims of violence and has written protocols on femicide investigations, said: “It’s terrible. I think many more women could die because of violence than Covid in this period.

“There is a complete and absolute abandonment. What is happening in the country is inhumane.”

Ms Olamendi said the Mexican government has yet to release a plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the Covid-19 emergency.

Martha Tagle, from the opposition Citizens’ Movement party, said: “The deadliest pandemic for women in our country, more than the coronavirus, is feminicidal violence.

“Today, violence is the greatest threat to all the rights for women that we have had recognised with great effort.”

Calls and messages sent to the National Network of Shelters – a network of almost 70 refuges for women who have suffered violence – rose more than 80 per cent between mid-March and the mid-April when compared to the previous month.

Domestic abuse killings appear to double during UK’s lockdown

Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-government organisation (NGO) that aims to promote the rights of women and girls around the world, told The Independent: “Mexico already suffers from high rates of domestic violence and femicide, with the majority of murder cases going unsolved and prosecution rates remaining dismally low. Now the Covid-19 pandemic is placing women and girls at heightened risk in a country already blighted by a plague of gender-based violence.

“The appalling increase in the number of women murdered in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women.

“In its responses to Covid-19, the Mexican government must address the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls. Efforts to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence should be ramped up with strict enforcement and this should be accompanied by information campaigns that educate audiences and make clear that crimes will be investigated and offenders punished.”

Ms Hunt called for police authorities to work closely alongside organisations which help women and girls – as well as urging the government to roll out additional state funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support.

Violence against women and girls is a major problem in Mexico – with official data reporting an average of 10 women were killed a day in Mexico in 2018.

Some 44 per cent of women have suffered violence from a partner and 66 per cent of women have experienced some form of violence during their life, according to the Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography.

Nova Scotia mass shooting lays bare media's white male bias

The mainstream media's need to paint white men who do horrific things as nice people who suddenly snapped remains a glaring problem in coverage of violent crime in Canada
by Pamela Palmater, Now Toronto, April 21, 2020

We have a real bias problem in mainstream media when it comes to white men who commit horrible crimes. It’s called “Exceptional White Male Syndrome.”

We have known about this problem for decades and while there has been some improvement over time, one glaring reality remains: a need for the mainstream media to paint white men who do horrific things as nice people who suddenly snapped.

The reporting around this week’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia – the largest in the country’s history – was no different, with the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, offering in a headline that the “Nova Scotia mass shooter was a denturist with a passion for policing.” You would never know that the gunman brutally killed 17 innocent people, including an RCMP officer, and left a number of homes on fire in his wake.

Not only is this headline tone-deaf to the trauma experienced by the families of the victims, but it’s irresponsible journalism.

We should be focused on what happened and how to prevent these kinds of mass killings in the future, not writing a heartfelt biography of the killer. Whether or not he was a nice man is irrelevant.

The Globe and Mail is not the only outlet guilty of this. In fact, we are so used to this kind of treatment from mainstream media, that we knew it was only a matter of time before we would start to read that the shooter must have been troubled or pushed to his limits by outside forces.

This gives the public a false sense of security that this must just be an exceptional situation or an anomaly. When in fact, the majority of mass shootings in Canada and the United States are carried out by white men.

We have a real crisis of violence in Canada.

According to statistics, firearm-related violent crimes have increased by 42 per cent since 2013 and 60 per cent of homicides involve firearms. Toronto just experienced its worst year yet with 771 shooting incidents in 2019.

We also know that most of the victims of violent crime are women and they’re mostly killed by men and about half are killed by their spouse or intimate partner. In fact, a woman is killed every 2.5 days in Canada.

At the same time as white men receive sympathetic treatment, the media has an obvious counter-bias for Black and Indigenous peoples – even when they are the victims. Racialized people are often described by their perceived faults – as a runaway, homeless or suffering from addictions.

Take, for example, the violent death of young Indigenous girl Tina Fontaine in 2014. The Globe's reporting back then focused on the fact that Fontaine had drugs and alcohol in her system – instead of the fact that she was brutally killed and her body thrown in the river.

These kinds of headlines not only perpetuate stereotypes but also invite readers to, at least subconsciously, blame the victim.

The research also tells us that gun violence is linked to hate crimes against women. And that the rise of right-wing, white nationalist groups with access to handguns and military-style assault rifles presents a clear threat to Canadians.

It’ll be weeks or months before the public knows all the facts surrounding what happened in Nova Scotia. Until then, mainstream media should take a closer look at how they present white male perpetrators of crime. Let’s put the focus back on the victims who had their lives taken away so soon. They deserve better.

Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen member of Eel River Bar First Nation and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

The secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus: women
by Arwa Mahdawi, 11 Apr 2020, The Guardian

Being a woman doesn’t make you better at handling a global pandemic – but women generally have to be better in order to become leaders

Female leaders are doing exceptional work

What do Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand have in common?

Well, they’ve all got female leaders and they’re all doing an exceptional job in their response to the coronavirus crisis.

Tsai Ing-Wen, a former law professor, became the first female president of Taiwan in 2016 – the same year America got its first reality TV president. Tsai has spearheaded a swift and successful defence to the pandemic; despite Taiwan’s proximity to mainland China it has largely contained the virus and has just under 400 confirmed cases. It is so well prepared that it is donating 10m masks to the US and 11 European countries.

New Zealand, led by Jacinda Ardern, is also a world leader in combating the virus. The country has had only one Covid-19 death so far. That’s partly due to geography and size: with under 5 million people, New Zealand’s entire population is much smaller than New York’s. Being an island state also gives it a distinct advantage. However, leadership is also a factor. New Zealand has implemented widespread testing and Ardern has responded to the crisis with clarity and compassion.

Germany has been hit hard by coronavirus, but it has an exceptionally low mortality rate of around 1.6%. (Italy’s fatality rate is 12%; Spain, France and Britain’s is 10%; China’s is 4%; America’s is 3%.) A number of factors feed into Germany’s low death rates, including early and widespread testing and a large number of intensive care beds. Again, however, the country’s leadership plays a role. As one wag on Twitter joked: if you’re asking why death rates are so low in Germany and so high in America, it’s “because their president used to be a quantum chemist and your president used to be a reality television host”. Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, is actually the chancellor not the president, but the sentiment still holds.

Denmark (led by prime minister Mette Frederiksen) and Finland (prime minister Sanna Marin is the head of a coalition whose four other parties are all led by women) are also doing noteworthy jobs in containing coronavirus.

Correlation is obviously not causation. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you better at handling a global pandemic. Nor does it automatically make you a better leader; suggesting it does reinforces sexist and unhelpful ideas that women are innately more compassionate and cooperative.

What is true, however, is that women generally have to be better in order to become leaders; we are held to far higher standards than men. Women are rarely able to fail up in the way men can; you have to be twice as good as a man in order to be taken half as seriously. You have to work twice as hard. With a few notable exceptions (*cough* Ivanka Trump *cough*), you’ve got to be overqualified for a top job.

A surplus of qualifications isn’t exactly a problem Donald Trump has. America’s response to the coronavirus crisis is arguably the worst in the world – although Britain also gets an honourable mention here. Instead of expertise, the Trump administration has led with ego. While thousands of Americans die, Trump tweets about his TV ratings. Instead of cooperating, Trump is lashing out at the press and state leaders. It’s hard to imagine Hillary Clinton responding to a crisis in this way without being immediately impeached. Which raises the question: are some men simply too emotional to be leaders?

Women using code words to escape domestic violence

There’s been a huge spike in domestic violence around the world because of the Covid-19 lockdown. With help harder to access, people are finding creative workarounds. A new initiative in France encourages people experiencing abuse to say a codeword (“mask19”) to a pharmacist at a drugstore to get help. In the UK the Silent Solution system allows victims to alert police without saying anything; you dial 999 operators and then press 55.

Rihanna has donated $2.1m to help domestic violence victims in lockdown

While some celebrities are responding to the crisis with cringey renditions of Imagine, Rihanna has opened her wallet to help the most vulnerable. Last month she worked with Jay-Z’s foundation to donate $2m to support undocumented workers, prisoners, homeless people, the elderly and children of frontline health workers in Los Angeles and New York.

The coronavirus crisis has shuttered most fertility clinics, leading to heartache and uncertainty for people needing help to conceive. “I’m numb at this point,” one woman told CBS News. “It’s the norm with IVF that there’s ups and downs, but you never get used to the phone call that says … you can’t move on.” There have been a lot of jokes about a ‘quarantine baby boom’, but for some people an extended lockdown may mean they’ll never be able to conceive.

Kayleigh McEnany is Trump’s new press secretary

Kayleigh McEnany is Trump’s fourth spokesperson and replaces Stephanie Grisham, who did not hold a single press conference during her time on the job. As you would expect from a mouthpiece for Trump, McEnany has a history of spouting racist lies. She has embraced birtherism and once tweeted: “How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he’s still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows.”

Rental rooms to avoid ‘coronavirus divorces’

Kasoku, a Japanese version of Airbnb, has found a new revenue stream during the Covid-19 crisis: avoiding-divorces-as-a-service. The startup is offering accommodation for frustrated husbands or wives sick of being at home with their spouses. Your fully furnished unit comes with a 30-minute divorce consultation.

‘I will never jeopardize the beans’

It’s probably fake, nevertheless this quarrel over quarantine beans had the internet making a lot of noise this week. On that note: have a good weekend.

The intimate connection between mass shootings and violence against women

The Nova Scotia attacks began with domestic violence. They fit a pattern that police, policy-makers and researchers have to stop ignoring.

by Jude McCulloch, JaneMaree Maher,, May 7, 2020

Last month 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people over two days in a shooting and arson spree across Nova Scotia. Immediately prior to the killings he had assaulted and bound his girlfriend. The killings represent Canada’s most deadly mass murder and bear the hallmarks of similar events in Canada, the United States and other western countries. The killer was an adult male acting alone, and the killings were preceded by violence against an intimate partner or female relative.

Some mass killings that aren’t preceded by known histories of violence against women are nevertheless motivated by hatred of women and specifically targeted women. Wortman’s deadly rampage fits a pattern that police, policy-makers and researchers have been slow to recognize or quick to dismiss. Violence against women, misogyny and mass casualty attacks are intimately connected.

Ignoring this connection reflects and entrenches the long-held perception that male violence against women, particularly against intimate partners, is less serious than violence committed against strangers. Feminists have long recognized that this perception, consistent with the notion of women, particularly wives and girlfriends as male property, literally endangers women’s lives.

What is less well recognized, however, is that the failure to acknowledge the connection between male violence against women and mass casualty attacks influences the security of everybody. It undermines society’s ability to better understand, prevent and effectively respond to these attacks. There is a connection between male violence against women and mass casualty attacks and it is overlooked or downplayed by policy-makers, police and researchers. There are potentially lethal implications when these connections are not addressed.

Two years ago, 25-year-old Alek Minassian drove a van at pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people, of whom eight were women. The attacker’s online posts point to hostility against women as a motive. Minassian identified with the incel, “involuntary celibate,” group of men who blame women for their perceived sexual rejection. He is currently in prison facing 10 counts of murder and 16 of attempted murder. His trial has been put on hold because of COVID-19.

In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people in a shooting and stabbing spree in California. He, too, obsessed over being denied sex by women and was motivated by violent revenge.

Most Canadians are familiar with the 1989 Montreal Massacre in which 25-year-old Marc Lépine deliberately targeted and murdered 14 women enrolled in engineering at École Polytechnique, affiliated with l’Université de Montréal. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.

While the number and lethality of lone-actor mass-casualty attacks have increased dramatically over the previous three decades, the paradigmatic example occurred much earlier.

In 1966, 25-year-old Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother at their respective homes before shooting and killing 14 strangers at the University of Texas. United States research on mass shootings finds that domestic violence is part of most such events. That research found that in the 10 years between 2009 and 2018 the perpetrator shot an intimate partner or family member during the mass rampage in over 50 per cent of cases.

Mass shootings are only one location of the intermingling of “public” violence and domestic or family violence. There is increasing evidence that mass casualty attacks by lone actors where weapons such as cars, trucks or knives are used also fit the pattern.

The biographies of so-called “lone wolf terrorists” frequently include known and often extensive histories of violence against women. Yet the connection between mass casualty attacks and violence against women continues to hide in plain sight.

In western countries around the world, as mass casualty attacks by lone actors are increasingly recognized as a major security threat, governments are setting up centres to combat such attacks. These centres, however, typically don’t include experts in gendered violence.

Security services tasked with preventing and responding to such attacks continue to make sharp distinctions between what is considered “personal” and “public violence.” In Australia, for example, in 2014, Man Haron Monis, took a number of people hostage at a Sydney café. At the time, he was on bail, charged with being accessory to murder of his former wife and 40 sexual offences against seven women.

Prior to the siege, he had come to the attention of security services. However, they concluded, tragically, that he wasn’t a risk because his “acts of personal violence were exclusively directed towards women he knew in one capacity or other, rather than towards the public at large.”

During the siege, Monis’s capacity for violence was underestimated because his attacks on women were not considered real violence. Most shockingly, the sexual assaults were discussed as “acts of seduction.” Police were later criticized for failing to act to end the siege until after Monis shot one of the hostages.

Research has sometimes contributed to obscuring the intimate connection between “personal” violence against women and the more public violence of mass casualty attacks. Some researchers of lone wolf terrorism adhere to a “turning point” paradigm, looking for clues as to why men turn to violence.

In this framework, violence against women is often considered a “trigger point.” This approach is problematic. It assumes that men turn violent when they commit public acts of violence. However, it is often clear from the biographies of the men studied that they are not turning violent but switching the target of their violence from known women to random members of the public. In other words, such men are violent men who commit violence against women they know and then against members of the public.

In addition, by categorizing violence against women as a “trigger” to the violence against strangers, the initial violence against the female victim is considered separately to, and as less significant than, the killing of strangers. Yet, the violence against the woman is typically part of the same incident or event.

The idea of a “trigger” implies the woman victim is in some ways to blame for the violence. This is significant because violence by men particularly against their female partners is often falsely understood as a problem of the “relationship” rather than the responsibility of the abusive man. Dominant cultural scripts that blame women for male violence and minimize and deny such violence mean constant vigilance is needed to ensure language is not used in ways that entrench or reinvigorate these scripts.

The research on lone actor violence is replete with euphemisms for the male violence against women that precedes mass casualty attacks. Terms used to describe serious acts of violence against intimate partners such as “marital discord,” “conflict with women” and “personal conflict with a woman” support a false dichotomy between public and “private” violence that sees the former as more “real” and more serious than the latter.

The media can buy into these tropes by adopting or uncritically reporting similar language or suggest that an attacker is a regular guy or family man who just snapped. Additionally, when media report violence against women as less threatening, significant and deadly than violence against strangers, they are also guilty of continuing these stereotypes.

Last year in Sydney, Australia, a man assaulted his sister before going on to attack members of the public with a knife. A police commissioner dismissed the connection between family violence and the knife attacks stating: “That [family violence] is not unusual in terms of what we see day-in-day-out in some houses across NSW [but] that is not a common theme for someone to then take the next step of coming onto the streets of Sydney with a knife and killing people and threatening to kill people.”

The commissioner is correct. Violence against women by men and family violence as the most common type of this violence is endemic. Most men who assault their intimate partners, mothers and sisters don’t go onto attack random people. However, we can state with increasing confidence that most of those who do commit mass casualty attacks have committed violence against women, usually in the context of an intimate or family relationship either as part of the attack or previously.

There will no doubt be an investigation into the recent Nova Scotia mass killing. If we want to prevent these killings, we must begin with the connections between these killings and violence against women.

Photo: A tribute is seen at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, NS, on Monday, April 20, 2020. RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson was one of 22 people killed by Gabriel Wortman. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Hawaii Considers an Explicitly Feminist Plan for COVID-Era Economic Recovery
The plan recognizes the current crisis as the "moment to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality."
By Mara Dolan, Truthout, May 26, 2020

Part of the Series
Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

“The road to economic recovery should not be across women’s backs,” reads the first sentence of Hawaii’s Feminist Economic Recovery Plan.

As states put forth dozens of recovery plans that all aim to redress the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii’s remains the first and only that is explicitly “feminist.”

The plan — which was released on April 14 by the Hawaii Department of Human Services’ State Commission on the Status of Women — does not seek to reinstate a status quo riddled with inequality. Instead it recognizes the current crisis as the “moment to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.”

It calls for a universal basic income, countering the systemic wage and wealth gender gap. It calls for free, publicly provided child care for essential workers, a nearly $25/hour minimum wage for single mothers, and the creation of public emergency funds available for high-risk groups, like undocumented women who are ineligible for the federal cash refund, domestic workers who are experiencing financial hardship, and people classified as “sex trafficking survivors who have recently exited the commercial sex industry.”

The plan calls for a reinvestment in midwifery services to provide maternal health care as hospitals become strained with pandemic response. It calls for a 20 percent pro-rata share of the state’s COVID-19-response funds to go immediately, no strings attached, to Native Hawaiian communities. The 23-page document is a vision for a new kind of economy while also conveying concrete policy recommendations, delivered directly to Hawaii legislators as they begin to apportion state funds toward recovery.

Khara Jabola-Carolus saw the writing on the wall early. Jabola-Carolus works as the executive director of the State Commission on the Status of Women, and by early March, had seen enough to know that this would be a severely gendered crisis. Women, burdened with the vast amount of unpaid care work, were most impacted by stay-at-home orders, child care and school closures. Women quarantined in abusive homes with their perpetrators had little to no access to financial and social support systems. Women were performing the majority of essential, high-risk health care positions and other essential care work positions like teaching, but weren’t even receiving enough protective equipment or livable wages. Any policy response that ignored these gendered realities would only reinforce them.

Jabola-Carolus recalls the exact moment she knew she needed to push for a feminist response. As the head of the Commission on the Status of Women, she was asked by legislators working on the state budget to provide a pro-woman plan to restructure and stimulate the economy — in less than half a day. “I was given only a few hours to answer these enormous questions and it made me damn angry. How could executives and bureaucrats, so far removed from the edge and illiterate in the struggles of women, define their future in a few hours?”

She wanted to draft the recommendations in a very different way, one that modeled a community-based consultative process that prioritized Native, immigrant and working-class women and LGBTQIA+ peoples. “We were careful to go beyond the elite, white-dominated ‘advocates’ circles,” she told Truthout. The contributors in this circle were organizers, academics, activists, midwives and mothers, representing grassroots organizations, large nonprofits, unions and government agencies.

“This is how we should be doing all of our policy making and planning,” said Kathleen Algire, director of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, who was a member of the task force. “We can no longer say that ‘we can’t wait for the time community collaboration takes.’ We did it fast and we didn’t sacrifice the community to get it done.”

Mykie Ozoa, an organizer with AF3IRM Hawaii, the state’s largest grassroots feminist network, saw this collaboration as key to producing pragmatic recommendations. “The Commission was adamant that the voices of women organizing to address issues on the ground in our communities were included, and I believe it is one reason this plan is so unique and offers urgent but easily attainable recommendations.”

Within the plan itself, the attention given to care work, such as child care and elder care, is substantial. “You cannot separate women from caregiving, unpaid or paid,” said Algire, who helped draft the child care recommendations. They include universal free child care for all emergency and essential workers, paid family and sick leave, and mandated pay parity for child care workers to educators and nurses. “What we keep repeating is ‘there is no economic recovery without child care.’ For parents to go back to work, their children need to be cared for.”

Algire pointed out the stark shortage of child care spaces available in Hawaii, even before the pandemic, with space for only 1 in 37 toddlers in the state. For many, child care costs are already their second-highest expense, after rent. “When families don’t have access to safe, affordable, quality child care, they are put in an impossible situation,” Algire told Truthout. “If it’s a two-parent household, one parent will likely leave the workforce. Because women are paid less, they are typically who we see staying home.”

This often cost two-parent households a second income and many single mothers their only income, and it also impacts the employment side of the child care industry, too, where the workforce is mostly women. “Like many other professions, you may see men owning or serving as directors of large centers, but the primary workforce is women,” Algire said. “Child care is a low-paying job and [that fact] is a disgrace. These are the people we are entrusting our children’s lives to and they should be paid more than minimum wage.”

The plan emphasizes that the industry cannot return to this unsustainable “normal” — state economic policies must help it change. “If a community, state or country wants to see workforce participation like we had [pre-pandemic], child care as an industry will need support. It will need to be subsidized,” Algire said. “The folks that are supporting, teaching, guiding, caring and loving our kids deserve better. Caring for children is hard, draining work. It is undervalued because it is seen as ‘women’s work.’ We’ve got to change that.”

Health care for women and LGBTQIA+ people is also centered in the plan, with significant attention paid to supporting maternal health services in the state. Tanya Smith-Johnson, who worked at an organization called The Big Push for Midwives, told Truthout that maternal care policy must include deep and consistent consultation with pregnant and birthing people in order to fully address their needs, especially Black and Native people, who face additional marginalization within the maternal health care system.

In fact, one of the five key recommendations made in diversifying and reshaping the economy is “to harness the role of midwifery to improve deficits in maternal and neonatal health care in Hawaii, especially in rural areas.” The plan’s recommendations include ensuring that insurance companies and Medicaid cover midwifery services fully, and matching hospital-based midwives with community midwives to meet the increasing demand for out-of-hospital birth options, as many who are pregnant wish to give birth out of hospitals to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk.

The writers of the plan wanted the word “feminism” front and center — in the report itself and in the conversations it will spur. “If the plan isn’t feminist, it’s patriarchal and will fail to deliver a resilient, strong economy,” Jabola-Carolus said, and urged that the individual policy recommendations put forth cannot be removed from the systemic critique that “feminism” actually articulates. “Feminism, in terms of policy, is mostly stuff that has broad public support, but we need to say ‘feminist’ in order to actually talk about the culture surrounding those policies. It has to be about root causes,” Jabola-Carolus said.

Take paid family leave, for example. It’s an incredibly popular policy, and would decrease one form of gender inequality in the workplace, where women are often forced out of careers in order to perform unpaid care work for family members. But if paid family leave is not introduced as an explicitly feminist policy, it can erase the broader structures of inequality that allow other forms of workplace discrimination to persist. It just seems like one problem with one policy fix, and not part of anything systemic. For Jabola-Carolus, “this was a call to the left to be explicitly feminist in the same way that it’s finally, explicitly naming systemic racism.” She says naming feminism is critical for progressive movements’ policy platforms to adequately address institutionalized oppression.

The word “feminism” might be used in popular culture more than ever before, but this is not reflected in policy. Only one federal bill has ever been proposed that uses it: a 2017 piece of legislation to commemorate women’s rights leader Bella Abzug for her “feminist presence” in Congress.

Jabola-Carolus said she wasn’t aware of any other state-level economic plan that put feminism in its title. All of the advocates Truthout spoke to also viewed this first-time inclusion of “feminist” as hugely significant. Sarah Michal Hamid, a youth organizer who also sat on the committee, said it was “groundbreaking,” as “it means that finally a government agency is recognizing that women and non-men are unevenly burdened under our current economy, and that this needs to change.”

But the goal is for its usage in policy to be eventually commonplace, a consequence of serious gender consideration in all planning. “It shouldn’t be unique that a state plan centers women and girls. When the most marginalized are centered, everyone else’s needs will also be met,” Ozoa said. “I hope that other states use this opportunity to take stock and reprioritize.”

The women who put together the Hawaii plan do believe that their work can provide a pathway for feminists’ engagement in other states.

“I hope other states adapt it to their needs, keeping the essence of the document, because it really is a plan that is universal and necessary,” Smith-Johnson told Truthout. This might look different based on each state’s demographic, employment and industry needs, but could share common commitments to tackling economic realities that marginalize women.

For other states embarking on their own drafting processes, Hawaii’s advocates are the first to admit that there is room for these recommendations to grow. In future iterations, both Jabola-Carolus and Ozoa noted they would like to see a stronger integration of transformative justice frameworks that pursue gender-based violence prevention without relying on mass incarceration. Smith-Johnson would like to see how these recommendations could influence federal-level feminist economic policy: “Can you imagine the impact that would have?”

For now, the report lives in the halls of Hawaii’s House and Senate, as legislators review proposals and apportion COVID-19 recovery funds in the weeks that follow. “I know this plan will have a ripple effect on how we move forward,” said Algire. “Unlike other plans that will sit on a shelf and be forgotten, this will be a guiding document for years to come.”

Hamid said she hopes that the questions raised in this report reverberate all around the country. “As other governments begin this ‘road to recovery,’ they should carefully consider who is allowed on that road, and whose backs it is being built on.”

Gender and coronavirus: why women are bearing the brunt of COVID-19

Gender norms often influence what is expected of us in our daily lives. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no different – gender is determining the ways in which both men and women are impacted by the coronavirus.

According to current statistics, men are faring worse than women when it comes to fatalities from the new coronavirus. In Italy, men are dying at higher rates than women. Men in China and South Korea also suffered more fatalities. The question is: why?

Male vulnerability during this pandemic can be linked to gender as men across the world are more likely engage in high risk behaviors such as smoking cigarettes. Smoking damages the lungs and makes smokers more susceptible to breathing difficulties and complications when it comes to fighting COVID-19. In addition, men in both Italy and China were more likely to have underlying health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes which can also increase the severity of COVID-19.

For women, the negative outcomes of this pandemic may be less visible but just as devastating.

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and case numbers continue to climb, the emerging reality for women and girls is that gendered norms and expectations can increase their risk of mental distress, financial insecurity, illness and harm.

1. Gender and the burden of unpaid care

Women and girls already do most of the world’s unpaid care work. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally, women perform 76% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three-times as much as men.

The gender role of women as caregivers who are primarily responsible for cleaning, cooking and caring for children, elders, or the sick, will no doubt impact women across the globe as schools close indefinitely and family members become ill. This will not only increase their existing burden of work, but also expose them to contracting the virus.

In addition, the mass shutdowns of childcare centers and schools, can leave many women – and especially single mothers – with no choice but to either take time off or work from home. However, those who are poor, working in service jobs that cannot be done from home, and those without paid leave are especially vulnerable to increased mental distress and economic insecurity, as their care work burden remains the same.

2. Gender and income inequality

Women already experience a gender pay gap where they tend to make less than men. They are also more likely be employed in part-time or precarious jobs that are currently undergoing mass layoffs such as flight attendants, retail, customer service and childcare workers.

In fact, women make up the majority of Canada’s minimum-wage workers and part-time workers. Worldwide, women are also more likely than men to be employed part-time.

Work interruptions due to illness or being laid off will highly impact women’s quality of life, forcing them to make tough choices for themselves and their children. This will be especially critical in the developing world where women are already more likely to live in poverty.

Poverty is a major stressor and a key driver of child exploitation including child labour and child marriage. In addition, poverty threatens overall family health, wellness and nutrition. When resources are scarce at home, their distribution amongst families can be heavily gender biased.

3. Gender-based violence

We’re all being told to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But what happens when home isn’t a safe space?

The stats on gender-based violence are grim. The UN reports that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. Another WHO report on violence against women also found that almost 1 in 3 women globally have been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime.

Further research suggests intimate partner violence often escalates during crises: A Red Cross report found both domestic and sexual violence increase after disasters, while a Chinese anti-domestic violence nonprofit reported a spike in abuse cases related to coronavirus quarantines.

Confinement to the home along with other stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic increases tensions that can promote violence and harm to many women and girls who are already at risk.

Also, as primary caregivers, women and girls often walk for miles to source water, exposing them to violence and harassment. This reality can be further exacerbated as the need for water to sanitize and clean increases.

4. Gender and access to healthcare

Around the world, often due to the lower literacy or educational status of women and girls relative to men and boys, their access to critical health information is limited. In addition, women and girls often have limited decision-making power and increased barriers to seeking healthcare.

As the pandemic progresses, it will deeply impact already impoverished families who will need to make critical decisions about who receives care, and too often, the lower social status and value of women and girls may prevent them from accessing care. This is further complicated by the invariable stigma families and communities face dealing with any outbreak where more often than not female family members are hidden compared to men and boys.

5. Health workers on the front-line

Around the world, women make up a majority of health care workers, almost 70 percent according to WHO, and most of them occupy nursing roles — on the front-lines of efforts to combat and contain outbreaks of the coronavirus.

It’s a given that health workers will be more exposed to COVID-19. However, we have yet to see the true impact this will have on women – how will their position at the forefront of this pandemic alter the statistics around female infection and fatality rates across the globe?
Supporting women and girls during crises

Plan International is active in over 75 countries and supports thousands of disadvantaged communities through a network of nearly 10,000 staff.

Our experience shows girls and young women are particularly hard hit in health emergencies, and that’s why we’re calling on governments to consider girls, women and other vulnerable groups as they respond to the spread of COVID-19.

This global pandemic will hit harder in poorer countries where access to critical infrastructure such as healthcare, clean water and social insurance are limited. We are also concerned about the long-term social and economic impacts of the coronavirus, especially for women and girls.
Plan International is responding to COVID-19

Children, especially girls, and whole communities would be affected by any stoppages in our work and we are continuously assessing how we can continue our programs to protect human rights and best support those who are most vulnerable in low, medium, and high transmission areas.

If you want to learn more about how Plan International is responding to the coronavirus pandemic both locally and globally, then visit our COVID-19 FAQs

Questions related to this story:

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B.C.’s COVID-19 re-opening plans continue to put Indigenous people at risk
Jby oe Alphonse, Judith Sayers and Marilyn Slett
The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2020

Marilyn Slett is Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. Dr. Judith Sayers is President of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Chief Joe Alphonse is Tribal Chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government.

Earlier this month, thousands of cases of racism against Indigenous peoples in B.C. health care were made public. Among the repugnant and infuriating allegations: some emergency-room staff played a game to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients. Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix have decried these actions, and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.‘s former representative for children and youth, is investigating the claims.

These allegations are unfortunately unsurprising. They are symptoms of a bigger problem: a system that incorporates racist and colonial values and assumptions into its operations and governance, and risks Indigenous lives. Such is the nature of systemic racism.

But it’s not enough to litigate past injustice. As the province appears set to hurtle toward reopening under “Phase 3” plans around the COVID-19 pandemic, we must stop the injustices that are happening now, and prevent those yet to come.

British Columbia has received international plaudits for rapidly flattening the curve in the face of the first wave of COVID-19 – a commendable outcome. But what British Columbians don’t know is that Indigenous communities have suffered close calls and real tragedies all the same. The ‘Namgis tragically lost an elder and experienced a major outbreak in Alert Bay. Neighbouring nations were not notified and so had no chance to take precautions. There have also been cases of infected individuals travelling through Indigenous territory without any heads-up given to our governments.

Since the pandemic began, Indigenous leaders have exhorted government officials in vain to give us more information and resources to protect our communities. To date, our requests have been ignored.

So when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry asks us to philosophically accept that “absolutely we are going to have more cases” as part of B.C.‘s “fine balance” in reopening, understand that it is Indigenous nations that are being asked to bear the brunt of that risk, because to date, we are still waiting for basic safety measures. We do not have an information-sharing agreement to ensure early reporting of suspected and confirmed cases in nearby regions to Indigenous governments; we do not have screening methods to ensure travellers seeking to enter Indigenous territory are not symptomatic or infected with the virus; there are no rapid-testing mechanisms available that can prioritize Indigenous and remote communities, and right now, there are only two rapid-testing kits for all Indigenous communities in B.C. And culturally safe contact tracing that can increase the likelihood of effective tracing in the event of an outbreak, and reduce the risk of racist interactions with a health care system of the sort the government has decried, is yet to be funded.

Failure to provide these measures, while moving full steam ahead to reopen the province, puts our people at risk. First Nations are among the most vulnerable populations in B.C., with the most to lose – the loss of an elder represents a loss of language, culture and history.

Additionally, we have not given our consent to open up our territories, let alone been consulted on the province’s plans to reopen. Some of our nations have relaxed our closures to allow for some travel and essential visitors, while some have remained closed due to the risks assessed by leadership. For all of us, we value the livelihoods of our people and will act with their best interest in mind.

Though the B.C. government has committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to recognizing our rights to self-determination and to be actively involved in developing health and other programs that affect us, the government’s commitment is hollow if health agencies and other arms of government fail to root out the systemic racism, stereotyping and lack of respect for Indigenous peoples that result in the kind of risk calculation the government is making. While many British Columbians take comfort from soothing mantras to “be kind, be calm, and be safe,” B.C. First Nations communities are being put at risk by immovable bureaucrats and paternalistic policy-makers. We see a government steadfastly administering health care policies that are developed without us, and we cannot assume they are not based on racist assumptions.

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Like any crisis, COVID-19 represents a potential turning point and an opportunity for change. During the first wave, we firmly believe that Indigenous lives were put at risk. In preparing for the second, potentially more dangerous wave, we call on the B.C. government to immediately implement these four basic safety measures and to meet with us to discuss the urgent issue of systemic racism.

“Covid-19 really increased people’s feeling of civic-mindedness.”
by Mara Altman, In Her Words, NY Times, July 14, 2020

— Kathleen Tierney, a co-author of “Disasters, Collective Behavior, and Social Organization”

When Heidi Hotmer, 48, first heard about the pandemic, she wasn’t sure how she’d get through it. But within days after her city’s shelter-in-place order was issued, she figured out a plan. Hotmer closed her business, an online handicrafting shop, took out her sewing machine and began making masks. “I decided that rather than try to sell stuff to people who were desperately hurting,” she said, “I would try to give back.” She began transforming bolts of fabric from her shop into masks she would give to others free.

Sometimes she sews all day. Sometimes she is only able to squeeze in a few hours while also spending time with her 11-year-old daughter. But what is certain is that each time she turns over masks to their new owners — 758 masks and counting — she feels a sense of purpose that she hasn’t felt before. “This has definitely helped me cope,” she said of helping people. “It’s just the best feeling.”

During this pandemic, in a pattern that echoes other major crises, people across the world have stepped up to donate their time, skills, knowledge and resources, and have even risked their lives, for nothing material in return. But while men and women are equally likely to help, they tend to do it in different ways.

The evolutionary origins behind the human drive to cooperate and aid strangers is debated among academics, but what is certain is that our civilization depends on it. “Without it, the whole place would fall apart instantly,” said Robert Boyd, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

The desire to help others is so strong, in fact, that Japan has implored its population to think selfishly during tsunamis, because the window to escape is so short. The guidance, called tendenko, directs people to run to safety instead of rescuing others but runs so contrary to human nature that it has had limited success.

The reason for this selflessness, says Kathleen Tierney, a co-author of “Disasters, Collective Behavior, and Social Organization,” is that crises bring out an aching need in humans to be part of something bigger. “We feel this pressure to care more than we do on the day to day,” she said.

It is no surprise, she notes, that the current anti-racist protests are taking place during one of the largest health crises of our time. “Covid-19 really increased people’s feeling of civic-mindedness,” she said, “and of caring for the larger community.”

As for how women and men help in high-risk situations, Alice Eagly, emeritus professor of psychology at Northwestern University and a co-author of “The Psychology of Gender,” found that men partake in spontaneous and public acts of altruism like rescuing a drowning person or running into a burning building, while women tend toward more subtle acts that include nurturing and social interaction.

For example, Eagly found that during World War II, women were more likely to provide refuge to Jewish families. “It’s no less dangerous,” Eagly said, “but what distinguishes it is it engages a lot of one-on-one time with potential victims.”

To say that women are the more nurturing and caring of the sexes is a deep-seated stereotype, but Eagly said that makes it no less real. “Stereotypes do have the power to create the realities they call for,” she said, “but they are also based on observation, and what we see is women doing a lot of the caring in our everyday lives.”

Debra Mesch, a professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University, concurs: Men help too, of course, but it is women who are more likely to satisfy the needs of communities in more informal ways.

In the Covid-19 era, that looks like making masks, grocery shopping for neighbors, tutoring on Zoom and checking in with lonely older neighbors. “These are not things you could write off as a charitable deduction,” Mesch said, “but this is really where women are stepping up.”

Women seem to be playing similar roles in the anti-racist protests currently playing out against the backdrop of the pandemic. One example: The many women who are initiating bail funds and GoFundMe campaigns to ensure that fellow Black Lives Matter activists are able to eat and make rent, said Keisha N. Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Set The World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.” “Women make sure people are taken care of, not just as an activist, but as a person,” she said. “Connecting the personal with the political — that is where women’s activism is unique.”

There are physiological benefits to helping as well.

“Disasters disrupt our sense of control and normalcy in the world,” said Lori Peek, director of the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, “so anything that can help us restore a sense of normalcy and purpose is so important for our emotional and psychological well-being.”

And beyond the positive emotions we get from giving, which economists refer to as warm glow, Femida Handy, professor of nonprofit studies at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when she and colleagues controlled for factors such as initial health, wealth and education, there was one big difference between people who volunteered and their less giving counterparts. “They live longer,” she said of the first group.

She explained that helping others improves mental and physical health, reduces inflammation and stress and lights up the same part of the brain as when we eat a lot of chocolate. “Who knew doing good benefits the person doing it?” she said.

In research they just completed, Handy and her co-author, Sara Konrath, found that giving seems to have such a profound impact on the body that people who do good are even rated as more attractive by strangers than their less-charitable peers. “People who do good actually look good,” she said.

Because there are so many benefits to helping, it can be detrimental when we can’t satisfy the urge. But women’s efforts in particular can be thwarted by having to take care of household demands first, like looking after children and older relatives.

That’s why Peek, who has studied disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks, says it’s essential in this environment to expand the definition of altruism. She referred to a colleague who stepped down from leading a working group because she was overwhelmed at home with her three children. The colleague, she said, was guilt-stricken and distraught about not contributing. “We carry all this burden and constantly feel like we aren’t doing enough,” Peek said. “But we need to reframe what it means to be helping our community right now, because whatever we are doing, every piece of it matters.”

She emphasized that in this fraught time, even our daily tasks — caring for our families, teaching our children and making them feel safe — are important contributions. “The invisible labor of holding a crying child at night — that doesn’t get seen, so that doesn’t get counted, but it’s so important,” she said. “Every little thing helps our community get up on its feet.”

Featured: The shadow pandemic - violence against women

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UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, today launched the Shadow Pandemic public awareness campaign, focusing on the global increase in domestic violence amid the COVID-19 health crisis. The Shadow Pandemic public service announcement is a sixty-second film narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Kate Winslet, who has championed many humanitarian causes. The video highlights the alarming upsurge in domestic violence during COVID-19 and delivers a vital message urging people to act to support women if they know or suspect someone is experiencing violence. See full press release ►

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Explainer: How COVID-19 impacts women and girls

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A profound shock to our societies and economies, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores society’s reliance on women both on the front line and at home, while simultaneously exposing structural inequalities across every sphere. Responding to the pandemic is not just about rectifying long-standing inequalities, but also about building a resilient world in the interest of everyone with women at the centre of recovery. Learn more ►

UN Women response

Toothbrushes and menstrual pads are sorted to pack dignity kits for women in prisons and quarantine centres. Photo: UNFPA El Salvador
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UN Women has developed rapid and targeted response to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women and girls and to ensure that the long-term recovery benefits them.

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A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada
Home/Policy Briefs/A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada

In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on women, Two-Spirit and gender diverse people, particularly those who are low-income, people with disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ+ communities, belong to Indigenous, Black, or racialized communities or are newcomers, refugees, immigrants and migrants. More than half of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Canada have been experienced by women, yet at the same time women have faced disproportionate job loss, an increase in domestic violence due to lockdowns, and an intensification in unpaid work.

YWCA Canada and The Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management have partnered to create a Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada, which proposes a new path forward for Canada’s economy – one that focuses on changing the structures and barriers that have made some groups more vulnerable to the pandemic and its fallout than others. The report highlights 8 pillars for recovery with a focus on supporting the care economy, investing in social infrastructure and supporting women-owned businesses.


Helplines for women experiencing violence at home report dramatic increases in calls during COVID-19 pandemic
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press, October 15, 2020

Several helplines for women experiencing violence at home are reporting dramatic increases in calls since public-health measures aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19 came into effect last spring.

The urgency and severity of many callers' situations have also intensified, said Angela MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services based in Vancouver.

“What women are saying is that it’s like a pressure cooker in the house and there isn’t a valve,” she said in an interview.

The United Nations has called violence against women and girls a “shadow pandemic” as the COVID-19 crisis fuels social isolation and tensions caused by concerns over health, safety and financial security.

Claudine Thibaudeau, a social worker and clinical supervisor at the Montreal-based helpline SOS domestic violence, said the pandemic has become a “new tool” for abusers to gain power.

The helpline has fielded calls from women diagnosed with COVID-19 who were then kicked out by their abuser, she said, while others are confined to their homes, cut off from support.

As cases climb across Canada, particularly in Quebec, and several provinces tighten health restrictions again, “we’re basically back to square one,” Ms. Thibaudeau said.

SOS serves women across Quebec and received about 33,000 calls between April, 2019, and last March. This year, Ms. Thibaudeau said calls spiked in April before levelling off in July, though it’s hard to say how the pandemic contributed to the increase because the helpline has stepped up its outreach in recent years.

But calls from family, friends and even employers of women experiencing violence have increased significantly, she said, since public health restrictions mean victims are more isolated.

“They were more worried because they couldn’t keep an eye on the situation.”

Leaving an abusive relationship is already difficult and may require significant preparation, Ms. Thibaudeau said.

She said the pandemic has exacerbated existing fears and challenges as she explained the kinds of questions women are asking.

“If I go to a shelter now, if I decide to leave my violent partner today, how can I be sure that I’m going to be able to shop for a new place to live? And to go to court to get my kids?” she said. “Is the court system going to remain open or is it going to close down and for how long?”

In B.C., the Battered Women’s crisis line received more than 1,800 calls in March, doubling the number of calls received for the same month a year earlier, said MacDougall. Calls more than tripled in April compared with the same month in 2019 before levelling off later in the summer, she said.

The number of calls the crisis line receives usually ticks up by five to 10 per cent each year, however the increases in the months corresponding with the start of the pandemic were “massive,” Ms. MacDougall said.

In Toronto, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline usually receives about 4,000 calls per month, said resource development manager Yvonne Harding.

This year, counsellors picked up more than 55,000 calls between March and September alone, she said. Call volume began ticking up in March and hit a peak of about 8,000 calls in June. An additional 11,630 calls didn’t get through or were dropped before connecting.

Women have called the helpline from bathrooms or closets when their abuser was taking out the garbage, said Harding, who has also noticed an escalation in the severity of abusive behaviour in the calls.

“Where things maybe were at a level of emotional abuse and verbal abuse, they’ve crossed the line into physical abuse. Where things were already physical, it crossed another line into threats and fear for their safety and their life.”

The helpline serves women across Ontario and Harding said she’s heard from shelter workers in rural areas who noticed an “eerie silence” in the first few weeks of COVID-19 restrictions.

“You don’t just hop on a city bus to be able to get to the shelter,” she said. “It could be tens of miles away before you can access some of the resources and if your partner is home with you it’s a lot more difficult.”

Call volumes to helplines outpace police data, which often showed marginal fluctuations or dips in reported incidents of violence.

A Statistics Canada analysis using data from 17 police departments across the country shows reports of assaults by family members dropped by 4.3 per cent and reports of sexual assaults by family dropped 17.7 per cent between March and June compared with the same four months last year.

However, it shows calls to police related to domestic disturbances increased by nearly 12 per cent. It says such disputes could involve “anything from a verbal quarrel to reports of violence.”

It’s well established that incidents of domestic and sexual violence are under-reported to police and a lack of data has contributed to “gross underestimates” of the prevalence of gender-based violence in Canada, said Colleen Varcoe, a violence researcher and nursing professor at the University of British Columbia.

Ms. Varcoe said she is not surprised the number of reports to some police agencies have stayed the same or dipped during the pandemic because there have been even fewer opportunities for victims to seek help.

The pool of people who may call police to report abuse or express concern, such as friends, neighbours, employers or kids' teachers, has also shrunk, she said.

The Canadian Press contacted police agencies in all 13 provinces and territories requesting the number of reports related to domestic and intimate partner violence between March and June this year compared with the same time last year.

The departments track the reports differently. Some provided separate data about violence between intimate partners, while others included intimate partner violence under the broader category of domestic violence, which could involve parents, children or other family members. Domestic and intimate partner violence may also constitute other crimes, such as sexual assault, harassment or forcible confinement.

The police data show marginal increases in incidents reported in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax, as well as to the RCMP in B.C. for criminal offences related to intimate partner violence. Police in Winnipeg said there was no notable change in the number of reports received.

The exceptions were in Saskatoon, where police reported a 17 per cent increase in calls related to domestic violence, and in Alberta, where the Mounties reported a year-over-year increase of about 11 per cent between March and September. Yukon RCMP also recorded an increase in reports.

Police data show decreases of about 14 per cent in Calgary and Montreal.

Malin Enstrom, a crime analyst and criminologist with the intimate partner violence unit at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, said they also received fewer reports than usual in February and March.

It was a concerning anomaly, she said in an interview, since the provincial police service has seen fairly steady increases in reports over the years as it expands its outreach.

And, like Harding and MacDougall, Enstrom said they’ve received more “severe” calls.

“Even though we saw the decrease in calls, the ones that came in, they were at a point of escalating.”

The number of reports levelled off when people in Atlantic Canada were allowed to expand social interactions to include a second household in late April, said Enstrom, speculating that the loosening of restrictions meant women had better access to support.

Data from the RCMP in Manitoba show a decrease of 34 per cent and in New Brunswick, RCMP data show a 21 per cent decrease in reported incidents of intimate partner violence between March and June.

Corporal Jullie Rogers-Marsh said a four-month snapshot does not indicate a trend and complaints of domestic violence remain one of the most common calls the RCMP receive in New Brunswick.

RCMP divisions in Nunavut, PEI and Nova Scotia were unable to provided data in time for publication, while Quebec provincial police and the Ontario Provincial Police did not respond to requests for data.

The federal government has announced it will double emergency funding for organizations serving people experiencing gender-based violence, bringing the total to $100-million.

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