Updated: Jan 22
By Judy Rebick
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was really pissed off. I was just recovering from a four-year bout of Post-Concussion Syndrome. I went to a famous concussion clinic in Pittsburg out of desperation because no-one seemed to be able to help me in Toronto. They told me to spend at least an hour a day in a noisy busy place. And for a couple of weeks that’s exactly what I did and started to get better. The Saturday after I got home, I felt a tingling through my entire body. What’s that I wondered and then realized it was my energy coming back into my body. I was coming back into myself. Then came the sort of lock down. Suddenly, there were no noisy busy places and even if there were, my advanced age would have prohibited me from going there.
Speaking of my advanced age of 74, it seems that everyone was supposed to stay home to protect me, “our seniors.” And that really pissed me off. Every politician, every public health officer said, we all have to stay home to protect our seniors. Now I’ve spent my life fighting to make sure I don’t need anyone’s protection. Protection was always the excuse for keeping women from doing what we wanted when I was young. No that’s too dangerous for a girl. Girls can’t do that, you might get hurt etc etc. It’s not the same, people argued. This is for your own good. Where have I heard that before? Then a younger friend asked me very sheepishly why it was hard to convince her parents and others of their (our) generation to be careful. I responded that we are from the generation that rebelled against everything social norms, sexual norms, gender expectations, laws, rules, religion, everything. And what we hated most was being told what to do. Then I realized that I was being foolish and started to be more careful.
The hypocrisy of these early expressions of love for seniors started to become clearer when the figures for the death and disease in long-term centres started to come out. Canada has the worst record in the world for long term care death and disease during the Covid period. In fact, Canada’s record of negligence of our most vulnerable elderly citizens is so great that we are the only country where more women than men are dying of Covid and all of that can be blamed on the deaths in long-term care facilities. So go fuck yourself with “protecting our seniors.”
Now that I got that out, let’s talk about Covid and gender because hardly anybody is. In early April, the UN reported that while men were dying at a faster rate than women, COVID-19 could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights.”
Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. Economist Armine Yalnizyan points out that women in Canada are the majority of workers in the service sector, which is hardest hit by Covid. They are paid less, more likely to work part-time or temporary and less likely to have the protection of health and income benefits. Armine has called it a she-cession because recessions usually hit male industrial jobs hardest. The recovery will be as different from what we are used to as the pandemic has been. And we are learning that these low paid jobs done mostly by women and people of colour are the jobs we need most to keep us going.
The up side of the Covid crisis is that we have never seen more women in positions of authority. Most of the public health officers on our TV every day are women. Both Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Bonnie Henry from BC are becoming celebrities in their own right. They are providing us with a model of leadership that is different showing both emotion and intellect. Dr. Henry’s ” be calm, be kind and be safe,” has become a mantra for this time. In addition, women are the leaders in the countries doing the best job of controlling the virus. And the biggest bullies like Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson are also the worst leaders in dealing with the pandemic. It was never clearer that we need more female leadership.
Finally, issues that feminists have fought for over the decades are coming to fore. The central role of childcare has become crystal clear as even right-wing government had to open child care centres to make sure that front-line medical workers could go to work. Violence against women and children in family has also been highlighted by the increase of calls to shelters and rape crisis centres during the pandemic. Moreover, it is more obvious than ever before that neo-liberal capitalism is destroying our world and we need transformative change if we are to survive.
Originally published in Herizons