A very frank interview with Gabor and V (formerly Eve Ensler) about creating our New World, letting go of what doesn’t work and embracing the Love.
V’s Guardian post also covers much of the conversation with Gabor.
The Guardian, Disaster Patriarchy: How the Pandemic has Unleashed a War on Women
By V (formerly Eve Ensler), The Guardian, June 1, 2021
Covid has unleashed the most severe setback to women’s liberation in my lifetime. While watching this happen, I have started to think we are witnessing an outbreak of disaster patriarchy.
Naomi Klein was the first to identify “disaster capitalism”, when capitalists use a disaster to impose measures they couldn’t possibly get away with in normal times, generating more profit for themselves.
Disaster patriarchy is a parallel and complementary process, where men exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominance, and rapidly erase hard-earned women’s rights. (The term “racialized disaster patriarchy” was used by Rachel E Luft in writing about an intersectional model for understanding disaster 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.)
All over the world, patriarchy has taken full advantage of the virus to reclaim power – on the one hand, escalating the danger and violence to women, and on the other, stepping in as their supposed controller and protector.
I have spent months interviewing activists and grassroots leaders around the world, from Kenya to France to India, to find out how this process is affecting them, and how they are fighting back.
In very different contexts, five key factors come up again and again.
In disaster patriarchy, women lose their safety, their economic power, their autonomy, their education, and they are pushed on to the frontlines, unprotected, to be sacrificed.
Part of me hesitates to use the word “patriarchy”, because some people feel confused by it, and others feel it’s archaic.
I have tried to imagine a newer, more contemporary phrase for it, but I have watched how we keep changing language, updating and modernising our descriptions in an attempt to meet the horror of the moment.
I think, for example, of all the names we have given to the act of women being beaten by their partner.
First, it was battery, then domestic violence, then intimate partner violence, and most recently intimate terrorism.
We are forever doing the painstaking work of refining and illuminating, rather than insisting the patriarchs work harder to deepen their understanding of a system that is eviscerating the planet. So, I’m sticking with the word.
In this devastating time of Covid we have seen an explosion of violence towards women, whether they are cisgender or gender-diverse.
Intimate terrorism in lockdown has turned the home into a kind of torture chamber for millions of women.
We have seen the spread of revenge porn as lockdown has pushed the world online; such digital sexual abuse is now central to domestic violence as intimate partners threaten to share sexually explicit images without victims’ consent.
The conditions of lockdown – confinement, economic insecurity, fear of illness, excess of alcohol – were a perfect storm for abuse.
It is hard to determine what is more disturbing: the fact that in 2021 thousands of men still feel willing and entitled to control, torture and beat their wives, girlfriends and children, or that no government appears to have thought about this in their planning for lockdown.
In Peru, hundreds of women and girls have gone missing since lockdown was imposed, and are feared dead.
According to official figures reported by Al Jazeera, 606 girls and 309 women went missing between 16 March and 30 June last year.
Worldwide, the closure of schools has increased the likelihood of various forms of violence.
The US Rape Abuse and Incest National Network says its helpline for survivors of sexual assault has never been in such demand in its 26-year history, as children are locked in with abusers with no ability to alert their teachers or friends.
In Italy, calls to the national anti-violence toll-free number increased by 73% between 1 March and 16 April 2020, according to the activist Luisa Rizzitelli.
In Mexico, emergency call handlers received the highest number of calls in the country’s history, and the number of women who sought domestic violence shelters quadrupled.
To add outrage to outrage, many governments reduced funding for these shelters at the exact moment they were most needed.
This seems to be true throughout Europe.
In the UK, providers told Human Rights Watch that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated a lack of access to services for migrant and Black, Asian and minority ethnic women.
The organisations working with these communities say that persistent inequality leads to additional difficulties in accessing services such as education, healthcare and disaster relief remotely.
In the US, more than 5 million women’s jobs were lost between the start of the pandemic and November 2020.
Because much of women’s work requires physical contact with the public – restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings – theirs were some of the first to go.
Those who were able to keep their jobs were often frontline workers whose positions have put them in great danger; some 77% of hospital workers and 74% percent of school staff are women.
Even then, the lack of childcare options left many women unable to return to their jobs. Having children does not have this effect for men.
The rate of unemployment for Black and Latina women was higher before the virus, and now it is even worse.
The situation is more severe for women in other parts of the world. Shabnam Hashmi, a leading women’s activist from India, tells me that by April 2020 a staggering 39.5% of women there had lost their jobs.
“Work from home is very taxing on women as their personal space has disappeared, and workload increased threefold,” Hashmi says.
In Italy, existing inequalities have been amplified by the health emergency.
Rizzitelli points out that women already face lower employment, poorer salaries and more precarious contracts, and are rarely employed in “safe” corporate roles; they have been the first to suffer the effects of the crisis.
“Pre-existing economic, social, racial and gender inequalities have been accentuated, and all of this risks having longer-term consequences than the virus itself,” Rizzitelli says.
When women are put under greater financial pressure, their rights rapidly erode.
With the economic crisis created by Covid, sex- and labour-trafficking are again on the rise.
Young women who struggle to pay their rent are being preyed on by landlords, in a process known as “sextortion”.
I don’t think we can overstate the level of exhaustion, anxiety and fear that women are suffering from taking care of families, with no break or time for themselves.
It’s a subtle form of madness.
As women take care of the sick, the needy and the dying, who takes care of them?
Colani Hlatjwako, an activist leader from the Kingdom of Eswatini, sums it up: “Social norms that put a heavy caregiving burden on women and girls remain likely to make their physical and mental health suffer.”
These structures also impede access to education, damage livelihoods, and strip away sources of support.
Unesco estimates that upward of 11 million girls may not return to school once the Covid pandemic subsides.
The Malala Fund estimates an even bigger number: 20 million.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, from UN Women, says her organisation has been fighting for girls’ education since the Beijing UN women’s summit in 1995.
“Girls make up the majority of the schoolchildren who are not going back,” she says.
“We had been making progress – not perfect, but we were keeping them at school for longer. And now, to have these girls just dropping out in one year, is quite devastating.”