14/08/2020

"We are different; we don’t want to be unequal": Women in cities and in the pandemic

 

In this pandemic, it is interesting to focus on women who live in unequal and fragmented cities, in disputed territories where sectorial policies demand transversality to account for the complex cultural, environmental, material and gender diversities.

We distinguish at least four categories of territories inhabited by women, each one impregnated with their diversities, where territorial injustices are expressed. The body territory, with the power to decide over it. The home territory, with overcrowded dwellings, lacking a “corner” of one’s own, where many women live with those who inflict violence on them, where the slogan of “staying at home” is unfeasible. In the neighborhood territory, without infrastructure or services, where  the poorer the neighbors, the more attentive and supportive they are; weaving welfare networks and organizing neighborhood soup kitchens, managing hygiene and food distribution in these times of scarcity. And the city territory, where the sanitation personnel, the supermarket cashiers, who are mostly women, are also the most exposed. Each territory has its own complexities, and none can allude to being a static or divided category, they are all crossed by interdependencies and interrelations.

In turn, the pandemic has revealed four critical issues. The first issue: violence against women, locked up with their abusers, the greatest expression of the power of one sex over the other, the exercise of bodily ownership (Segato, 2008). It is spine-chilling to acknowledge the number of murdered women. In Argentina, according to data collected by MUMALA [1], from January 1st to June 30th of 2020, there has been a femicide every 29 hours.

The second issue: deciding over one’s own body. How many unwanted pregnancies will result from this pandemic? This is a fundamental question that demands statistics and information that strengthen the arguments for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Law. An investigation by the UN Population Fund [2] reveals a 20% increase in cases of violence in periods of confinement, and points out the difficulty of access to contraceptives, which can lead to millions of unwanted pregnancies, with a catastrophic impact on women's lives worldwide.

The third issue is that of care. Pioneers in installing the invisibilized value of reproductive and care work were the Uruguayans Rosario Aguirre Cuns and Karina Battyány [3], showing that the scarcest good in the lives of women is time. Care as a right, and care infrastructure and services in territorial policies as instruments of redistribution, is what urban planning in a feminist mode proposes.

The fourth issue: the economy based on gender. Women make up the majority of the informal market and will suffer even more from the impact of the post-pandemic crisis. In a consultation in which CISCSA [4] participated, it was made evident that the most critical situation is experienced by women who are lone caregivers and who are not working: they are "overwhelmed" and the greatest urgency is to guarantee provision of food. Women who do not work do not eat, so maintaining the acquired universal policies is a social responsibility.

We must be present where public policies exist that continue making subjectivities invisible or where little support is given to community constructions that generate spaces for participatory actions of political incidence adjusted to needs. In this sense, it is important to recover women’s voices in the territory, an example of which is the Women's Agenda for the Right to the City organized through CISCSA and in six cities of Latin America [5]. The Agenda, built by residents from outlying neighborhoods in Córdoba, raises six decisive points:

1. To build more livable cities that prioritize public investments to improve infrastructure and services and avoid the gentrification of the neoliberal urbanization model; cities that discourage speculation, with participatory strategic planning processes.

2. More livable neighborhoods, with secure access to land and housing for the popular sectors (especially for female heads of households and dissidences).

3. To rebuild neighborhood ties, promoting community participation, appropriation of public spaces and development of cultural projects.

4. To put an end to the patriarchal culture, the application of the Comprehensive Sexual Education Law and compliance with the sexual health program, with a focus on the free provision of contraceptives and the right to decide over one's own body.

5. Economies designed for the sustainability of life, which recognize the invisibilized contribution that women make through unpaid work, and the establishment of policies that promote collective popular economy initiatives.

6. Public spaces without violence, with equipment for diversity, accessible and safe transportation, places for recreation.

It is necessary to emphasize the value of the collective, communal life, the "neighborhood that takes care of the neighborhood", reestablishing relationships and strengthening networks and ties, rescuing mutual aid laws; to revalue the political aspect of the domestic. It is important to support State management where management is equivalent to caring and where caring is the main task; a feminization of politics (Ada Colau 2020). To strengthen federal territorial action through the articulation of political leaderships, municipalities, social organizations, women and feminists, academics and experts, in meetings of political action in the territories. At the same time, to alert the need for a State which is attentive to uncovering the diversity of subjectivities, one that promotes the creation of spaces for citizen advocacy, especially of the different groups who suffer multiple deficiencies and fears in this difficult context of uncertainties generated by Covid-19.

 

Ana Falú is Professor Emeritus at UNC. A pioneer architect in Latin America on Urbanism and Gender issues, she once was Director of UNIFEM (UN Women). CONICET Researcher, Associate Professor at FAUD UNC. She directs the Masters in Management and Housing Development. She is currently the Executive Director of CISCSA, based in Córdoba.

 


[1] 143 murders of women in the first six months of the year, of which 80 femicides correspond to the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of these, 128 women, seven girls and 6 boys and men, which occur when the son or daughter intervenes between the violent man and their mother, or because the murderer kills his son/daughter to attack the woman. It is noteworthy that there were two cases of transvesticides. As a result of this violence that leads to femicide, 177 children and adolescents were left without their mother.

[2] Study conducted with Avenir Health, the Johns Hopkins University of the United States and the University of Victoria of Australia

[3] Rosario Aguirre Cuns and Karina Bathyany, at the University of the Republic of Uruguay, develop innumerable works, publications and research on the subject.

[4] The consultation was promoted by the School of Social Sciences of the National University of Córdoba, through the Feminism, Sexualities and Rights Program and the Gender and Dissidence Commission of the Social Council of which CISCSA (Center of Exchange and Services for the Southern Cone Argentina) is part, together with other social organizations. The report, which addresses care tasks, contraception and gender violence, among others, can be consulted at: https://www.ciscsa.org.ar/post/covid-19-mucho-m%C3%A1s-que-un-problema-de-salud

[5] This agenda is the result of the project “Diverse women's voices for safe, inclusive and sustainable cities” carried out by the Women and Habitat Network of Latin America and the Caribbean with the support of the Southern Women’s Fund https://www.ciscsa.org.ar/agenda

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