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COVID-19: Post-Pandemic Starts During the Pandemic – Feminist Lessons from Post-War Failures

Doing gender-smart policy analysis – before making any decision and then assessing the consequences of that decision – entails answering eight gender questions: Who participates? Who is left outside? Who benefits? Who pays the price? Who is taken seriously? Who is taken for granted? Who is in control? And always: Where do ideas (and worries) about manliness and femininity come into play?

Image credit: WILPF
Cynthia Enloe
23 April 2020

Danish officials are cautiously reopening elementary schools. New Zealand and Australian governments are carefully reopening beaches. Chinese officials are urging rural migrant workers to return to reopened factories. The Texas governor has named a “Reopening Czar.”

Schools are gendered. So are beaches and the incoming surf. Factories rely on gendered divisions of labor. Czars are always gendered.

Doing gender-smart policy analysis – before making any decision and then assessing the consequences of that decision – entails answering eight gender questions: Who participates? Who is left outside? Who benefits? Who pays the price? Who is taken seriously? Who is taken for granted? Who is in control? And always: Where do ideas (and worries) about manliness and femininity come into play?

While the gurneys still line hospital corridors and ordinary citizens still are getting used to breathing through their masks – that is, during these on-going months of public health uncertainty – some people are sitting around their virtual tables making plans for the post-pandemic era.

Who are at those policy tables? What are their gendered presumptions? Whose interests do they have on their minds?

The reopening, post-pandemic scenarios – and the questions they provoke – are all too familiar to feminist activists. For decades, women paying close attention to the experiences of diverse women during catastrophes have realized that plans for the “post” era are crafted while the guns are still firing, the ashes are still smoldering, the earth is still quaking.

There aren’t many in-the-midst-of-war post-war planning gender success stories. Perhaps best known is the British government’s planning during World War II to build a post-war welfare state. Its blueprint was The Beveridge Report, named after liberal economist William Beveridge. Published in 1942, it outlined a country-wide safety net, the center piece of which was the National Health Service. Officials saw it as a reward for British civilians, whose endurance and social solidarity sustained the country through wartime’s darkest days. Notably, several feminist women Members of Parliament were influential in insuring that the realities of British women’s wartime lives were explicitly considered when designing this ambitious post-war social security system. Despite their efforts, patriarchal presumptions were woven into the post-war British welfare state: about unequal pay, feminized childcare, marital harmony and male bread- winners. British feminists spent the next 75 post-war years trying to undo the patriarchal damage done by those planning presumptions.

Most post-catastrophe plans do not come close to even the flawed the British welfare state. Northern Irish women active in their territory’s long civil war have been sidelined politically in its post-war politics. Colombian feminists have criticized their government’s recent post-war planning for privileging foreign mining companies and their local male partners. Bosnian feminists continue to expose the pain caused to Bosnian women by a post-war reconstruction financial formula that shredded the country’s already inadequate social safety net. Cambodia’s post-war development has been marked by masculinized authoritarian rule and masculinized Chinese companies’ profit-making. Post-genocide Rwanda, heralded for its high percentage of women in parliament, is marked today by masculinized authoritarianism at the top. El Salvador’s post-war era has been scarred by startling rates of male violence against women.

These post-war gendered disasters have come about in spite of decades of global feminist campaigning for women to be key players in the post-war planning that goes on while the guns are still firing. Transnational activists’ major achievement was the 2000 passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, a resolution intended to commit both the UN and each of its member states to include women as significant players in both peace agreement negotiations and the post-war reconstruction policy-making that usually goes hand-in-glove with peace negotiations.

The scorecard for 1325’s implementation is pretty dismal. Between 1992 and 2018, a mere 13 % of all peace negotiators were women. Of all the signatories in major peace processes, a shameful 4 % were women.

To sustainably rebuild an economy, to effectively reweave a post-shutdown tattered social fabric, and to meaningfully reform the governance system so it will be better prepared to meet the next disaster will require three things:  an explicitly intersectional gender curiosity, the collection of intersectionally gender-disaggregated health, labor, and political data, as well as genuine commitment to anti-racist gender equity. It has been feminist analysts – in the fields of public health, economics, public policy, community services, finance and environment – who have developed these sophisticated skills. We will fall far short of all three requisites for effective post-pandemic planning if we don’t have feminist-informed women at every decision-making table.

In the throes of natural disasters, wars, economic depressions and pandemics, men have condescendingly lectured women: Now, in the midst of this crisis, is not the time to worry about gender. Women and men, the patriarchal lecturers continue, are all in this together. Later, they assure us, when the crisis is past, we can worry about women.

Later, of course, never comes.

Post – after the committees have been appointed, after priorities have been set, after the spoils have been distributed – is too late. During the crisis – right now – is when women with gender equity policy skills and commitments must be at every decision-making table.

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Cynthia Enloe

Dr. Cynthia Enloe is a world-renowned scholar on gender and militarism and is a member of the WILPF academic network.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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