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COVID-19: A Quantum Leap to Surface the Solutions

There was the catastrophe we knew about but were singularly intransigent in responding to: climate change. Then there was the catastrophe we were warned was going to happen, but denied the possible impacts of: a global pandemic. The two are intimately connected as we now know, in particular through the political and economic choices that certain political and economic elite have made in their own interests.

Image credit: WILPF
Madeleine Rees
22 May 2020

There was the catastrophe we knew about but were singularly intransigent in responding to: climate change. Then there was the catastrophe we were warned was going to happen, but denied the possible impacts of: a global pandemic. The two are intimately connected as we now know, in particular through the political and economic choices that certain political and economic elite have made in their own interests.

Building a picture piece by piece

Not all of our blog pieces in our COVID-19 series are in place, not yet, but since 23 March, WILPF has been building a picture of how our national and international systems have been created, who they privilege, and what we need to do to change them. Through our numerous blogs we have illustrated two main strands—militarism and capitalism—with a gender analysis coursing through both and everything subsequent.

Our picture is three-dimensional. It is designed to illustrate the different elements that create a system and how they overlap and interact to create specific outcomes. To separate them is artificial, as it endangers our understanding of the whole complex web. Consequently, as we address each part, we have to diligently pay attention to the connection between these elements, the strength of that connection and how it relates one with the other.

Everything is interconnected

Militarism would not exist without capitalism; and would not exist without a particular gendered performance of culture. Capitalism would not exist without the idea of need for material profit, perpetual growth and a mindset of supreme individualism over equality and solidarity. Neoliberalism, as a specific economic and political project, would not exist without capitalism having created wealth for the few and putting above all the ambition of securing that wealth and finding ever increasing ways of reducing public expenditure so as to maximise potential for private profit.

All of this requires particular political and economic regulatory frameworks (or their absence) to ensure continuance of the system. It has increasingly demanded the erosion of internationalism, the multilateral system, and international law. It has required racism, nationalism, sexism, and homophobia to shape the parameters of who “matters” and who doesn’t. The system has, as we explore in the various blogs, included the legalisation of weaponry (including weapons of mass destruction) and their sale and transfer, the existence of foreign bases, privatisation and militarisation of security, borders, and places of incarceration. All of this is supported by, and integral to, economies based on debt, both personal and national, legal tax evasion, the freedoms and subsidies given to financial institutions, to the extractive industries, agribusiness, big pharma, and so on.

This is the reality of our current political economy. It is highly gendered and racist and it breeds violence. Indeed, it requires violence in order to sustain it. We cannot address that fundamental reality unless we understand how gender informs how we arrange our governance structures, how they function, and the decisions that are made.

In our blogs we have drawn attention to all of these issues as a means of explaining not just how we got here, but more to indicate what must be learnt to help understand how the transition into a post-pandemic (but undoubtedly not COVID-free) world, should look, what it needs to flourish and survive. To do this we must emphasise the imperative of shining Cynthia Enloe’s feminist spotlight on each part to examine and deconstruct it so that we can build anew.

Many of the fault lines exposed have been brought to the surface and analysed through these blogs. We have produced a guide extrapolating from these to identify what we need to be paying attention to as governments, economic actors, societies, and the multilateral system respond during the various phases of the pandemic. In essence, they can be categorised as follows:

  • Militarism and its multifaceted oppressions
  • Capitalism, inequalities, and the local and global consequences
  • Multilateralism
  • Community needs, public interest, solidarity, and recovery

By documenting in real time in different contexts the impacts of the pandemic and the responses to it, we can understand whether those in the existing capitalist system are seeking to restore it with even greater venom and consequent inequalities, or if filaments are being laid down, within communities and reciprocated in governance, which can be made into ever-thickening strands of fundamental change. It is how we would address the ending of a conflict and the beginning of a process towards peace. Indeed, as the response was framed by far too many male leaders with the language of warfare, we now need to intelligently build from within that ‘conflict’ using a methodology for which feminists have been advocating for decades: transformative justice.

In the coming weeks, we will examine how to make this work in practice, capturing the lived experiences and grounding them; how to build on the solidarity and trust which has emerged amongst ordinary people, develop policies, (particularly economic and demilitarisation), based on human rights, how to effect structural changes, reassessing and reviving multilateralism, and the relevance and importance of “promiscuous care”  as the way to address not just our second catastrophe (pandemic) but the first, the environment.

We are a movement and now is the time for that quantum leap without which an entity is not visible…even though it was always there!!!

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Madeleine Rees Portrait

Madeleine Rees

Madeleine Rees is a British lawyer and Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a role she has held since 2010. For most of her adult life, Rees has worked nationally and internationally to advance human rights, eliminate discrimination, and remove obstacles to justice. As Secretary-General of WILPF, Rees is leading the organisation’s efforts to work through national and international legal frameworks to advance a future of human security and justice for all.

Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

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

VICE-PRESIDENT

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

PRESIDENT

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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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

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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