By Madeleine Rees

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


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!!!