A little over a month ago, on International Women’s Day, I marched through London, shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of women and men at the #March4Women. Now, just few weeks on, the very idea of a mass march is unthinkable, and many aspects of our lives and daily routines are unrecognisable.
We are living through a moment that might, in the future, just be seen as an abnormal dystopian blip - with the world returning to exactly where it left off. Or this blip could provide the impetus to rethink; to redefine how we live and what our priorities should be.
My hope – and hope is currently our most valuable resource – is that we can use this catastrophe to mobilise remotely and to shape the world into a better, fairer place when all this is over.
I never thought I’d find myself urging everyone to all those who are not on the frontline to stay at home and create change from their armchairs. However, this moment of crisis will be all the more devastating if we don’t chose to see it as a wake-up call and an opportunity for us to build a better world - for generations to come.
We are not there yet, of course. But, post virus, what would such reboot demand? And what can we do from our self-isolation to get involved now? Here are my suggestions...
1. Reframe work and home
How long have feminists and others been calling for a reshaping of the working day and a restructuring of work-life balance, to include those with caring roles and disabilities?
In the space of a month, employers have been forced to act, allowing their staff to build their working day around their other responsibilities. Many of those working from home for the first time are commenting on the value of video-based meetings, in which they share a bit more about themselves as human beings.
Not discarding remote and flexible working when we emerge from Covid-19 would address a persistent and root cause of gender inequality for good.
Get involved: Working Families are among those organisations pushing for change in this area.
2. Rethink what we value
We are now learning who our ‘key workers’ really are. They are, for the most part, the underpaid workers traditionally associated with female labour – those in the health, social care, teaching professions and food economy.
It should be a scandal how woefully underpaid and undervalued, they have always been and how increasingly obscene levels of economic inequality are tolerated. People who underpin our society need to be valued as such, and their worth properly monetised.
3. Design a political system that is more diverse
And more representative of society as a whole. As a first step, the Centenary Action Group are calling for the enactment of Section 106 of the Equality Act to ensure a greater diversity of political candidates and incentivise political parties to address the gender gap.
4., Commit to international solidarity
During this time when we are feeling afraid, it’s imperative that we don’t simply batten down the hatches and ignore what’s happening elsewhere. Covid-19 has taught us that a problem in one part of the world is a problem for all. The virus can’t be overcome with an out of sight out of mind mentality.
5. Appreciate that we are but a speck in the universe
Many of us are noticing fresher air, as well as paying attention to the wildlife that is visiting our silent streets. We must not unthinkingly return to ways that take us back to consumption levels and choices that continue to harm the environment. We can value local, live slower, create a new ‘normal’ that takes better care of the planet.
Get involved: Support Friends of the Earth, for example.
6. Have zero tolerance on violence against women
In every crisis, the most brutal facets of gender inequality are exacerbated. We need local, national and global commitments to do more in this area. Here in the UK we could start with proper funding of the women’s aid sector including of Refuge, Women's Aid and smaller more specialised, local and community organisations. Also globally, building on #MeToo, we need a push for the UK and all countries to ratify The International Labour Organisation Convention on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.
7. Tackle tomelessness and reliance on food banks
Throughout the current crisis, we have seen incredible acts of kindness and causes for hope. From donations to food banks to the work of the Mayors of London and Manchester, who together with the voluntary sector, are leading the way with initiatives to house and support the homeless. These developments show us that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe, just maybe, we can finally agree that homelessness and food poverty just cannot be acceptable in the rebooted world.
8. Social media giants...
...could change their algorithms to magnify empathy and solidarity, instead of magnifying abuse. Social media has been an incredible source of entertainment, connectivity and community mobilisation during this crisis, and it’s been wonderful for example to see the very young and very old communicating across distance. However, online abuse is a growing problem, one that shouldn't be forgotten amid this burst of goodwill.
9. Accessibility of the Arts
Another of the hugely inspiring by-products of the current crisis has been the outpouring of generosity from cultural organisations and institutions – the free/pay as you can afford online tours of museums, the ‘walkabouts’, the online shows including those by the National Theatre. How wonderful for people who are unable to leave their homes, how inclusive for those with disabilities and mental health issues. Could this continue into our new, rebooted, post-Covid world?
What would you add? And what other ways can we pull together to demand and build a kinder more caring society? Let us know in the comments section below.