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The Risks of Being A Woman During the Pandemic

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Before I found myself “sheltering in place,” this article was to be about women’s actions around the world to mark March 8, International Women’s Day. From Pakistan to Chile, women in their millions filled the streets, demanding that we be able to control our bodies and our lives. Women came out in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Peru, the Philippines and Malaysia. In some places, they risked beatings by masked men. In others, they demanded an end to femicide—the millennia-old reality that women in this world are murdered daily simply because they are women.

In 1975 the Future Was Female

This year’s celebrations were especially militant. It’s been 45 years since the United Nations declared 1975 the International Women’s Year and sponsored its first international conference on women in Mexico City. Similar conferences followed at five-year intervals, culminating in a 1995 Beijing conference, producing a platform that has in many ways guided international feminism ever since.

Beijing was a quarter of a century ago, but this year, women around the world seemed to have had enough. On March 9, Mexican women staged a 24-hour strike, un día sin nosotras (a day without us women), to demonstrate just how much the world depends on the labor—paid and unpaid—of… yes, women. That womanless day was, by all accounts, a success. The Wall Street Journal observed—perhaps with a touch of astonishment—that “Mexico grinds to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of women paralyzed Mexico in an unprecedented nationwide strike to protest a rising wave of violence against women, a major victory for their cause.”

In addition to crowding the streets and emptying factories and offices, some women also broke store windows and fought with the police. Violence? From women? What could have driven them to such a point?

Perhaps it was the murder of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, who, according to The New York Times, “was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled” this February. Maybe it was that the shooting of the artist and activist Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre in Ciudad Juarez, a barely noted reminder to an uninterested world that women have been disappearing for decades along the US-Mexico border. Or maybe it was just the fact that official figures for 2019 revealed more than 1,000 femicides in Mexico, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, while many more such murders go unrecorded.

Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?

If it weren’t for the pandemic, maybe The Wall Street Journal would have been right. Maybe the Day Without Women would have been only the first of many major victories. Maybe the international feminist anthem, “El violador eres tú” (You [the patriarchy, the police, the president] are the rapist), would have gone on inspiring flash-mobs of dancing, chanting women everywhere. Perhaps the world’s attention might not have been so quickly diverted from the spectacle of women’s uprisings globally. Now, however, in the United States and around the world, it’s all-pandemic-all-the-time, and with reason. The coronavirus has done what A Day Without Women could not: It’s brought the world’s economy to a shuddering halt. It’s infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed tens of thousands. And it continues to spread like a global wildfire.





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