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Women who don’t stay home – new report illustrates how women are leading the response to COVID-19 in Latin America

A separate chapter of the global battle against COVID-19 is being played out in Latin America that is testing national and regional capacities to meet a challenge that is much greater than a health crisis. The responses from public administrations have called into question how effective regional coordination really is, and have exposed the fragility of institutions, infrastructure, the social model of development and the capacities of different actors to collaborate across sectors for the public good.

A common denominator across governments in the region is the apparent confusion at the very top of government power (ie. presidents and ministers), laid bare by the contradictory messages they convey to the population, and the absence of proactive practices to contain the virus. In addition to this, a paternalistic vision has emerged, with the result being the curtailment of public freedoms. The total lack of coordination with civil society organizations and locally based organizations is just another cause for deep concern.

In this context, during the months of May and June 2020, we researched and talked with women community leaders from several countries in the region, to learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities and on their personal lives. Their reflections, which form the basis of our new report, focus on the following dimensions:

  • Questioning the idea of a “new normal”, based on criticism of the “old normal”: less confidence, doubts about reciprocity, greater solidarity;
  • The weakening of participatory democracy in the region;
  • The economic consequences of the pandemic on quality of life, particularly in terms of employment;
  • Awareness of the impact of the digital divide on inequality;
  • The low participation of civil society as a major player in public policies in the face of COVID-19;
  • Solidarity, as a temporary and reactive phenomenon;
  • The importance of women.

Faced with this landscape marked by inequality and social inequity, women had to organize and reinvent themselves, creating networks of hope and support platforms between themselves, ensuring their own public visibility (as they are invisible) and transforming the crisis into an opportunity.

“They also did not cover their mouths, but rather, even despite their masks, publicly denounced domestic violence resulting from the confinement, demanded help from the absent state, weaved alliances, and reinvented their lives, their jobs and their communities.”

Women who “talk” in this report and in the related video represent many thousands more that did not stay in their homes because they were unable to do so. These same women also did not wash their hands, did not detach from their surroundings, did not take refuge in their individualities, and did not try to solely save themselves. Trust and relationships in their communities became their most important resource. They also did not cover their mouths, but rather, even despite their masks, publicly denounced domestic violence resulting from the confinement, demanded help from the absent state, weaved alliances, and reinvented their lives, their jobs and their communities.

They set up community banks in Ecuador to resolve the lack of access to economic resources for women in the community; invented new ways of exchanging products and services in Chile so that all women in the community could earn income and bring food home; developed technology courses in Argentina to reduce the giant digital divide that left nearly half of the population completely isolated; implemented an emergency fund to help sex workers; created a digital platform through which Ecuador’s artisans could continue to sell their goods and earn money to survive; established a food bank in Mexico to make sure that members of their community didn’t go hungry.

“Faced with the discourse of ‘war’ against COVID-19, embodied above all in ruling men, women in communities across Latin America are instead showing their limitless empathy, solidarity and instinct for collaboration and protection.”

They created and nurtured a “communitarian us” (nosotros comunitario) as hundreds of thousands of other women in the region also did, co-creating comprehensive response models to the epidemic that allowed members of their communities to not only protect themselves from the virus, but to imagine the future together. They understood the ecosystem and the context in which the epidemic could develop in their own communities and used, as they always do, their skills and their relationships of trust to create – always in conjunction with other women – durable solutions that allow members of their communities to be sustained in these uncertain times.

Faced with the discourse of “war” against COVID-19, embodied above all in ruling men, women in communities across Latin America are instead showing their limitless empathy, solidarity and instinct for collaboration and protection. The dilemmas of the “day after” and the possibilities of “build back better” will depend to a large extent on how tensions between, on the one hand, fear, disintegration and social anomia are resolved and, on the other hand, the efforts of integration, cooperation and care. In this game, women-led community philanthropy will play an undisputed starring role.

 

By: Florencia Roitstein & Andrés Thompson, ELLAS – Mujeres y Filantropía

Download the report (available in English and Spanish) and watch the video 

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