COVID-19 and Conflict | Between myth and mistrust: the role of interlocutors in managing COVID-19 in Haiti

COVID-19 and Conflict | Between myth and mistrust: the role of interlocutors in managing COVID-19 in Haiti

Mistrust in state-provided information about COVID-19 has characterized citizen responses to the pandemic in Haiti, preventing the effective management of the virus. This article shows that this mistrust is rooted ...

COVID-19 | The voices of children and youth in Tanzania’s COVID-19 response

COVID-19 | The voices of children and youth in Tanzania’s COVID-19 response

Rapid research into the effects of COVID-19 on young people in Tanzania reveals high levels of anxiety about the virus as it relates to relationships, economic livelihoods and the community. ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | Pandemic responses in Brazil’s favelas and beyond: making the invisible visible

The inaction of the Brazilian government during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some members of Brazilian society into an even more vulnerable position. Yet many of these groups seem to know what they need to do to fight the virus. Here, we highlight the capacity of some domestic workers and residents of favelas to organize both quickly and innovatively during the pandemic. Importantly, we show that favelas can be a site for empowering transformation, rather than just a place of misfortune.

“I watched a report on the TV. They were interviewing an upper-middle class family about the lockdown. But the domestic worker could be seen in the background, working. “Oh, this family is isolated”. But what about that worker back there? Isn’t she someone?” (Cleide Pinto, from FENATRAD, domestic workers union).

Sharing videos of life in quarantine has become a commonplace during the pandemic in Brazil. Television personalities have provided a glimpse of their lives at home, showing what it has been like for them to be in quarantine. Yet, staying home in Brazil is a privilege and not possible for more than 50 million Brazilians[i]. Although a large part of the population is dependent on informal jobs and must continue to leave their houses every day, they are virtually invisible—to most.

This scenario is just another reflection of the abysmal inequality where the richest 10% hold 41.9% of the country’s total income[ii]. In the labour market—where around 36% of employed people work under informal conditions—domestic workers number approximately 7 million[iii]. Despite these numbers, their jobs remain precarious—domestic work was finally recognized as formal work in 2015[1], but most of domestic workers still do not have formal contracts.

To aggravate this state of affairs, during the pandemic domestic work was declared an ‘essential service’ in several states of Brazil[2], forcing a large number of women to continue working and having to risk being infected whilst taking public transport or whilst toiling in the households of the elites. In cases where employers allowed them not to work for their own safety, many were also not paid or feared losing their jobs.

Crowded BRT by the reopening of commerce in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic, on June 9th, 2020. Image: Yan Marcelo / @ yanzitx. Authorized by authors.

However, Brazilian civil society was organized and often vocal, playing an active and central role in the fight against COVID-19[3]. Collaborative initiatives based in solidarity emerged in various settings to provide temporary support for those in need. Civil society used existing networks and infrastructure of support, but was also innovative in its actions, forging new and strengthening existing solidarity networks. The trigger was the knowledge that the state was not going to see them, nor take care of them. On top of that, many of these workers, including domestic workers, live in communities with poor socioeconomic conditions, often known as favelas (informal settlements).

As a response to the pandemic, the national association of domestic workers (FENATRAD) organized national campaigns, such as the Cuida de quem te cuida (‘care for those who care’)[iv] to pressure public institutions not to consider domestic work as essential during the pandemic and to encourage employers to put workers on paid leave. FENATRAD published videos on social networks to raise awareness and promote other forms of support, such as gaining access to the online platform for the federal government’s emergency fund. Such organization played a crucial role in informing workers about their rights, particularly how to protect themselves.

Leaders from within the favelas took charge, organizing online fundraising campaigns and the distribution of primary goods. The Favela of Paraisópolis, situated next to a rich neighbourhood in São Paulo, made it to the Dutch news as an example of a community that managed to fight COVID-19 using its own means. Vital to this success has been a partnership with the network ‘G10 das Favelas’[v], an organization that supports entrepreneurship within different communities across the country. Their lemma is based on the idea of favelas as a place for empowering transformation rather than a place of misfortune, according to Gilson Rodrigues, a community leader in Paraisópolis.

Through the partnership, civil society created the idea of ‘presidents of the street’, employing 542 volunteers as ‘street presidents’ responsible for distributing food and hygiene products in their allocated areas. A further deficiency in social assistance is that of SAMU, public service for ambulance urgencies, as noted below:

“SAMU does not get to Paraisópolis. It did not do so even before the pandemic, even less so now” (Gilson Rodrigues).

As many public services were not available, they trained 240 first aid brigades within the community, hired private ambulances and medical staff, and organized information campaigns on hygiene procedures and on how to recognize symptoms of the disease.

Two schools in the neighbourhood were transformed into centres to host those who tested positive for the virus, allowing them to be in isolation, with food, a TV room, and a proper space in which to recover. To support domestic workers of the community, they created the program ‘Adote uma diarista’ (‘adopt a domestic worker’), providing financial resources, hygiene material, and/or food for more than one thousand informal workers.

These examples show an exceptional response from civil society in Paraisópolis[4]. However, not all favelas have the same level of organization. Although these initiatives temporarily alleviated the burden of the pandemic for the people in these communities, they do not offer structural solutions for their situation. Domestic workers unexpectedly became frontline workers. An optimistic future would be to imagine that these initiatives would result in greater recognition of domestic work and greater empowerment and rights for the people in these communities. However, with the present political scenario, this future is hard to imagine.


[1] http://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2015/06/dilma-assina-regulamentacao-dos-direitos-das-domesticas-diz-planalto.html

[2] Governments of the states of Pará, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Sul and Ceará are among some of the states in which domestic work was declared as essential during the pandemic.

[3] This is the second out of three posts to be published on Bliss presenting the main findings of the research work about COVID-19 in Brazil for the project ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’. We performed desk research and a qualitative comparative analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with members of three civil society groups in Brazil: residents of favelas (informal settlements), domestic workers, and indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Interviews took place in July 2020, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in Brazil.

[4] For more info, please see: https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2020/04/07/paraisopolis-se-une-contra-o-coronavirus-contrata-ambulancias-medicos-e-distribui-mais-de-mil-marmitas-por-dia.ghtml and https://newsus.cgtn.com/news/2020-04-19/Favela-fights-coronavirus-PNzcVTweKk/index.html

[i] IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. Síntese de Indicadores Sociais 2017.

[ii] https://cee.fiocruz.br/?q=node/1090

[iii] According to FENATRAD.

[iv] The campaign Cuida de quem te cuida (Care for those who take care of you) is an attempt to pressure the Public Ministry to forbid states from filing decrees declaring domestic work as essential work. Despite the campaign, the decrees continued to happen and with the reopening of the economy, it became even hard to implement a monitoring system that would guarantee a safe work condition for these women.

[v] http://www.g10favelas.org

About the authors:

Fiorella Macchiavello is an economist and holds an MA degree in Urban and Regional Development from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil. Currently, she is a PhD researcher in the third year of a Joint Degree between the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and UnB, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Renata Cavalcanti Muniz is a full time PhD researcher at ISS in the last year of her research. Her PhD research was funded by CNPQ-Brasil, and she is part of two research groups at ISS, DEC and CI.

Lee Pegler

Lee Pegler spent his early career working as an economist with the Australian Labour Movement. More recent times have seen him researching the labour implications of “new” management strategies of TNCs in Brazil/ Latin America. This interest expanded to a focus on the implications of value chain insertion on labour, both for formal and informal workers. Trained as an economist and sociologist (PhD – LSE), he currently works as Assistant Professor (Work, Organisation and Labour Rights) at the ISS.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

COVID-19 and Conflict | The state’s failure to respond to COVID-19 in Brazil: an intentional disaster

The COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil stretches beyond the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The inaction of the government over the past year to counter the effects of the pandemic has ...

How do grassroots networks in Kenya tackle violence against children?

How do grassroots networks in Kenya tackle violence against children?

In the absence of state infrastructure, grassroots networks play a crucial role in addressing the prevalence of violence against children in Kenya. How do these networks work and how can ...

COVID-19 | There’s no stopping feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign draws to a close today, Agustina Solera and Brenda Rodríguez Cortés reflect on the challenges women in Latin America have faced over the past year and how, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they have stood strong as ever, braving the particularly difficult conditions that they have had to face this year.

During an academic retreat in late August, we reflected on feminist struggles in Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recalled that the last time we had seen each other in person before the retreat was during the International Women’s Day march in Amsterdam as part of ‘Feministas en Holanda’, a collective of self-identified feminists from Latin America living in the Netherlands. ‘

The foundation of ‘Feministas en Holanda’ dates back to the summer of 2018, when we joined a group of other Latin American women to demonstrate outside of the Argentinian Embassy in The Hague in favour of the decriminalization of abortion. Even though the bill that could have decriminalized abortion in Argentina wasn’t passed, the protest was a moment for feminist women from Latin American living in the Netherlands to meet face to face. It was there where we realized that there were many of us who have the same commitment to gender issues and that we weren’t alone in our struggles; on the contrary, we embraced each other, and from that day on the movement continued to bloom, both online and on the streets.

Some of the most pressing issues that women face in Latin America include feminicides and disappearances, gender and sexual violence, racial discrimination, the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights, violence targeted against environmental defenders and activists, poverty, and the precarization of work and employment for women. The multiplicity of struggles of Latin American women has also brought boundless ways of fighting back and resisting. Examples include the feminist performance ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (‘A rapist on your path’) in Chile denouncing violence against women and state violence, the #EleNão (‘Not him’) movement in Brazil against Jair Bolsonaro’s sexism and fascism, the #NiUnaMenos (‘Not one woman less’) movement that started in Argentina against gender-based violence and feminicides and quickly spread to other Latin-American countries, and Mexico’s #MiPrimerAcoso campaign denouncing sexual harassment and violence even before the #MeToo movement captured global attention.

Importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the feminist struggles in Latin America. While the pandemic has clearly shown us the interconnections between different systems of oppression and its effects on marginalized communities, women and racial and ethnic minorities, it has also magnified and deepened several social inequalities, including gender inequality.

The massive scope of the virus highlights the unequal access to basic services like safe water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as public services such as health and education, access to affordable housing, food and decent work. Quarantine became a privilege accessible only to those who have a house or who could lock themselves up and work remotely. Moreover, in many cases, seeking refuge from the danger of the virus meant being locked up in a situation no less dangerous for some women: a situation of domestic violence and abuse. Protection of life during the COVID-19 pandemic requires that we stay inside our homes. However, this puts many women in greater risk by living 24/7 with their abuser. Unfortunately, due to social distancing and protective sanitary measures, women’s shelters soon reached full capacity, thus preventing women from seeking refuge.

Moreover, household and care work—activities that primarily fall on women’s shoulders—have also increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. Women now have to ensure total hygiene, constantly clean the house, look after their children and elderly relatives, and assist children in virtual schooling, which overburdens them even more. The most is being asked of those who have been guaranteed the least (Maffia, 2020). The pandemic has brought the domestic sphere to centre stage. Many of the issues that feminist movements had already been denouncing and that were not visible precisely because they were in the realm of the intimate today emerge strongly. We see that all of this work is essential for society to continue and, above all, for life to be preserved.

And the pandemic has also disrupted the already limited access to sexual and reproductive health services that women have in Latin America. A UN policy brief reported that an additional 18 million women in the region would cease to have access to contraceptives because of the pandemic (UN, 2020). The ongoing lockdowns, lack of access to birth control and family planning in addition to an increase in gender-based and sexual violence could lead to an estimated 600,000 unintended pregnancies in the region (Murray and Moloney, 2020).

Despite having some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, feminist groups in Latin America put their bodies on the line and went out on the streets to demand justice for social problems that existed even before the pandemic and those that have intensified because of it.

In Mexico, for example, women and family members of victims of gender and sexual violence and disappeared women, together with the support of feminist collectives, have occupied the headquarters of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) since early September as a response to the inability of the government to provide access to justice and the impunity of such crimes. In Quito, Ecuador, as in other cities in the region, hundreds of women went out on the streets on 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, to demand access to legal and safe abortion. And in Colombia, feminist collectives started the campaign ‘¡Estamos Putas! ¡Juntas somos más poderosas!’ to support cis and trans women sex workers who have been affected by the coronavirus-related ban on sex work during the lockdown.

These are just some examples of how the feminist movements in Latin America continue to transform society and to enact social change and social justice, even throughout a pandemic. As two migrant women, feminists from Latin America living in Europe and working in academia, we acknowledge our privileges and choose to use our voices to amplify those of our compañeras back home and make visible their struggles and contributions. The enormous efforts by women who, collectively, support victims of gender violence, accompany women to abortions, report police brutality, look for disappeared people and fight extractive industries, were being made before the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be made. We hope that now women’s fundamental contributions become even more visible and valued by the whole of our society.


References

Bartels-Bland, E. (2020) “COVID-19 Could Worsen Gender Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean”, World Bank. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldbank.org%2Fen%2Fnews%2Ffeature%2F2020%2F05%2F15%2Fcovid-19-could-worsen-gender-inequality-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=oFG0rjBqELfmooAtieUHMxzk79Cw7WmpehUCQsVB7Pg%3D&reserved=0

Lugones, M. (2007) “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System”. Hypatia 22(1), 186-209.

Maffia, Diana (2020) “Violencia de Género: ¿La otra pandemia?” In El futuro después del COVID-19. Argentina Unida. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.argentina.gob.ar%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fel_futuro_despues_del_covid-19_0.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=I9IPssiI8Rzzzvran9Okzrqa813asSwkZcIDtUkOVkk%3D&reserved=0

Murray C. and Moloney, A. (2020). “Pandemic brings growing risk of pregnancy, abuse to Latin American girls”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.reuters.com%2Farticle%2Fus-health-coronavirus-latamgirls-trfn-idUSKCN24W1EN&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=BZZcVyhhahmxGJA6T3GfMZ%2FBtOkPOkjcQtaNB1DN4KM%3D&reserved=0

UN (2020), “Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.un.org%2Fsites%2Fun2.un.org%2Ffiles%2Fpolicy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=WGB6vwEiIhYhoZD1FToyYjjfN18NWpL%2Ff%2F64mq%2B5dIE%3D&reserved=0

UN Women (2020) “COVID-19 and ending violence against women and girls”. In https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.unwomen.org%2Fen%2Fdigital-library%2Fpublications%2F2020%2F04%2Fissue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls&data=04%7C01%7Cbliss%40iss.nl%7Cdfad3f9f62124c4b6ab008d89cf034c5%7C715902d6f63e4b8d929b4bb170bad492%7C0%7C0%7C637431902783559546%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=V5koQXaTqs9850PnQF%2Bty5gw%2FL7Btzrjsi357Dmw1ZE%3D&reserved=0

This blog article was first published in DevISSues and has been modified for publication on Bliss.

About the authors:

Agustina Solera is a researcher in Latin American Social Studies and a visiting researcher at ISS.

Brenda Rodríguez Cortés is a PhD candidate at ISS working on issues of gender and sexuality.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.