How women, girls, trans, and intersex people are coping with COVID-19 around the world

This article was originally posted on the Alliance Blog.

What Mama Cash is hearing from its partners about the gendered impacts of the global pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic will leave no person untouched, but it will not touch us all equally.

At Mama Cash, we didn’t have to look far to see the unequal – and gendered – impacts of the pandemic. We fund self-led groups working to build strong feminist movements advancing the rights of trans and intersex people, girls and women around the globe. In the early days of the crisis, we reached out to our grantee-partners worldwide, sending messages of support and solidarity, and asking about their experiences.

We share here what we are hearing from our partners because they are visioning and living the change that the world needs. Though their efforts are often not seen or heard, they are providing needed and effective collective care to those most affected by the pandemic. Funders can learn from their ingenuity, political and moral courage, and strategies that make communities safe for all oppressed people.

In this blog, we focus on our grantee-partners’ experience of the crisis. In the coming weeks, we will share the strategies they are using to continue their work in difficult circumstances and the steps Mama Cash is taking to respond.

Lost wages and income

Around the world, women and trans and intersex people, especially those working in informal sectors, are struggling to provide for their own and their families’ needs, as lockdown measures have made it nearly impossible to work outside the home. A grantee-partner in India reports that households headed by widows and single women, many of them Indigenous people who have migrated within the country to find work, have lost most sources of income and faced challenges in returning to their home villages.

As economies struggle with the effects of lockdowns, state governments in India are beginning to roll back labour rights in order to “stimulate” economies, a move that will heavily impact women workers. For example, the state of Uttar Pradesh has summarily suspended most labour laws for a three-year period, including the minimum wage law and laws that govern the provision of on-site facilities such as creches.

Our partners also report that sex workers have been among the groups hardest hit by COVID-19. Lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing requirements have made it difficult or impossible for sex workers to work. Since March, the Red Umbrella Fund, the first global fund by and for sex workers, which is hosted by Mama Cash, has been mapping initiatives by sex workers to respond to the pandemic and build community resilience.

Reduced access to food, water, and essential services

Food shortages and lack of access to water are particularly affecting people who lack the disposable income to stockpile them, or who need to travel beyond their immediate neighbourhood to obtain essential goods, making it more difficult to ensure adequate nutrition and good hygiene.

Further, many COVID-19 government relief services, such as food parcels, are distributed to families or households. This means that individuals, like lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LBTQI) people, who belong to families that don’t accept them cannot access essential resources and services on their own.

The lack of legal recognition for trans or intersex people who do not have formal documents or whose documents do not match their appearance also makes it hard for them to access state-provided services.

Increased violence and isolation

The pressures of the pandemic, including enforced physical proximity, have contributed significantly to increases in domestic, family and intimate partner violence, which disproportionately affects women, girls and non-binary people.

Quarantines, lockdowns and reduced access to “safe spaces” have also forced many people, like LBTQI women and non-binary people, back into family homes where they are not accepted, resulting in increasing rates of depression, isolation and loneliness.

Access to vital health care cut off

The burdens placed on healthcare systems by the pandemic have further deprioritised health services crucial to the communities Mama Cash supports, such as sexual and reproductive health services, abortion, gender-affirming care, and access to anti-retroviral therapy.

Lockdowns are also making it more difficult for disabled people, who frequently face mobility challenges, to access medical and health services. Mama Cash has heard from a grantee-partner in Madagascar that disabled people there are not able to access essential state support (e.g., cash payments, food support) because they are viewed as being at higher risk of contracting the virus because of the weakness of their immune systems.

Repression and oppression by the state

Many of our partners report an increase in surveillance and greater police and military presence in the streets. Partners in countries such as South Africa, India and Kenya have reported increased violence at the hands of the police and military as they enforce lockdowns or curfews.

Our partners also report that state actors are seeking to take advantage of the fact that people cannot leave their homes to protest in the streets. In some places, the pandemic has emboldened governments to push through regressive laws, such as in Poland on abortion rights and in Hungary on the legal recognition of trans people.

In testimonies from our partners in the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), of which Mama Cash is a member, we hear that governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to relax environmental regulations to promote extractive economic activities (e.g., mining) and to push through laws in favour of agribusiness.

Access to funding

The pandemic’s impact on the feminist funding ecosystem is not yet clear. However, we have already heard from several of our partners that they have lost funding. Others foresee that it will be difficult to fundraise from individuals locally, and they have also expressed concern about the shifting priorities of governments and foundations.

The work continues for women, girls, trans, and intersex people

Despite these human rights violations and threats to their well-being in the name of protecting people from COVID, feminist organising continues in response to and in spite of the pandemic.

Around the world, people are imagining new and liberatory ways of being with themselves and each other through community organising and mutual aid. That is why Mama Cash’s more than 35 years of work to support feminist movements will continue as well.