May, 2020

COVID-19: women on the front lines against capitalism’s deadly failures

Joint statement by Mujeres por la Libertad (Argentina), Partido Obrero Socialista (México) and Radical Women (Australia – U.S.)


Women are in the forefront of the struggle against the global coronavirus pandemic and capitalism’s economic collapse.

Like never before, women are placing their bodies at high risk of contagion to offer essential services. As health providers, cooks, grocery clerks, teachers, childcare staff, and domestic employees, essential workers have to fight for protective gear and hazard pay in battles often led by defiant females. Women are also disproportionately represented in the worldwide informal economy as street vendors, domestics and sex workers/trafficking victims, where they struggle daily with poverty and lack sick leave, unemployment coverage and healthcare.

For specially oppressed groups, the threat is multiplied. Indigenous people are among the world’s most impoverished, with limited access to essential services. Theft of native lands has caused food insecurity and extreme contamination of natural resources. In the U.S., entrenched racism results in Blacks and Latina/os dying from the virus at twice their proportion in the population. The queer community faces increased risks due to the large number of homeless and tenuously employed LGBTQI youth, and the smears of evangelicals condemning the “homovirus.”

Undocumented migrants are denied public services and live in constant fear of immigration raids, yet their backbreaking labors in the fields, kitchens, and delivery trucks are keeping others fed. Borders are shut to refugees, who already endure some of the world’s worst, most inhumane conditions. International movement is also denied to migrants with papers, such as Australia’s temporary visa holders.

As always when the system fails people, the burden is placed on the unpaid labor of women. They nurse sick relatives and oversee in-home education, while shopping and cleaning become high-pressure tasks. This is in addition to their stressful “essential” jobs, telecommuting, or the anguish of trying to make ends meet at a time when millions of workers around the world are suffering layoffs and pay cuts.

Refugees turned away at Colombia’s border with Venezuela

Capitalist patriarchy: a system of violence
Capitalism maintains its power by pitting people against each other, bolstering privileges, and blaming scapegoats.

For untold numbers, the order to “shelter in place” is unsustainable without assistance of any kind; without work they will starve. They are also in mortal danger when confined with sexist or violent relatives.

Everywhere mandatory lockdown has been instituted, domestic abuse and femicide have skyrocketed. In Argentina, 24 women have been killed by partners or ex-partners in one month of quarantine. While claiming to prepare for the COVID-19 emergency, the Mexican state has further neglected the epidemic of violence against women unleashed by machismo and organized crime. Official figures report 76 femicides in March of this year. Emergency calls to report domestic violence have increased, but the state withholds resources to assist victims. Families of disappeared persons are left adrift, without support from institutions and unable to organize public demonstrations to push for discovery of their loved ones.

Misogynists are cynically using the pandemic to increase attacks on reproductive rights. Numerous U.S. states are denying abortions, claiming the procedure is an elective surgery that wastes scarce medical resources. And yet, the demand for abortion has escalated due to disappearing income and the unknown effect of the virus on pregnancy. The director of Aborto Legal México says the pandemic has caused abortion services to collapse around the world. Funds have dried up to keep clinics open and provide women with abortion drugs. Women in Poland are fighting parliament’s attempts to ban abortion and sex education. They fear a return to the days of self-aborting with knitting needles and orphanages full of unwanted children.

Racist depictions of COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” have incited physical attacks on people of Asian ancestry in the U.S. and Australia. White supremacists are brewing racist conspiracy theories. Around the world, immigrants are blamed as the source of the “viral invasion.” South Korea has had protests against Chinese travelers and Africans are being targeted in China.

Jordanian soldiers enforcing lockdown

“The oppressive state is a macho rapist” (Chilean feminist anthem)
The crisis fuels the drive of many governments toward totalitarian rule. Under guise of fighting the pandemic, the state of emergency puts military on the streets and uses modern techniques of espionage and surveillance across continents to impose control. Cops patrol poor neighborhoods to stifle unrest due to food scarcity. Military blockades mirror the sexism and racism of the ruling class.

In Argentina, more than 60,000 people have been detained or delayed on charges of violating mandatory confinement. A 40-year-old woman who was arrested for breaking quarantine was found hanged in a cell at the police station. In another incident, police arrested a teacher who was driving her car to buy food. She was manhandled, charged with two criminal offenses, and her car impounded. And meanwhile the number of femicides grow.

In the U.S., African American men are being hounded by police. A Black physician in Miami was handcuffed and detained outside his home while preparing for a volunteer shift to test homeless people for COVID-19.

Australian police are targeting homeless Aboriginal people with fines for quarantine violations — in a country where Indigenous incarceration is the highest in the world and deaths in custody keep rising.

Cuban and Venezuelan health workers inspect a Caracas neighborhood for COVID-19 prevention

Women’s leadership shows a way out
There is growing awareness that some of the lowest-paid, least-respected female, immigrant and of-color workers are the most essential to society’s well-being.

These workers demonstrate they can force change and know how to make their workplaces function for the benefit of the community.

Socialist demands for nationalized industry, healthcare, and global planning under working-class control are revealed as viable and necessary. Recovery funds must come from the coffers of rich corporations and individuals, and by eliminating imperialist military expenditures, xenophobic border controls, and suspension of usurious foreign debts that have no benefit to the people.

After four years of unprecedented, global revolt, feminists have stepped forward to provide collaborative solutions and crucial cross-border organizing. They and their poor and working-class allies of all colors, genders, nations and sexualities are key to creating a safe, humane, and healthy system of democratic, feminist, worker-led socialism.

Nurses protest outside White House, Washington, D.C.

We demand:

Prohibition of firings and layoffs; employment for all; reduced work hours without reduction in pay. Safe conditions and full personal protective equipment for all workers.

Health care must be in the hands of worker and community committees, and must be available to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Nationalization of all health resources and a single free health system that is under the control of the only ones interested in defending public health: workers and the community.

Uphold democratic rights and freedoms. Down with martial law and militarization of society

Make social distancing and protection of the most vulnerable a community task: the more democratic and organized it is, the greater its effectiveness in controlling infections.

Amnesty on rent payments. An end to homelessness.

Safe housing for women and children fleeing violence.

Free and available surgical abortion, abortion drugs, and Plan B.

Free 24-hour quality childcare for all.

Guaranteed income for all. Forgive student debt.

Free all political prisoners, detained immigrants, and people convicted of non-violent crimes.

Open the borders to guarantee the health, safety and well-being of all workers in the world. Comprehensive labor rights for all resident and migrant workers.

Click here for Spanish version of the statement.