An open letter to friends and partners

Author: 
APC Women’s Rights Programme (WRP)

The world is suddenly and radically changed. But this is not the radical change that we as feminists, activists, thinkers and campaigners had hoped for.

At the APC Women’s Rights Programme (WRP) we believe in putting people at the centre and leading with care and responsibility for each other, ourselves and the planet. We work towards imagining and making a feminist internet, and as much as the COVID-19 pandemic has rattled us, disrupted our plans to meet and be together, have conversations, play and dismantle the patriarchy alongside each other (touching!), we still believe that now more than ever it is important to have an internet that is universal and accessible for all, and particularly an internet that it is open, safe and vibrant for women and people of diverse and marginalised gender expressions and sexualities.

We are aware that our relative privilege and economic safety shield us from the worst of the pandemic. As an international organisation that has been working remotely for close to 30 years, we can share some resources on remote working as well as the analysis by APC on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the internet and human rights.

We believe that the existing and ongoing work to bridge inequalities and to demand justice must continue in the face of this pandemic. We have started reflecting on how COVID-19 is affecting our work and activism in 2020, and 2021, and making alternate plans for our different projects. A key factor in our considerations currently is that of the health and well-being of our partners, teammates and the communities that we work with and are part of.

We live in a world where the safety net of medical and health services for different people is vastly disparate. Women, migrants, transgender people and working class people, among others, are finding that their contexts and lives are shifting and unpredictable, even more so than usual. The COVID-19 pandemic is a health and medical crisis that has far-reaching social, political and economic implications, and in each country and region these are still emerging.

Through the work of our partners (we mean you!) and our own, we were connected with and listening intently to various protests, especially around gender, sexuality, expression, increased surveillance and others, in 2019 and early 2020. While all these protests have been shut down now, the grievances are real and still remain. It is clear that there are still glaring structural inequalities and power dynamics in relation to infrastructure and access, but also within and among communities and within the family.

COVID-19 patients, and on occasion even the healthcare workers who professionally have to treat them, are facing stigma, violence, and hate speech. As much as the internet is the terrain for resilience and connection, it is also where disinformation, “fake news”, and groups driven by fascist and racist rhetoric are targeting individuals and specific communities for their alleged responsibility in relation to the pandemic. This includes expressions of Sinophobia and Islamophobia online and offline.

The importance of a feminist internet that is safe for all cannot be overstated right now. Many organisations and people have started thinking about what is relevant in relation to their work. Here we share what we believe is important for us to continue working towards a feminist internet as a part of our collective and hopeful futures.

  1. There are multiple and intersecting layers of the impact that COVID-19 will have on different people: For those living in refugee camps or vast urban slums, workers whose occupation is marked by caste, and others who often are not considered of importance by government or society, the pandemic is another layer on top of an existing lockdown of their freedoms and entails even further harms and attacks on their well-being and right to life. There is great food insecurity and even starvation deaths in many counties, often caused by the environmental degradation crisis. These injustices do not suddenly disappear in the face of a global pandemic. The collective volume of the crisis is drowning out the calls for actions to centre the working class, the poor and the socially, economically and politically marginalised.

  2. Gender-based violence offline and online is exacerbated with impunity: During this time of quarantine, lockdown and limited mobility, there has been an increase in domestic violence where women are forced to be at home with their abusers. The United Nations has urged that all COVID-19 measures also address the horrifying global surge in domestic violence directed towards women and girls. Gender diverse, trans, lesbian, gay and queer people are also more at risk when their freedom of movement is curtailed and they have no choice but to live in proximity to abusive and controlling families or communities.

  3. Surveillance and expansion of state power are continuing, if not expanding: In many countries, this is a lockdown on top of a pre-existing lockdown or occupation (Kashmir and Palestine, for instance), and in others, military forces are appearing on the streets. There are reports from many countries, including those in the global South such as Kenya, Uganda and India, that the government is requiring or asking people to install mobile phone apps that use location data for contact tracing. While some measures of surveillance are sophisticated and reliant on tech, others are about marking the bodies of COVID-19 patients with stamps. Routinely, privacy is being compromised and violated, and we are all frightened enough to let this happen.

  4. Daily-wage workers, gig workers and domestic workers are going to be heavily impacted, and so are those who do unpaid, invisible labour that is usually gendered: Many people depend on daily movement to earn a living, whether going to do sanitation and cleaning work on the roads or in homes, delivery workers, construction workers, and so on. And many people are also homeless. While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation is for a lockdown to control the pandemic and “flatten the curve”, the lockdowns are disproportionately impacting people who do not have any social, state or fiscal cushions for this new and sudden reality. Aside from the brave doctors, nurses and health care workers who are risking being exposed to the virus, it is often women who are doing the invisible work of caregiving in the homes.

  5. We need to strengthen our movement, build infrastructure and sustain the diversity we have worked so hard for: In our work with movements online and towards imagining and making a feminist internet, we work through creating safe, inclusive and open spaces for women and people of diverse sexualities and genders. The overwhelming question before us – that we hope you will help us answer – is how to continue our work through and after this moment. How will the feminist and queer bookshops, festivals, hackathons and meetings find a way of being? How will we re-build inclusivity and ensure our groups and spaces are diverse, and what is the new language of solidarity and care that we will have to find? This moment also underscores the importance of building a technical infrastructure of communications that is not entirely dependent on the government or corporations, and to make and own our platforms of communication.

  6. Care can look like many different things: Each of us is a critical node of power and resistance. As APC WRP we want to figure out how to make sure resources are distributed through our various existing networks. The vision of tomorrow, regardless how far it will be, is one that calls for a fabric of love, care, and a multiplicity of voices and languages – an internet that is far more diverse and equal than the one that we have inherited. Additionally, our bodies are warped with stress and anxiety and we consume news all the time. We want to work with you on finding ways of balancing care for yourself and your communities, to find communications channels and to know what are the best privacy and safety protocols.

What inspires us is the efforts of so many of you at the local level – from making masks and sanitisers, distributing food and essential rations, taking care of local businesses, supporting migrants, gig workers, freelancers and others who are faced with indefinite financial insecurity, shopping for your elderly neighbours, taking care of the elderly members of your family, entertaining your children daily and protecting them from this new harsh reality, reassuring and listening to friends and sustaining your communities and relations, and so much more.

Stay safe. Look at the flood of hilarious memes that shine a light now, listen to the quarantine radio shows, the lockdown dance playlists, and let’s hope that this is a moment for our virtual connections to be bright and unforgettable. We are here for conversations and to support you and your work.

The APC WRP team (Erika, hvale, Jan, Jenny, Katcha, Mariana, Marwa, namita, Sheena, Tigist)

Originally published on GenderIT.