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Autonomous resourcing: the engine room of feminist work amid a global pandemic

This article was originally published on IPS News

Feminist responses to COVID-19 have been swift, insightful and numerous. 

There have been webinars (so.many.webinars), twitter threads, illustrations, press releases and policy recommendations, and online house parties. Analysis pieces cover everything from the gendered impacts of COVID-19 to how to work remotely to the role of neoliberal capitalism.

Most strikingly, feminists have mobilized on a massive scale to generate our own autonomous resources for daily acts of solidarity and survival and to respond politically, collectively, and powerfully to this moment. Many of these actions are coming from within communities and movements in some of the hardest hit and less privileged places, and especially amongst Black, LBTQI+, disability, migrant, land & labour movements. Some of the responses are localised, while others are global.


Feminist solidarity right now is the 'engine room,' driving some of the most innovative and needed action taking place today.

Our movements are literally resourcing each other during this pandemic -- with emergency funds, information provision, art, love, time, sharing of experience, documentation of impact, and more -- sharing, connecting, analysing, strategising and imagining new feminist realities more than ever before. 

Sex worker communities have been particularly impacted by COVID-19. As Red Umbrella Fund (RUF) describes, “as ever, [sex workers] are situated at the crosshairs, experiencing this new catastrophe in all its multiplicities... human rights violations in all its forms including insecure housing, income disparity, food scarcity, unequal access to healthcare and other public services, and violence” but have responded with “resiliency and agency.” This resiliency and agency has translated into self-led initiatives to support sex workers in every region of the world. For instance, Aprosmig (Association of Sex Workers in Minas Gerais) in Brazil are leading a campaign to provide shelter, food, cleaning products, and money for sex workers and the homeless. 

In Berlin, Karada House, a Queer collaborative art space, has pivoted to providing emergency relief through "LGBTQIA+ & WOMXN RELIEF FOR COVID-19,” with direct financial assistance, pre-cooking and delivering meals, and even matching people together to talk in order to relieve mental stress. 

In the United States, SUSU: a black feminist giving circle is dispersing rapid response funds to Black feminists who are “living/caring/healing/responding and beyond to COVID-19.” Black empowerment and democracy collective Cooperation Jackson is repurposing its “fab lab” for community production to turn out 3-D printed and hand-sewn masks, with plans to “post videos to teach others how to make them, modeling the DIY [do-it-yourself] culture—which is a core part of the black radical tradition.” 

Feminist activists in Kenya are taking to Twitter to raise funds for queer and trans people affected by COVID-19. They are also driving resources to groups like #MutualAidKe, which distributes food, sanitation supplies, educational supplies, and money. #MutualAidKe underscores its mission, quoting Toni Morrison, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and Women of Colour GWS, which have campaigned for financial recognition for unwaged caring work for decades, have joined with the Green New Deal for Europe to urge governments everywhere to provide a Care Income, starting now.

In many cases, feminist movements are doing this whilst still resisting attacks on their rights.

In Poland, for example, the government decided that the middle of a global pandemic is a good time to debate a ban on abortions of fetuses with serious abnormalities, and another bill that could ban sex education. The debate was thankfully postponed for now, but protestors creatively responded to the COVID-19 lockdown rules by standing two metres apart holding placards or displaying them on their cars and bicycles. All this amazing, risky work, whilst at the same time setting up a solidarity crowdfunding campaign to support activists and people affected by intersectional discrimination in Poland, and who are in a difficult economic situation due to COVID-19.  

This is ALL autonomous resourcing in action. 

But how is this even possible? Amongst all of the personal, political and economic hurdles people are facing with COVID-19 (layered upon the multiple challenges feminist organising already faces), how is it that feminist movements have been inspired and able to achieve this incredible response over such a short term?

Firstly, the constituencies that feminist movements belong to and serve are worst hit by the pandemic, so there is an urgent need for feminist analysis, solidarity actions and responses. As Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has noted: “The ability to isolate, work from home, homeschool your children, stockpile your shelves, access healthcare, and financially (and psychologically) put your life back together after the pandemic is class, gender, race, age, and geography dependent”. Nearly everyone is hit financially by the crisis, but state support, which varies vastly from one country to another, is always reserved to particular categories of workers, freelancers, citizens, with millions - often women and gender diverse people - falling short of fitting these categories.

Second, feminist movements have been able to respond so quickly because it is what they do. Feminist and other social movements are used to relying on each other, pulling a rabbit out of a hat and co-creating collective momentum and power to resist and disrupt oppressions, advocate for change and importantly - care for each other. That’s certainly not to say that this is our lot in life. Feminist movements and agendas deserve MUCH more than the meagre resources made available to us. The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another example of the work that feminist and other social movements do.

Third, feminist and other social movements have been connecting, documenting, supporting, analysing, and theorising within and across borders to plan for and design a new world for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic may have added to the complexity of the moment, but we’re not starting at square one. 

With the feminist 'engine room' kicking into high gear and driving these innovative and needed actions in a context that is both unique and extremely challenging, it demonstrates the power of autonomous resources to yield real ownership, influence and impact. 

But - the sheer existence and breadth of feminist responses to COVID-19 also demonstrates the urgent need to transform our ailing and unfair systems that leave so many in peril. When civil society is again left scrambling to plug all the holes in a sinking boat, we should be turning to the architecture of the boat itself. This is a moment that highlights system failures around wealth distribution and should draw our collective gaze toward structural transformation of the way resources are generated and distributed in society - the kind that feminist movements have been calling for and are best positioned to lead.

Let's discuss

On 29 April 2020, we held a Twitter Q&A with AWIDer Tenzin Dolker about Feminist Autonomous Resourcing during COVID-19. You shared experiences, ideas and strategies on what autonomous resourcing means to you and your community. Thanks for participating.

See below a recap of the discussion.