MESA Banner
COVID and Gender: Policies, Strategies, and Impact

Session VI-07, sponsored by Association for Middle East Women's Studies (AMEWS), 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, and women are at the heart of care and response efforts underway.” (UN Women). COVID-19’s impact on women and girls in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been devastating, especially in regards to GBV and the economic burden. Countries have been slow to adopt to, prepare for, mitigate, and address the health crisis of COVID-19, or to examine its governance, economic, security, stabilization and social impacts. COVID-19 has especially affected vulnerable women in war-torn countries, and affected the livelihoods of refugees and internally displaced persons. Globally, gender inequalities have been exasperated due to the pandemic, especially in the areas of health, safety, mental health, economic inclusion, educational attainment, and social mobility. In the same time, policies, regulations, and practices have been introduced to improve women’s conditions under COVID-19. This panel aims to assess how COVID has impacted MENA women by conducting issue-specific and country-specific analysis and providing data-informed recommendations on measures and interventions.
  • “Real men don’t wear masks,” reported Independent Magazine (2020). Several news outlets documented that despite having higher death rates from contracting COVID-19, men were less likely to wear masks out of pride, confidence, prejudice, and, most importantly, masculinity. Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) men are stereotyped as possessing strong expressions of masculinity. In this paper, we explore how masculinity influenced men and women’s attitudes towards wearing masks, as a form of prevention and protection, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are curious to know whether Arab men were more likely than Arab women to be opposed to wearing a mask. Further, we wanted to know whether masculinity and mask-wearing vary by education levels, national origin, or age. We view this study as groundbreaking in several ways: First, it is the first study to attempt to measure masculinity quantitatively using indices developed for respondents in the United States, as discussed above. Second, it examines masculinity across gender, regardless of the assigned sex. Third, it explores the efficacy of online and social media platforms in delivering a solid study of the MENA region’s population.
  • The Success of Tunisia’s Feminist Movement During the Coronavirus Pandemic The Tunisian government, which is deeply divided, especially along ideological lines, responded to growing concerns over increased violence against women during the Coronavirus pandemic by establishing a new domestic violence shelter and 24/7 hotline. This chapter asks: Why did the state respond to gender-based violence (GBV) concerns during the Coronavirus pandemic in Tunisia, despite ideological and political divisions? We argue that the state addressed some concerns around violence during the pandemic because combatting GBV has bipartisan support in Tunisia. Tunisian Islamist and secularist women’s rights organizations succeeded in building a bipartisan coalition of support on this issue because they worked either together in a short-lived coalition or in tandem with similar goals over the past decade during the democratic transition in Tunisia. Building on the existing coalition literature, we show that feminist coalition formation before a pandemic has implications for feminists’ success in times of crisis.
  • Political leaders play an important role in mitigating the challenges associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and leaders across the world have responded in different ways. These diverse leadership practices and decisions in each country will pave the way to a new era for women. Some will lead to the erasure of women’s roles in society, and others will lead to greater women’s empowerment that will last for generations to come. To that end, the paper investigates leadership practices during the global health crisis and their impact on women, specifically reflecting on the case of Jordan. I will frame this discussion around the feminine and masculine approaches to leadership, to engage in a diagnostic discussion to ascertain what leadership response in Jordan was administered during the COVID-19 crisis The government responded swiftly to the first case of COVID-19, initially controlling the pandemic and earning global praise. A royal decree was issued, directing the government to implement a defense law to combat the pandemic. This meant that all other laws were suspended, giving power to persons in charge to take necessary action during a time of emergency. Jordan went under an initial three-week lockdown followed by a months-long curfew. The Jordanian Armed Forces and police were deployed in the Kingdom to enforce this curfew. The media became the main information outlet for the people of Jordan and in the process, diminishing the role that women played during the pandemic. Months later, given massive economic challenges, significant restrictions were removed, and the pandemic raged out of control. The pandemic and the lockdown had a significant impact on women in Jordan. In the workforce, women make up most frontline healthcare professionals putting themselves at risk of infection at work. Prolonged lockdown meant that many businesses began to struggle, and women lost their jobs rather than men. School closures caused women to take on an increased unpaid care burden. The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic and restrictions on movement dramatically increased the number of women and girls facing abuse in almost every country, Jordan was no exception. During this challenging situation for women, civil society organizations were side-lined from mitigating some of these challenges. This paper discusses the challenges women faced during the two polarized responses- feminine and masculine- to theCOVID-19 pandemic. I ground my findings into an integral, holistic feminine approach to crisis management and feminist leadership
  • LGBTIQ+’s COVID Dilemma How the pandemic impacted the compounded economic crisis was hardly analyzed and policies to mitigate the long-term impact of this complex situation are yet to materialize. Information, data, testimonials, and calls for action began to emerge from various feminist and human rights civil society organizations. The situation and position of the queer community in Lebanon is a case of multi-layered discrimination and oppression. Until recently, small parts of Beirut were still considered safe havens and hubs of queer life in the city. This limited safety zone was almost destroyed in August 2020, forcing the community into destitution, homelessness, and vulnerability to all forms of violence and abuse. In facing all these multiple crises that hit Lebanon in a relatively short period, the Lebanese regime’s only response was to step up oppressive measures against activists as well as reinforce its conspiracy narrative. The past year has provided us with a textbook example of how multiple layers of oppression operate and further exacerbate and amplify vulnerabilities. We have sufficient qualitative and quantitative evidence of how queer lives were broken, damaged while at the same time not warranting attention. Simultaneously, we have also witnessed extraordinary mobilization, commitment, courage, and action by community-based feminist groups whose resources are usually modest and do not rely on state support. Some of these groups are not even allowed to have a proper official registration because of the regime’s discriminatory laws and practices.
  • Evidence from around the world has indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate effects on men and women. Although it has represented a tragedy for all, women appear to have suffered disproportionately due to increasing domestic responsibilities, loss of employment, access to health services, and personal safety. The status of women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) before the pandemic makes these issues of particular concern. Women’s labor force participation rates were among the lowest in MENA while legal restrictions and societal norms in many countries limited women’s roles in the public sphere. Within this context, the challenges resulting from COVID could represent a setback for the status of women. Yet, the status of women in MENA is not as simple as often assumed. In this paper, we will share results from the Arab Barometer on attitudes towards gender in the MENA region. Data from the sixth wave, which was collected during the pandemic in 2020-2021, suggest that retrenchment of women’s gains is already underway. These material and political imbalances may be exacerbated by attitudinal barriers that may prove equally difficult to overcome in a post-pandemic world. Arab Barometer results make clear that women have suffered significantly from the COVID beyond the direct effects from the virus itself, which is in line with findings from around the world. Relative to men, women are more likely to have lost employment or had an interruption to their work over the course of the pandemic, which is likely to set back ongoing efforts to increase women’s labor force participation rates.