Monday, June 1, 2020

Glory Dharmaraj: Gender, Intersectionality, and Being Home in Mission - A Reflection Under the Shadow of COVID-19 Crisis (Part 1)

Today's post is by Dr. Glory Dharmaraj. Dr. Dharmaraj is President of the World Association for Christian Communication, North America and Retired Director of Mission Theology for United Methodist Women. This post is the first of a two-part series.

Even during ordinary times, laws notwithstanding, inequalities due to gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and other social markers exist. The current environment, rife with fear and uncertainty, has exposed some of the entrenched inequities such as access to resources, health care, and social services. COVID-19 compels those of us who are engaged in mission to delve into current mission practices and examine them through the lens and baseline of intersectionality. Focusing on the concept of home helps us do so.

The Place Called Home
During COVID-19, the place called home has adapted itself to be an office space and a learning center for online classes, while continuing its role as a basic habitation for its members. This place has often become more gender-inflected with women taking on an additional load of work such as care of their children as well as their studies, on-line or otherwise, during the lockdown.

In the world of the academy in recent months, submissions of articles for journals have become fewer from women than men. Among those who lost their jobs in the low- income and wage-earning categories, women are the most adversely impacted. Women form the majority among the essential workers, and yet they have to take care of their children at home and their studies.

The rate of domestic violence across the spectrum has risen significantly during this pandemic. The face of poverty, the face of victims of domestic violence, and the face of care-giving is female, as it has been during “normal” times, but the COVID-19 crisis has compounded the gendered and intersectional nature of these impacts.

Home and Convergences of Inequality
During this COVID-19 crisis, many thousands of migrants around the world, women and men, are engaged in journeys toward home, voluntarily or involuntarily. Like Ruth who becomes a returnee, they are on the move to neighborhoods in their home countries.

In India, migrant construction workers in cities are on an arduous journey back to their rural homes, along the railway tracks. Many have been en route over sixty days, and some are still on their journey toward home.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are sent home from Europe, the Middle East, and from other parts of the world. Some are forced to move due to loss of jobs and others due to policies of nativism, as in the case of U.S. While migrant labor is still a deep need in fields and food chains, migrants are deported on a routine basis.

In the meantime, the agency of sisterhood in lament is left to envision processes of remembrance in families and communities. At present, it is practically impossible to observe rituals of loss and mourning over lives cut short by COVID-19. People are deprived of the sense of home provided by ritual and by family and kin.

Lament, too, has exposed intersectional vulnerabilities, since disproportionate deaths are race-and-class inflected. There is no accurate count of the death of the migrants. There is a cry for justice in the lament of the black and the poor, since these are the people often turned away from hospitals without proper testing or adequate treatment due to implicit or inherent bias. Scars of “moral injury” of those who made these decisions are a reality to grapple with in post-COVID-19 contexts.

To cap them all, certain racial and ethnic groups have been harassed and attacked as the cause for spreading COVID-19. Chinese Americans in the U.S. are a target. Asian American doctors and nurses have been attacked, along with other medical workers, most of them women. In India, Muslims are attacked as the cause of spreading the virus, and tourists and travelers in other parts of the world. These groups are made unwelcome in their own homes.

We are not in it together in this COVID-19 reality, though the slogan is an appealing one.

While focusing on the concept of home allows us to see the problems exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, the concept of home can also help us explore solutions, as I explain in my next post.

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