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Gender & COVID - Part II: The 'Intentional Invisibility Syndrome'

In my previous blog, I spoke of International Women's Day (or IWD) in retrospect and the changes that have happened this year alone.

They seem scattered and without a collective link, but I promise I bring it all together in this blog series - or at least my thought processes to reaching this opinion on gender in this COVID impacted time - and we can agree, or agree to disagree.

So to start, there's a saying - that privilege is invisible to those who have it.

That's true - because, privilege is not just about the perks - it's about the absence of obstacles. See below for the Twitter thread by Marie Beecham, that I think both contextualizes and encapsulates this the best.

Still can't picture it? Maybe a visual representation of social inequality then (although I highly disagree with it) - watch the video here.

The basics of this 'obstacle' race was for American colleges students to get a $100. If they answered 'Yes' to a few questions - they could take two steps forward; and if their answer was 'No', they stayed where they were.

The logic was that you were privileged if you kept moving forward, and unprivileged if you did not move.

Why do I disagree with this concept?

Some of these questions were:

  • "Take two steps forward if...":

    • You never had to help your mum or dad with the bills;

    • You grew up with a father figure in the home;

    • You never wondered where your next meal was going to come from;

    • Both your parents are still married...

Privilege in itself, is complex, yes - but I think those questions limit the credibility of the definition. The video captures 'disadvantage', not privilege and I think that's a completely different playing field.

Contextualising privilege

In the Solomon Islands, I work in development, where our programs try to reach communities and people living in varying states of poverty. Many of the disadvantages outlined in the video are daily occurrences in the lives of an average Solomon Islander.

The intent of the programs I've worked on are not to give marginalized groups privilege, but to help give neglected or specific groups their basic rights.

Giving a child an education, equitable access to resources, a healthy and safe environment to grow up in, etc - all contribute to giving them a chance at a more participatory life.

It's not about giving privilege, but about removing the disadvantages.

And that is directly transferable to the situation we find ourselves in today with gender and COVID. Women are losing out on so much, and the scales have really turned on us, since the pandemic began.

Gender and COVID-19

There are some very stark figures in this light, both in Solomon Islands and globally. Remember what I said here about women being disproportionately affected by any disaster or crisis, like COVID? Those stakes are much now higher.

Some fast facts?

  • Governments and ministries worldwide, that are led by women — from Iceland to India and New Zealand — were more successful in protecting their populations from COVID-19 through proactive and coordinated policy responses, listening, and science, as well as relational leadership.

That is a genuine win and a tangible example of what happens when you place women at the centre of crises.

But there have also been some big losses in terms of gender equality and the incremental progress we have made over the years. See below:

  • Women are more affected by COVID, than their male counterparts with the widening gender poverty gap. The 740 million women employed in the informal economy continue to suffer disproportionately from damage to the global economy. Meanwhile, 510 million women — 40% of all employed women — work in industries hit hardest by COVID-19, such as food service.

  • UNESCO has also forecast that over 11 million girls may not go back to school after the crisis. 11 MILLION!!! When girls can no longer access safe school environments, they are at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and gender-based violence. A lack of education also robs them of future opportunities.

  • Also, closer to home, noting our taste of a State of Emergency in Solomon Islands - there is an emergence of the “shadow pandemic” - of violence threatening women's safety. What happens when you lock someone up with their abuser? Absolutely nothing good.

The Intentional Invisibility Syndrome

I'm a gender advocate by nature. I've grown up in a family that encourages expression whilst adhering to cultural norms in the Melanesian society of my upbringing - but that has become the backdrop of my life now, as I know it, navigating the highs and lows of a Pacific millennial.

It's also meant that I've picked up the gendered nuances in my society, and I've been able to pick and choose the ones I respond to (because of their negative connotations) and the ones I just roll with.

Not all my peers have had this basic start in life though - and that is an unintended social advantage I've had.

So what is the 'Invisible Advantage'? In this context, I think it is your gender. As a woman, we may see this instead as an invisible disadvantage, but I beg to differ. I'll explain more in my next blog post.

And what is Intentional Invisibility - or the 'Intentional Invisibility Syndrome' (as I like to call it)? It "refers to a set of risk-averse, conflict-avoidant strategies that women professionals... employ to feel authentic, manage competing expectations in the office, and balance work and familial responsibilities..." - see full paper here. Please read in full, before reading my next blog.

Working through your intentional invisibility is the best way to leverage advantages (ergo, remove our disadvantages) as a working Pacific woman in our current context, that our male counterparts take for granted. And, tbh, I'm all for finding the right tools and resources to helping us achieve that.

See what I mean by this, in the next blog of this series.

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