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#CSW65: The criminalization of a pandemic – a feminist analysis

WAVE is joining the CSW65 events and attended the panel discussion “The criminalization of a pandemic – a feminist analysis”.

At the event, members of RESURJ and the Vecinas Feministas por la Justicia Sexual y Reproductiva en América Latina presented their recently published survey report “The Criminalization of a Pandemic: A Cross-Regional Feminist Analysis”.

The survey intended to capture the different health and sanitary measures in different regions to prevent COVID-19 as well as provide evidence to analyze their impacts on particular groups and communities. The report focuses on four regions: Latin America, Africa, the SWANA region (South West Asia) and North Africa and Europe. It provides a feminist analysis of the many health, social, economic, and governance challenges that were arising due to the pandemic, while also pointing out some progressive effects.

Survey Findings

The findings of the survey, which can be downloaded here in English, Spanish and Portuguese (French and Arabic coming soon), “highlight the existing structures of power that reinforce and deepen inequalities, and how they have been used to address the pandemic, such as the use of existing criminal law related to public health to introduce fines and penalties, and imprisonment.”

While there are some regional differences, the study identifies various cross-cutting key trends in the ways in which governments have confronted the pandemic:

  • The study finds a “tendency towards the use of criminal, punitive, and penal measures and restrictions related to social contact, exposure, transmission, movement–including travel and curfew–and the use of masks amongst many others, as a way to address the pandemic.
  • Calling out a trend towards political opportunism, the report points out that “key democratic conversations such as police actions, privacy and data, LGBT rights, the right to protest, and sex work have been hastily discussed or regulated amidst a global pandemic and in a context of none or minimal opportunity for dialogue”.
  • The study also criticizes the “disproportionate use of measures, often against the most marginalized communities, for failing to comply with sanitary orders” across all surveyed regions. Comparing the Covid-19 pandemic with the HIV crisis in the 1990s, the study finds that “once again, a public health crisis is met with criminal and punitive responses that disproportionately impact the most marginalized, stigmatised, and already criminalised people and communities in society.”
  • Aditionally, the report indicates that “the police have often been given unprecedented power through revised or new legislation and decrees that significantly reinforce their power, and that has led to an arbitrary (ab)use and a significant rise in reports of police violence and brutality across the world.”

Progressive measures like the early release of prisoners due to the pandemic, the making available of funds  for social protection measures including those related to homelessness, and access to healthcare are described as welcomed positive steps, which also “go to show that social movements’ demands for justice are achievable and within reach, and that many of these measures could have been implemented earlier”.

The panel can be re-watched on Youtube.

About the organisations

RESURJ (Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice) is “a global south-led and grounded transnational feminist alliance of younger feminists, committed to fostering stronger communities by building trust, nurturing solidarity, and sharing power.” It consists of feminists below the age of 40, “working for sexual and reproductive justice through national, regional, and international advocacy and movement building strategies in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and Europe.”

The Vecinas Feministas started off as 14 young feminists from 10 countries in Latin America. Together with RESURJ, they “conduct joint advocacy initiatives for the full implementation of regional instruments as well as making links between regional priorities and global advocacy in spaces such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), and the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.”


Written by WAVE Intern Verena Henneberger