The impact of COVID-19: vulnerability, women and decision-making in global pandemic
Petra Brown (Deakin University), Tamara Browne

May 25, 2021, 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Deakin University



Deakin University

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The impact of COVID-19: vulnerability, women and decision-making in global pandemic

There is strong evidence that the impacts of COVID-19 have deepened existing social-inequalities (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women 2020). Already-existing vulnerabilities of women due to economic disruption, intimate partner violence, carer responsibilities and restricted health care access were exacerbated in 2020. Scholars considering previous pandemics found that women’s needs go unseen, unheard and unmet in a crisis response, because they are not adequately represented in decision-making processes. Including women at higher levels of decision-making around COVID-19 global responses, it is suggested, may ameliorate the destructive impact on women (Wenham et al. 2020).

This paper argues that it is not enough to simply ensure equal representation at decision-making forums. The 2020 global pandemic has exposed a deeper philosophical problem at the heart of the Western liberal democratic system: the methodological individualism that has shaped an account of autonomy and political agency that ignores the importance of inter-personal relationships. Feminist philosophers reject what they refer to as an ‘atomistic’ nature of the self and the value of autonomy that emerges from this account. They see this account as itself embedded in social relations in which the self-sufficiency held up as a neutral model, is actually the ideal of the self-sufficient man. This paper considers three theories of feminist ‘relational autonomy’ that includes value commitments and responsibilities such as care of the vulnerable, that are not only part of individual decision-making choices, but are also recognised as central in public discourse and consciousness. 

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