We would like to share what we have learned about the research project titled “A Feminist Recovery Plan for COVID-19 and Beyond: Learning from Grassroots Activism” and do feminist critique of the project situated in the project/grants-universe.
The normalization of inequality, oppression and violence created by the colonialist capitalist patriarchy, by the ruling powers −without an attempt to aestheticize or disguise it− is not a new phenomenon. As the crisis created by the pandemic evolves, the instances of violence intensify and increase, further exposing its systematic roots. Perhaps because it was anticipated very early on during the pandemic, women’s and feminist movements around the world called for not returning to the normal; they searched and are still searching for ways to survive and resist through various demands, acts of solidarity, urgent action plans or organizing networks. We observe that there are more demands for transnational feminist struggle, perhaps because the need for a global solidarity and resistance increases due to the global nature of the epidemic. Moreover, how the crisis harms different material conditions of re-production, and how productive and re-productive labor of women and LGBTIQ+ are made further precarious were voiced during the early days of the pandemic.
Social reproduction and, especially, care work have been exploited by being rendered invisible. Today, the political centrality of these groups is as visible as their roles in social reproduction. In conjunction, we could say that the number of studies that focus on social reproduction and care work have relatively increased, too . This article comprises our notes within that framework on the aforementioned research project.
The research undertaken by Warwick University (Coventry, UK) is called “A Feminist Recovery Plan for COVID-19 and Beyond: Learning from Grassroots Activism .
The research partners included familiar international organizations like AWID alongside researchers and grassroots activists from Kenya, Ireland, Italy, Argentina, Ecuador, and India. The objective of the research is to collectively contemplate on and imagine a feminist recovery plan. It aims to develop a global feminist plan by bringing recovery plans that put grassroots activism at the center of their policymaking from around the world together. We wanted to share the information we gathered about the project and do a critique of the research that exists within the “project universe”. We will try to do that without losing sight of all possibilities that can be derived from the fundamental determinations of the research: learning from grassroots activism  and putting social reproduction at the center.
The online workshop that took place in June underlined that their approach to learning from grassroots activism primarily centers around grassroots feminism. Yet, there are no clear boundaries or definitions available for grassroots feminism. For example, grassroots feminism is not defined as anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist feminism , questioning the nationalist, elitist roots of white feminism or it does not refer to indigenous people’s feminism in a general sense . It is more like grassroots feminism refers to a methodology rather than a concept. Therefore, it is important that the needs of women from grassroots (movement) are directly reflected in the plan, and that, in their words, the plan is epistemologically based on collective grassroots contributions as opposed to individual contributions. Hence, we see that there is a great emphasis on the local-level plan development processes.
Another determining factor for grassroots feminism is the focus on social reproduction that refers to social relations, processes, and labor that sustains a population during plan development. They claim to distinguish themselves from mainstream projects devised by politicians, political consultants and experts who prioritize activities that bring economic benefits over social reproduction, and act with a for-profit business mentality. The note on the research states that mainstream plans that ignore social reproduction cannot but reproduce inequalities that make the foundations of socio-economic structures. Whereas the objective of the feminist recovery plan is not to correct the faults of the formal policies that hide their failures behind social reproduction work, but to put social reproduction at the heart of policymaking and address the inequalities embedded in the socio-economic structure . In this sense, social reproduction work are:
- unpaid social reproduction labor committed to supporting one’s family/community or for social transformation,
- disproportionately undertaken by women, by people at the lowest level of social hierarchy in terms of income and distribution of power, or
- shared unequally among different social dispositions determined by race, sex and gender identity, disability status, geopolitical location, migrant status etc.
Hawai’i Plan; Fight Liberalism!
Hawai’i Plan titled “Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19” had a session dedicated to itself compared to other recovery plans that were included in the research and is considered an example. According to the project coordinator, Serena Natile, there are a couple of reasons for that. First, the plan was developed quite early during the pandemic, and set an example in this regard for many feminist groups. Another important aspect of the plan is that it provides concrete solutions by going beyond looking out for the problems of indigenous groups through claiming the anti-colonialist struggle experience, such as returning the land. Moreover, the project is distinguished from others for it is founded on a feminist grassroots movement comprised solely of women of different immigrant, indigenous, class backgrounds or gender inequality who are suffering from current economic conditions in different ways. In Natalie’s words, the substance of the plan, as a radical feminist recovery plan that is developed to be implemented as a whole, is extremely inclusive with regard to to social reproduction labor and measures up to standards to secure social reproduction justice.
During an online interview that took place a day before the workshop, the director of the Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women Khara Jabola addressed the question about the expression that features in the title of the plan, “Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs”. First, the plan aims to honor the knowledge and experience accumulated by the feminist movements that came before them and the fact that the plan was shaped by such literature and experience. Secondly, it is undoubtedly a reference to “This Bridge Called My Back” text , penned by two Mexican Americans Gloria Anzaldua and Cherríe Moraga, arguing against the universal sisterhood argument of second wave feminism centered around white heterosexual women. Thirdly, the intention behind choosing this title is to highlight where their value system differs to liberal feminism, which calls for climbing up the ladders by stepping on each other’s back and through individual empowerment. Khara states that, during the development process, the most important issue was founding the plan on social realities, so, they operationalized the daily life experiences of women via the feminist grassroots organization AF3IRM .
Khara stated that she believes the political economy founded on exploitation is about to expire, therefore, building a powerful grassroots movement and implementing the plan, to the extent possible, are very important for them.
A plan that declares the end of a political economy founded on exploitation cannot be evaluated from a neoliberal framework for success or by individualist liberal feminist criteria; and thus, it can be evaluated through its impact on establishing social justice. Khara talked about bringing feminist analysis into state level governance thanks to the impact of the plan and criteria for institutionalizing feminism. She pointed at the impact of the plan in public policymaking and expanding public services and considered them gains for the community. For example, and especially the recognition of the public quality of the work undertaken by indigenous women that address the needs of the community is a criterion that could be used to directly evaluate the impact of the plan. Another criterion –and Khara emphasizes that it is easily measurable– is the land given back to meet the needs of indigenous Hawaiian communities. Within the scope of the plan, the land that will be given back to or funded for indigenous Hawaiian communities are already identified by the state administration; and the lives of indigenous communities are expected to significantly transform.
We are intrigued by Khara’s emphasis on class differences –over gender or race solidarity among the sisterhood– within the context of the feminist economic plan. Bringing back the spirit of organizing means everything to us, remarks Khara and adds states should function as facilitators of women’s organizing and, not so much through traditional NGOs that claim all issues related to women but by supporting grassroots movements. That’s exactly why women should not be subjected to donor or state censorship filters and should be approached as real entities. Concerning the applicability/replicability of the Hawai’i plan, Khara remarks that there is no place on earth independent of class society or capitalism, therefore, a need to become international arises. She underlines that the political economy, due to the patriarchal nature of capitalism, works in similar ways around the world, and with that critique, there is a need for a global plan that can be implemented anywhere that women exist around the world. She further adds that applicability/replicability of the plan to other contexts is the cornerstone of developing it, and the plan offers alternatives beyond solutions that direct or force women back in workplaces. Lastly, she shares her fears around how migrant women could be negatively affected since the overarching care plan that passed in the US Congress is highly dependent on labor exploitation and unjust migrant policies. She ends her speech by stating how their Marxist roots allow them to see the effects of international policies at the local level, why these policies should be developed with a universal perspective, and how women need the society to be radically transformed; she finishes by calling to “Fight liberalism!”.
Voice of the grassroots and the realities on ground
We had a chance to listen to many women from around the world during the two-day workshop. The project coordinator Natile launched the first session by stating their objective to bring together a number of feminist groups and grassroots movement with various issues on their agenda, to create a collective interaction space to meet these discussions on common grounds, and to build the transnational intervention movement necessary for a global plan. We were witnessing celebrations in countries where vaccines were made available, as we were seeing the destruction pandemic has caused in India. Moreover, we learned that Anita Gurumurthy (IT for Change), one of the speakers at the workshop, would not be able to connect for that reason.
Rachel Powell (Women’s Policy Group NI) from Northern Ireland was the first speaker. She started by stating how the country fell back into conflict following the past five years without even an administration that could make or implement policies. Rachel also protested that the war was pushing problems related to gender to take a backseat: “We don’t have a budget or a strategy for childcare; there is no active policy or practice in place to stop violence against women or racism; there is nothing around abortion or healthcare either”. Thus, the recovery plan, which they fundamentally consider to be a roadmap, was developed with the participation of around 30 organizations and hundreds of women who wrote and shared their stories. They put tremendous efforts in lobbying for they think the implementation of the plan will not only empower women but beyond, the whole society, and succeed in getting the issue onto the agenda. But as the conflict is reignited, the efforts of hundreds of women and their stories are rendered almost invisible. Rachel stated “Right, it’s a tremendous undertaking. Although our plan was recognized at the UN level, it has no use at state-level,” and adds “there are resources made available for paramilitary groups but not for women.” She also remarks that all women in Northern Ireland suffer from harassment by the paramilitary forces but there is no international mechanism that could protect them. “It’s like living in a bubble,” reprimands Rachel. As she has repeated over the course of her speech, she ends by underlining the need for an anti-colonialist peace that prioritizes gender equality and for raising awareness around that.
Beatrice Karore [Wanawake Mashinani (Grassroots Women) Initiative] from Kenya was next, and she gave her speech standing next to a building via an unstable connection. Beatrice stated that incidents of rape and violence have increased during the pandemic, and in that sense women’s fundamental problems are domestic violence, police violence and inaccessibility of human rights. She added that a lot of women could not make their voice heard, are increasingly exposed to sexual violence daily, lost their jobs, are marginalized, and cannot access healthcare or care services. The conditions evolved to a point that women could not use the toilets situated outside of their houses due to violence. And, when they want to protest all these, they are faced with police violence. Beatrice, as a woman who leads a grassroots struggle, underlined that women and feminists are among the groups whose human rights are violated the most. She concluded by emphasizing the need for the states to enact laws against domestic violence, and to support shelters and support groups from which women can benefit.
Rocío Rosero Garcés and Silvana Tapia Tapia of the Ecuador National Women’s Coalition kicked off the second day, and presented their plan published with a feminist perspective on post-pandemic reconstruction subheading . They talked about the difficulty in accessing statistical data and the unreliability of the data accessed while they were developing the plan. Yet, institutions responsible for collecting and reporting data on women are facing funding cuts due to neoliberal adaptations. They underline that the budgets planned as part of neoliberal economic adaptation are disproportionate to the gravity of the lived problems. For example, it is a fact that the rate of youth and child pregnancy due to sexual violence is very high in Ecuador, but public health spending, including institutions responsible for sexual health, reproductive health ad sex education, is facing further cuts. The council on gender equality is the council with the least amount of funding set aside for, which is related to a dramatic increase in unpaid work, and an increase in poverty- something the feminist organizations foresaw back in 2018.
Presentations of Veronica Gago and Luci Cavallero (Ni Una Menos) from Argentina start with an introduction to their programming around social reproduction labor. In the background, they share posters with “All Women are Workers”, “End Economic Violence by the Companies” slogans on them, which are created based on the idea that economic violence is alarmingly related to machismo and gender-based violence. Luci highlighted that domestic labor has become the capital’s new experiment area and that “home” became the new application site of financial economic violence. Luci also pointed at how reorganization of work on our post-pandemic agenda also means reorganization of land and household; and why our fundamental issue should be how we are going to organize/mobilize as workers post-pandemic. Veronica, on the other hand, stresses the abundance of information produced on financial colonization, colonization of daily life and places, and to what they correspond; and the meaning of social reproduction in terms of colonization practices, including class relations − the field is saturated with diagnoses of the problem, but the main issue is how we are going to create a political power that will help solve the problem!
Lastly, Enrica Rigo, Teresa Maisano and Michela Pizzicanelle (Non Una di Meno) from Italy presented. They start by setting the scene where Italy entered the pandemic with a misogynistic government in power, alongside Salvini and his patriarchal/neoliberal right-wing party in control of the migrant center. That’s because not long time before that did the racist and xenophobic policies were brought under public scrutiny following a femicide against a migrant worker. They state that a new understanding evolved around the structural aspects of violence, inclusive of violence against women and labor related issues, and that is an invaluable thing that will be bequeathed to the movement post-pandemic.
They highlight that last year was the worst year for femicides in Italy since the year 2000. Moreover, the pandemic made it further evident that the social reproduction sector is the sector that had to be valued. They emphasize that within the context of Italy, they do not need a plan from scratch but that the plan from 2016 be implemented. They finished their presentation by stating that despite the new problems brought into the equation by the pandemic, women’s movement did not succumb to physical isolation by running international solidarity campaigns on social media.
Recovery and beyond
Constanza Pauchulo and Felogene Anumo, who represent the two institutional partners of the project (IWRAW Asia Pacific and AWID), also take the floor each, in addition to the workshop sessions led by activists from around the world over two days. Constanza’s speech focuses on what kind of a feminism should the global feminist plan be based on and conclude that an inclusive, non-exclusionary feminism can only be made possible by social movements (LGBTIQ+ and non-binary movements, abolitionist, anti-colonialist, pro-black and indigenous peoples movements, and movements that care about climate change etc.) around the world.
Felogene speaks on behalf of the international organization, AWID (The Association for Women’s Rights in Development), who drafted a manifesto stating the demands from a workshop organized for feminists and social movements during the early days of the pandemic. The manifesto comprises of 5 principles and 10 action points set out for post-Covid-19 feminist recovery. It defines the pandemic as a condition created by the extractivist attitude of capitalist, neo-colonialist businesses, companies, and states towards the ecosystem; the pandemic is not a humanitarian problem like the eco-fascist discourse defines it to be . Felogene’s words well suited for this context: “It’s clear that feminist economy is necessity, not only for Covid-19 pandemic or the failure of current economies, but also for other crises of authoritarianism, climate crisis, militarism, police violence etc.”
Felogene remarks that the manifesto calls for structural changes in the economies of societies and calls for pushing the IMF mentality and establishing community economy and feminist economy. According to them, empowering, supporting, and expanding feminist realities is the way to make feminist economy possible. They explain that feminist realities mean production of knowledge needed to directly transform people and economy. In that sense, she puts Black Lives Matter forward as an example, as the movement not only demands cuts in the budget for the police but also an economic plan for the Black community.
Felogene then moved on to injustice surrounding the allocation of funds. We are worried that the last resort of radical transformation of neoliberal economy, or perhaps the scope of anti-capitalism will be based on re-organization of funding allocations. Our analysis of the research project points at this tension between political possibilities leading towards what lies beyond capitalist patriarchy and touch-ups for a sustainable neoliberal economy. It is like the fork in the road mentioned in Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto: it is neither situated on the side of the liberal feminism of Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, nor shares Huelga Feminista’s determination to smash capitalism  at the other end of the spectrum.
The effort to develop a global plan by bringing local feminist recovery plans together holds political possibilities since they rely on grassroots movements and the knowledge and experience produced by these movements. Above all, it is difficult to find an approach that centers social reproduction based on the labor of people, most of whom are at the bottom of the social hierarchy and proposes radical structural changes in the economies of societies by pushing back the IMF economy in this direction, completely worthless. In a more general sense, such an imagination allows for proposing more public oriented policies, concrete anti-colonialist solutions −such as returning the land to indigenous peoples− to take place in the plan and produces alternatives for directing or forcing women back in workplaces. Nevertheless, launching an appeal for neoliberal powers to support grassroots movements over traditional NGOs that claim every women’s issue, and for grassroots movements to turn into a type of NGO within the granting universe dominated and determined by funding opportunities fall short of expectations.
First of all, when the objective is to learn from grassroots movements, grassroots feminism, which grassroots movements fall under that category, and the learning objectives should be clearly defined. This is also related to the truth told, how one encounters the knowledge and experience produced and shared by women in grassroots movements, their perception and from which perspectives they are considered. In a similar manner, we deem important that an explanation is provided as to how a feminist recovery plan by putting social reproduction at the heart of policymaking is going to address the inequalities embedded in socio-economic structure, especially within the context of the required connection between capitalism and the control of social reproduction work − since the reproduction of labor, the most important activity necessary for capitalist accumulation, is heavily dependent of uncompensated labor of women . If it is true that the critical conditions for accumulation of wealth are dependent on production by a right-less population and divisions in the global workforce, and above everything else, if these are the direct consequences of how the wage relationships function, then the present-day struggles cannot be solely understood through arguments for “creation of jobs” or wages. We cannot fool ourselves by thinking “crisis” and austerity measures forced upon us are temporal phenomena or by saying we can overcome the crisis or better our conditions of living by excluding capital’s plantation workers (women, migrants, elderly) from society . The explanation of points we have raised will help us understand whether they are signaling at funds made available that allows women’s movements adopt an approach to question “nationalist and elitist” roots of white feminism based on project/grantmaking universe or other stories of modernism, centered around confronting colonialist history and modernity, and to create new resistance strategies through lessons learned from their past that is at risk of being erased , so that they −women’s movement adamant about not going back to normal− can work towards a sustainable normal.
By transforming the colonialist capitalist patriarchy that owes its existence to social reproduction labor through radical plans −in search of a possibility to imagine emancipation beyond recovery− is a completely different route to take, and yes, there is a lot to learn about that from grassroots movements. On one hand, we are talking about leaving the pandemic behind, returning to normal and healing; on the other hand, there is a struggle for survival. The set of thoughts and concepts of these two separate worlds are quite different. For the ones whose lives have turned into a survival struggle −women, LGBTIQ+, migrants, undocumented individuals− there is not much difference between dying in conditions of crisis that are somehow sustainable, or non-exceptional but normal circumstances. The issue lies far from healing and normalization for them and goes beyond a radical “recovery”. It falls near “emancipation”, an imagination of a feminist emancipation. Their struggles attest to that.
 You can find Gülnur Acar Savran’s manifesto of care, care and social reproduction crisis here: https://en.catlakzemin.com/the-crisis-of-care-social-reproduction-and-beyond/
 The website of the research project: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/research/projects/feminist-recovery-plan/
 We deemed appropriate to use grassroots activism as it is a widely used term, but we would like to note Tanıl Bora’s text as a reminder to keep a critical distance towards the terms activism and protester, and of their differences between them, as well as the potentials they carry:
 For an example of one definition of grassroots feminism: https://ggjalliance.org/our-work/grassroots-feminism/
 Dilan Bozgan, in her chapter titled “Kadınlar ve Devrimden Kadınların Devrimine Latin Amerika’da Kadının Gündemi” [Women’s Agenda in Latin America From Women and Revolution to Women’s Revolution], approaches grassroots/people’s feminism to be inclusive of shanty town feminism which has urban-villager qualities, and black feminism, in addition to indigenous feminism. Esra Akgemci, Kazım Ateş, ed., Dünyanın Ters Köşesi Latin Amerika: Tarih, Toplum, Kültür, (İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları 2020), 212.
 A short summary on the project whose references include social reproduction theorists such as Silvia Federici and Tithi Bhattacharya: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/research/projects/feminist-recovery-plan/about
 We are sharing this document that was shared with us during an online workshop and is not listed on the website: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s6SEN8lENQYtAqEXOS-ytkSVm0Z4ijbOSzKHr6FmxY0/edit#
 “…Capitalism, is the first system of exploitation that saw labor, rather than land, as the main form of wealth. For this reason, it has developed a completely new form of politics in terms of disciplining the body, especially the female body, and managing re-production starting from reproduction. Capitalism needs to control re-production work (our capacity to work rather than re-producing our struggle) for it [re-production work] to function as re-production of workforce due to the centralized nature of the work accumulation process.” https://gazetekarinca.com/silvia-federici-ile-roportaj-feminizm-toplumsal-yeniden-uretim/
 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch.
 Federici, Caliban and the Witch.
 Esra Akgemci, Kazım Ateş, ed., Dünyanın Ters Köşesi Latin Amerika: Tarih, Toplum, Kültür, 213. (Thanks to dear Dilan who wrote about the people’s feminism in Abya Yala that gave us a new perspective on this subject)
Translator: Deniz İnal
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan