As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, it has revealed the urgency of confronting the devastating impacts of war and militarism on communities within the United States and globally. Across the world, authoritarians and right-wing governments are seizing upon this moment of crisis to erode democratic norms, expand police and military powers, and quash movement-building and activism. Enacting emergency orders, autocrats are rapidly grabbing the power they need to enact their repressive agendas, all in the name of battling COVID-19.
In Hungary, for instance, Prime Minister Viktor Orban obtained broad new powers to rule indefinitely by decree — and to imprison those he deems are spreading fake news. In the Philippines, President Duterte has ordered soldiers to shoot-to-kill any residents who violate the lockdown order. In Israel, the government’s security agency is implementing far-reaching surveillance to track and control the movements of people infected with the virus — something that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have long been subject to. Netanyahu has taken sweeping actions to shut down courts and parliament, and put in place extreme “security” measures. Chile has declared a state of catastrophe — which puts the military in charge of enforcing public order and controlling people’s movements.
In the US, Trump has capitalized on the emergency by implementing his long-desired border shutdown and turning away refugees and asylum seekers, including those fleeing from gender-based violence. The administration’s extremist actions — like continuing to build the border wall and deploying additional troops to the border — only threaten to deepen this crisis and violate rights. And across the country, we see increasingly militarized responses to this crisis, with ICE escalating raids. With the National Guard taking a larger role in confronting the pandemic, the US military is reportedly preparing to accelerate its response — including by ‘quelling ‘civil disturbances’ and enforcing the law,’ a warning sign to social movements and organizers.
These authoritarian power grabs exploit the pandemic to enact a repressive, right-wing agenda that violates rights and undermines democratic institutions. MADRE has long confronted right-wing authoritarianism and advanced gender justice — from Colombia, where we work with Afro-descendant women mobilizing for peace and justice even as they face physical attacks and threats for their activism — to Iraq, where our partners have offered shelter for women facing violence while organizing against US occupation and the resulting sectarian, corrupt politics that have threatened women’s rights.
To counter these threats, MADRE joins anti-militarist, anti-racist feminists in calling for a Feminist Foreign Policy to Confront the Coronavirus Pandemic. This statement is an outcome of a convening held in February by MADRE, Women Cross DMZ, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance — which brought together 23 women and gender nonconforming people from across the United States in order to engage in a cross-movement people of color-led dialogue on our collective work against militarism and war in order to examine, challenge, and reimagine current US foreign policy.