Activist Florencia Partenio: 'My hope is that we will not go back to normal'
Feminist activist and university teacher Florencia Partenio was questioning issues on working conditions and access to public health far before covid-19 turned her country upside down. The current situation made these questions more relevant than ever. She explains in an interview on the situation in Argentina: ‘I hope that we can re-think our production and consumption models and grow towards a social and self-managed economy.’
‘The government issued a lockdown, closed the borders, suspended education at all levels and halted the economic activity of some sectors. There has been a huge migration to teleworking both in the private and public spheres. As a university teacher, I am trying to adjust to the new reality of e-learning.’
‘On the other hand, the activity has intensified in those sectors that are considered vital to face the pandemic, such as the food, logistics and health sectors. To relieve the situation of the many informal workers, the government arranged an ‘Emergency Family Income’.
A dismantled health system
‘As the mandatory emergency measures continue to extend to the entire population, I want to reflect and advance on a number of questions that have become even more relevant during this health emergency: What is happening to our working conditions? Who can access public health? Who supports care workers during the pandemic?’
‘Under the previous neoliberal government, there has been a degradation of the Ministry of Health and a dismantling of the entire sector. The impact is now more evident than ever and leads to precarious working conditions in this highly feminized sector. In the face of this crisis, I believe the task is two-fold: revive a worn-out health system and allocate the necessary budgets to attend to this health emergency.’
Intimidation and unemployment
‘My biggest concerns regarding this crisis, were actually daunting us already. For example, the increased control of the police, especially in the popular neighbourhoods. While tasked with enhancing compliance to the emergency measures, security forces have increased intimidation and control over these neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, we have seen this in several cities in Latin America, with the militarization of poorest neighbourhoods and the criminalization of young people and human right defenders.’
‘Secondly and despite the employment protection measures, companies have fired many workers or reduced their wages by up to 50%. Additionally, the absence of social protection for workers in the sectors that are labelled ‘vital’ is evident. An example are the people that work as deliverers and who do not get any health protection or compensation for working in the covid-19 context.
‘And then the social organization of care. How can we guarantee care for all, when there is an increased number of cases of gender violence during the quarantine? How can we make sure that care sufficiently reaches LGBT+ people, who already regularly face stigmatizing and discrimination?’
Exploring new models
‘My hope is in the idea that this pandemic will not bring us back to our "normal" or previous and unsustainable routines. But that it instead urges us to revalue alternatives. We experience the power of solidarity in the neighbourhoods, where we see women who organize soup kitchens in communal spaces. People continue to think about collective solutions to live through this crisis.’
‘I believe that our greatest gain lies in the possibility of re-thinking current production, distribution and consumption models; reorganizing these into a social and self-managed economy. These times demonstrate that it is possible. Cooperatives already distribute fair trade and food produced in respect of ecosystems. Yet, their scaling up to become the new norm is still hampered by the monopoly of large food companies and hypermarket chains.’
Photo on top: A food deliverer in an empty Buenos Aires under quarantine. Credits: Asociación del Personal de Plataforma
About the author
Interview with Florencia Partenio, member of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era). DAWN is a network of feminist scholars, researchers and activists from the economic South working for economic and gender justice and sustainable and democratic development. Oxfam and DAWN have been collaborating over the years around issues of inequality, gender responsive budgeting and care economy.