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Feminist Essential Work in the Pandemic

Ahmed Ayed

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Feminist Essential Work in the Pandemic

About Dr. Sara Stevano and this TKS episode:

Dr. Sara Stevano is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at SOAS University of London.  In this episode of the Know Show Podcast, she discusses feminist political economy, anthropology, and development. Sara talks about what we understand essential work to be and how the pandemic has highlighted workers that have been necessary for continuing certain aspects of life. She critiques the way this recognition has failed to translate into better working conditions, reduced inequality, and less exploitation.   

 

A brief synopsis:

Sara is a development and feminist political economist specialising in the political economy of work, well-being, households, and development policy. In this episode, she critically analyses what we mean by essential work, essential workers, and the impact COVID-19 has had on these understandings. To begin, she delves into her background as an academic researcher. 

Sara continues by detailing how essential work has become a political term. She discusses the ways in which COVID-19 has changed essential work, and what we perceive it to be. Sara tells Hussain that from a feminist perspective, there is a lot of unpaid reproductive work that is gendered and unvalued, occurring within households and communities.

Governments were using these essential word classifications in political ways to assure people that some aspects of life could continue while others could stop. This attention pointed out that while we recognised the importance of the essential workers, we didn't reward them any differently than before.

Dr. Sara Stevano

 

Sara draws on more examples of essential workers in industries such as social care and food production. She highlights the fact that low-skilled workers worldwide suffer from inequality in terms of essentiality in the workplace. She continues to explore this through looking at Amazon workers versus female food vendors in Mozambique. 

Inequalities become even more magnified when we consider workers across different contexts in the world. We see workers in the informal economy from places in the Global South who are in a position of structural vulnerability and fragility which has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. And this vulnerability has not been diminished through the use of essential work classification.

Dr. Sara Stevano

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, we learnt about the inequalities faced by essential workers worldwide. Dr. Sara Stevano urges us to acknowledge the impact of COVID-19 on our understanding of essential work. She also works to outline why we need to include the low-skilled workers in the category of vulnerable workers, and makes clear the crucial role they play in our economies and societies. 

 

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