by SUDARSANA KUNDU and CAROL MILLER
We write this in the middle of an unprecedented crisis impacting everyone worldwide.
Over the past few days and weeks, things around the world have undergone massive change due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As a transnational feminist network, we believe in addressing deep structures and social norms within organizations and society and strive to build cultures of equality, inclusion, and peace. The perpetual fight for social change and justice requires a continuous effort, especially in trying times like these. To respond responsibly to these abrupt and unpredictable changes will require adjustments in the way we do our work, and the way we support our staff, associates, consultants as well as our partners.
How can we support our team?
What is challenging from a feminist leadership perspective is figuring out how to support our staff and associates, who are based in different countries around the world, while country governments are reacting in such different ways and have such varying levels of social and health infrastructure.
At this time, we have no reported or confirmed cases at Gender at Work. Nevertheless, we request and encourage everyone to follow the World Health Organization’s recommended protocol, limit gatherings, practice physical distancing along with any additional public health measures being put in place wherever they are located, which are across boundaries over the globe.
Please note that we have indefinitely paused all Gender at Work related travel (both international and domestic) till further notification. We will reassess the situation from time to time and let staff, associates and partners know when we feel that it is safe to travel again.
Providing space, time and ongoing flexibility to adjust
The Coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a large and long-lasting impact worldwide, the social and economic ramifications of which will unfold in the coming months. At this time, we have to acknowledge that there will be communities of people who will be hit harder than others by this pandemic and its consequences – the elderly, the poor, single parents – those who cannot afford to stay at home in the absence of safety nets. In particular, we are acutely aware of the risks for those experiencing domestic abuse for whom the restrictions telling people to stay at home means increased vulnerability.
We stand in solidarity with the feminist activism that continues to take place globally to raise awareness on the specific effects of the pandemic on women. And, we will continue to explore ways in which Gender at Work can support groups and communities most at risk.
The current crisis will challenge us to be creative about different ways of working so that we can continue to offer remote support to organizations and feminist activists over the next few months. For now, this is how we are supporting our global, albeit small, workforce:
- Flexible work hours: Multiple countries are going on lockdowns and we understand that there are a lot of logistical and familial obligations. Therefore, we encourage our staff, associates and consultants to adjust their work schedules, calls and assignments according to their current lived experiences and needs. The aim is to support and sustain everyone, by having more flexible working hours. We assure that these changes do not, in any way, affect the salaries or jobs within the organization.
- Flexible workload: The ‘physical distancing’ and quarantine are stressful and affect individuals in multiple ways. If the workload feels overwhelming, we are encouraging our staff, associates and consultants to adjust their workload based on their own situations. To all our partners and donors: we might come to you with changed timelines and action plans to cope with this crisis.
- Unlimited paid sick leave: We are offering our staff unlimited paid sick leaves in case they or their family are infected by this devastating disease.
- Connecting, collaborating and maintaining camaraderie: Feminist solidarity is at the core of how we work. We know that some of us are likely to be battling with feelings of isolation or mental health issues. It is important that we stay connected with each other to remain positive, motivated and cope with our feelings of seclusion. We are doing a number of things to staying in touch:
- Regular, informal chat rooms: We’ll be hosting regular chatrooms for our staff and associates. We hope it will be uplifting to connect with everyone and share messages of solidarity. This will be an opportunity to drop in and share, chat, or just listen to the ongoing informal conversations in the chatroom.
- Webinars: We are planning to conduct a series of learning webinars for our staff, associates and consultants. It would be helpful for us to stay in touch, practice, learn and foster our commitment towards organizational and feminist principles. We will also be offering a limited number of webinars for feminist activists around the globe.
We are immensely grateful to be a part of an organization that enables us to carry on working virtually, unhindered under these conditions. We would like to express our gratitude to each of you for the way that you engage and connect with us, other staff, and associates. At the same time, we want to acknowledge the physical and mental toll the current situation is placing on everyone. Remember to practice self-care as you support your family, friends, neighbours, and communities.
Sudarsana Kundu and Carol Miller are co-executive directors at Gender at Work.