While economic inequalities have been a key focus of attention through the COVID 19 pandemic, gendered relations of power at every level have undermined health rights of women, girls and gender diverse individuals. Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) have always been sites of power contestations within families, societies, cultures, and politics; these struggles are exacerbated by economic, racial, religious, caste, citizenship status, and other social inequities, especially in times of crisis such as these. Policy responses to the COVID pandemic such as lockdown, quarantine, contact tracing and similar measures are premised on the existence of a social contract between the government and the people and among people, with the health sector playing a key role in preventive and curative care.
We propose the use of an intersectional lens to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social contract, drawing on our field experiences from different continents particularly as related to SRHR. Along with documenting the ways in which the pandemic hinders access to services, we note that it is essential to interrogate state-society relations in the context of vulnerable and marginalized groups, in order to understand implications for SRHR. Intersectional analysis takes on greater importance now than in non-pandemic times as the state exercises more police or other powers and deploys myriad ways of ‘othering’.
We conclude that an intersectional analysis should not limit itself to the cumulative disadvantages and injustices posed by the pandemic for specific social groups, but also examine the historical inequalities, structural drivers, and damaged social contract that underlie state-society relationships. At the same time, the pandemic has questioned the status quo and in doing so it has provided opportunities for disruption; for re-imagining a social contract that reaches across sectors, and builds community resilience and solidarities while upholding human rights and gender justice. This must find place in future organizing and advocacy around SRHR.
Dasgupta et al. (2020). Axes of alienation: applying an intersectional lens on the social contract during the pandemic response to protect sexual and reproductive rights and health. International Journal for Equity in Health. 19:130