Just Emergencies Episode 10: Covid-19: Sociological Reflections on Vulnerability, Gender, and Care

Laptop and Children's Toys

In Episode 10 of Just Emergenices, Dr Verina Wild and Professor Paula-Irene Villa Braslavsky  discuss the relationship between ‘Vulnerability, Gender, and Care’ in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Paula Villa says that no academic discipline alone can explain vulnerability, as it is a multidimensional issue. The affectedness, connections, and dependencies of all living beings lead to a universal vulnerability, which we could also build solidarity on. She further describes how different ways, resources, and approaches we are framed by come into play, creating specific vulnerabilities. These are due to social differences and inequalities, such as class, age, gender, income, or region. Such a biopolitical understanding reveals an unequal distribution of vulnerabilities.

I think a sociological understanding is important; to understand how social differences and social inequalities – for example by class, by age, by gender, by income, by region – make us vulnerable in specific ways.

Gender is crucial in two ways: First, in a biological understanding Covid-19 affects gender differently in terms of mortality rates and the severity of the disease. Here the sex-based differences are also gendered differences, as medical issues are always informed by gendered experiences and life circumstances. Second, in the pandemic all jobs that are related to care are overwhelmingly feminised labor. The entire care system thus mainly depends on women and their labor. Through confinement with homeschooling and the enormous share of caring for the children, the house and the chores are again feminised – it is women’s labor and it can lead to suffering.

It is important to note that it is never gender alone, as gender is linked intersectionally to other social differences and inequalities. And it is important to have the warnings that there could be a falling back into automatic gendered practices of something like the 1950s. But the progress that has been made should not be underestimated, and the roll-back should not be dramatised. However, the warnings should lead us to look at the evidence, and to closely research this issue. The responsibility falls not at the individual level, but on the political level; to increase the visbility of families, care, and mothers and to finally push them up on the political agenda, as they do not have a lobby. The fact that ‘Mummy will take care’ is not made a political issue is a huge scandal. There have to be compensations, supports, and rewards for the work mothers and other carers are doing, in a structured political way.

To find out more, listen to the full episode or read the transcript.

Links and Further Resources

M. Sander-Staudt, ‘Care Ethics‘, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

B. Clark and N. Preto, ‘Exploring the concept of vulnerability in health care‘, (2018) cmaj, 190(11).

C.Mackenzie, W. Rogers and S. Dodds, Vulnerability: New Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosoph(Oxford University Press, 2013).

R. Mahon and F. Robinson (eds), Feminist Ethics and Social Policy: Towards a New Global Political Economy of Care (UBC Press, 2011).

J. C. Tronto, ‘Creating Caring Institutions: Politics, Plurality, and Purpose‘, (2010) Ethics and Social Welfare, 4(2), 158-171.


‘Just Emergencies’ is produced and edited by Rebecca Richards and made with funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Our intro song is ‘The sun comes up, I come down’ by Silicon Transmitter.

Our outro song is ‘Surge and Swell’ by Pictures of the Floating World.

Both are available under an Attribution-Noncommerical-ShareAlike3.0 Creative Commons License from Free Music Archive.

Image by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.