By Katie Tobin
After a few months of indefinite uncertainty, June saw the introduction of an eased lockdown. Many of the former restrictions were uplifted and life began to return to a strange but welcomed version of normality. However, many of the new, relaxed lockdown rules were critiqued for the limitations that were still being imposed on women and the LGBTQ+ community.
This begs the question: with a male-dominated cabinet, has the easing of lockdown prioritised men? Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, condemned the government for making decisions that were “driven by men, for men, ignoring the voices of women”.
The initial relaxing of lockdown in summer prioritised the reopening of pubs, and the current circuit-breaker ensures that Premier League and elite sports are allowed to continue. When football audiences are typically over two-thirds male, the decision to prohibit yoga and Pilates studios seemed undeniably poised in favour of men. Nokes writes that “these [yoga and Pilates] are female-led businesses, employing women, supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of women, and still they are given no clue as to when the end of lockdown will be in sight.”
Similarly, beauty salons and female-oriented small businesses have faced numerous restrictions, and unlike the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme for eateries, there has been no government initiative in place to help these industries. Nokes also noted that if the PM “needed to sort the childcare, get his nails done and his legs waxed,” then the lift on lockdown restrictions in June may have looked significantly different. The continued restrictions on childcare were one of the biggest challenges that parents faced in summer. It seemed laughable when mothers were being urged to return to work when there was no guarantee of secured childcare and schools had long been closed. “I cannot help but feel this relaxation has forgotten we exist,” Nokes wrote, “or just assumed that women will be happy to stay home and do the childcare and home schooling, because the sectors they work in are last to be let out of lockdown”.
The closure of public toilets has also created new problems for those who menstruate. Although on 31st October, Robert Jenrick announced that a review would be launched to help women be assured of the necessary provision of toilets, this also created new issues for trans and non-binary individuals.
The review placed emphasised the “need” for separate-sexed toilets, stating that they intend to “maintain safeguards that protect women and the proper provision of separate toilets, which has long been a regulatory requirement, should be retained and improved.” On 31st October, Keith Farnish tweeted that the policy was an “utterly shameless attack on non-binary people and also nonsense in terms of legislation”.
When asked about the new measures, a non-binary student told Palatinate: “I was assigned female at birth and still have my period once a month, but I present more masculine and I’m often mistaken for a man. I don’t want to have to declare my sex or the fact that I’m menstruating to justify being let into a particular cubicle.” Despite the government’s insistence that this new toilet review would be in the interest of safeguarding women, domestic violence and sexual abuse has risen exponentially in the last year with minimal government intervention to tackle this. The Women’s Aid Survivor Survey shows that abusers are using Covid-19 to perpetuate abuse, and the abuse is escalating. In the survey, 67% of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse said it has got worse since Covid-19, and 72% said their abuser had more control over their life.
When domestic abuse support groups and one-on-one therapy sessions are currently prohibited, yet the Premier League may continue, it seems that Boris and his cabinet have sorely neglected to address the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community during the pandemic. The prioritising of pubs and barbers opening before beauty salons and yoga studios reads as clear gender bias on behalf of the predominantly male MPs creating new legislation. With the dire need for increased domestic abuse intervention and ease of access to public toilets, the government need to radically readdress their approach in easing the current restrictions after lockdown 2.0 ends.
Image: Number 10 via Flickr