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Everyday Life in the Pandemic City

Everyday Life in the Pandemic City

Dr. Nasya Razavi

How is the Covid-19 pandemic impacting the everyday lives of the urban poor along gendered and racial lines? As part of her latest research, Nasya Razavi, Post-doctoral Visitor at the City Institute at York University, is examining how women are navigating the changing dimensions of production and social reproduction in the “pandemic city.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic is a deeply gendered crisis. An unprecedented threat for global health systems, the spread of Covid-19, and the governmental responses deployed to contain it, have had severe impacts for vulnerable populations, especially for working poor women who are primary caretakers within households and communities. Dr. Razavi’s work is based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Indigenous women form the majority of the working poor engaged in precarious work in the informal sector, which makes up nearly two thirds of the Bolivian economy. In the first months of the pandemic, the quarantine restriction on movement in the city effectively cut many women off from their livelihoods. As a result, existing gender inequalities have been exacerbated in terms of health and economic insecurity, multiplied instances of gender-based violence, and heightened the responsibility of care work.

“We’ve been working with local partner Centro de estudios y trabajo de la mujer (CETM) on the gender dynamics in Cochabamba, through the GenUrb project since 2017. The spread of Covid-19 and the response to contain the pandemic has had some devastating consequences in the communities we engage with, especially for women that make their living in the informal sector. The pandemic has forced us to pivot our work and test new research methods that are safe and don’t place extra burdens onto interlocutors” explains Dr. Razavi.

Recipient of a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant (PEG) Special Covid-19 Initiative, Dr. Razavi has used the funds to support the project Radical Care and Mutual Aid: Covid-19, and Survival Strategies in Bolivia. The project seeks to explore the potential of virtual research methods in conducting qualitative feminist urban research on women’s experiences of coronavirus and the collective strategies of mutual aid employed in communities in response to the crisis. This study will also contribute to comparative research on gender and urbanization with GenUrb collaborators conducting research in other small and mid-sized cities and megacities, specifically, Delhi (India), Georgetown (Guyana), Ibadan (Nigeria), and Shanghai (China).

Taking precautions against Covid-19 under quarantine in Cochabamba

“I’m grateful for the SSHRC PEG Grant because it has also allowed me to work with collaborators in Bolivia and Canada on an advocacy project to bring the interlocutors stories to a broader audience,” says Dr. Razavi. One of the research outputs is a podcast series, called la casa en cuarentena that is produced in Spanish, English, and Quechua and explores the themes of work, care, health, home remedies, mental health, language, and solidarity. The series provides a glimpse into everyday life for women living and working in and around Cochabamba, how they dealt with the extra burdens brought on by the pandemic and found creative ways to take care of their families.

The existing conditions of precarity trouble the before-and-after terminology of Covid-19. Access to adequate shelter and inadequate services, such as access to water and basic sanitation, are inequalities and conditions that were entrenched well before the pandemic. That said, the research shows that the pandemic has seriously compounded harships for women who were already facing structural inequalities. The women’s stories reveal themes of limited mobility, violence, increased care work, and strained mental health as they navigate the coronavirus crisis and all its unknowns. Yet their experiences also reveal, amidst the changing urban spatialities and temporalities, the importance of circulations of care via enduring networks of reciprocity and the possibility for new forms of solidarity.

Nasya Razavi (@NasyaRazavi) is a Post-Doctoral Visitor at the City Institute at York University, and lead researcher for the Cochabamba City Research Team on the GenUrb project (Urbanization, Gender, and the Global South: A Transformative Knowledge Network) with Professor Linda Peake as Principal Investigator. Her research explores the nexus between urban transformations and inequalities. Specifically, she examines the challenges in peri-urban Bolivia as changing infrastructure and severe water shortages shape public participation, gendered insecurities, and everyday practices. Nasya recently completed her PhD at Queen’s University, and her dissertation will be published as a book: Water governance in Bolivia: Cochabamba since the Water War (Routledge). She is also affiliated with the Municipal Services Project, an international research programme on policy alternatives in municipal service delivery. Finally, she is a part of the Feminist Solidarity International Group (FIGS) Executive Committee and is on the Editorial Board for the FIGS zine.