Interview with Prof. Dr. Eva Maria Hinterhuber
In the context of COVID-19 gender and diversity play a central role: gender, social status, ethnicity, age and health status as well as in which part of the world a person lives matters on how severe the consequences of the pandemic will be.
Gender and Diversity Studies: Intersectional challenges in focus
Over the past few weeks, this correlation was picked up by politics, society and media: e.g., there is an increase in domestic violence due to the measures of social distancing in place. The gendered challenges in coping with home office and home schooling are being discussed. The bad or even precarious working conditions and unequal pay of female-dominated occupational groups such as supermarket cashier, geriatric nurse or nurse came into focus. Bad working conditions combined with low wages also apply to male-dominated jobs such as delivery services, in which many employees have a migrant background. It has become clear that people working in these jobs, now recognised as relevant to the system, keep together society. Also, it is being criticized that they nevertheless belong to the low-paid and lowest-paid working groups.The closure of food banks due to the assembly ban, again, hit the poorest in society. People in precarious job conditions are hit particularly hard by the economic consequences. This applies even more to people in especially vulnerable situations, e.g. refugee camps.
Reports from abroad show that due to structural discrimination within the US-American health system, People of Colour are disproportionately among the dead to be mourned due to COVID-19. In Panama, as it was reported, transgender people were attacked in the context of the local lockdown rules according to which men and women were only allowed to leave the house on alternating days. For the health systems of poor countries, the pandemic represents an even greater challenge, a fact that can also be seen in the context of colonial social and exploitative structures that still affect these countries today.
Exploring the combination of different categories of inequality and offering contributions on how the negative effects can be overcome is in the core of Gender and Diversity studies. The aim is to come closer to equal participation opportunities for all. The aforementioned issues show that Gender and Diversity studies are highly relevant during times of COVID-19. The Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences has recognised the relevance of the discipline from the very beginning and is the first university of applied sciences to offer a Bachelor's degree course in "Gender and Diversity" with a strong application focus.
Anti-democratic attacks on gender and diversity studies
However, Gender and Diversity Studies have been the target for anti-democratic attacks, even before the Corona-crisis: Times of crisis, though, facilitate arguments that present emancipatory, feminist or progressive discourses as luxury problems. Already in mid-March this year, Alexander Kissler, author for the magazine Cicero, conveyed the narrative that at German universities natural sciences would be dominated by political science and gender studies. Moreover, Kissler, by putting the latter disciplines in quotation marks, denies their scientific character. The AfD faction in the Bundestag also makes use of the selective juxtaposition of pharmacology and gender studies with regard to the supposed benefits, together with the judgement that the gender professorships could "all go" - and combined with the demand to stop their state funding. The German Language Association (Verein Deutsche Sprache), which regularly criticises gender studies and gender-just language, recently published a Facebook post that was widely received in the media, making public the argument that alleged billions of euros that were available in Germany for research into gender and "gender politics" were now missing from hospitals and scientific research (including virology and pharmacology). This was taken up, for example, by Josef Kraus' "Forget Corona - Study Gender" on the platform “Tichy's Einblick”; the study programme "Gender and Diversity" at the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences is mentioned by name here.
Not only is this argumentation based on grotesquely incorrect assertions and constructs connections that do not exist - it also follows a certain, well known pattern: Working through the distorted image of the discipline that was first created by oneself allows one to avoid the really important questions (such as the social and structural upgrading of care work, the fair payment of the professional groups mentioned above, the orientation of the health care system towards the common good instead of financial profit prospects, etc.), which could shake the foundations of one's own convictions.
The need for a comprehensive scientific perspective in times of corona crisis
In addition, the sole attack on gender studies obscures the fact of its scientific character and its integration into a broad interdisciplinary and methodologically controlled field of research. Gender studies is an interdisciplinary subject that combines theories and methods from a wide range of disciplines such as sociology, history, biology, political science, economics, medicine, etc. and is therefore linked to the methodological procedures of the various disciplines. Consequently gender studies must always conform to the practices of the various disciplines. Criticism of gender studies or the rejection of scientific rigour is thus extended to criticism of the relevant disciplines, their theoretical and methodological location and the entire scientific system.
Thus, the assault on gender studies symbolises an overall scepticism towards, but not only, social sciences and science in general, consequently categorising research findings in desirable findings and non-desirable findings and equating them with ideological beliefs. Against the background of a crisis in society, so far unknown in scope, an all-comprising perspective within sciences is needed, analysing society and cohabitation in its entirety. This cannot solely be achieved within natural or health sciences. At this time, it is imperative to defend gender and diversity studies against possible attacks, and requesting, at the same time, a critical discourse with this discipline – if we are not to leave the field to the right-wing populists who regularly try to devalue gender studies. The example of the EU member state Hungary clearly shows where it may lead if such advances remain unrequited. With its ban on gender studies, Hungary not only undermines science as such, but also the ideals of liberal democracy such as equality, tolerance, and minority rights. As the Presidium of the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences emphasized with reference to Giovanni Boccaccio, it is necessary to take decisive action against the "poisoning of social life, human relations" and the "barbarization of civil interaction".