Thursday, July 2, 2020

How the failure of political leadership resulted in the explosion of pandemic in Brazil

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Press conference by the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro | Source: Palácio do Planalto via Wikimedia

With over 1.2 million active cases and over 51 thousand deaths as on 30th June 2020, Brazil is one of the worst coronavirus affected countries. Latin America became the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the latter half of May, largely due to Brazil’s incompetency in dealing with the pandemic. Due to the underreporting and low testing rates, the actual number of active cases and deaths are unknown.

The Brazilian Ministry started making changes to the number of cases reported, making it even harder to control the situation the pandemic has caused. The country’s response has been widely criticized in Brazil and outside. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed the threat of the virus and the pandemic. OnMarch 26, 2020, he said that Brazilians are immune to the virus and even if they are drunk in a sewer they “don’t catch a thing.” He defied the guidelines set by his own health ministry and visited a busy commercial district in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where he told all the elderly Brazilians to get back to work. He also went on TV many times and called it little flu and accused the media of hysteria. Even as the coronavirus crisis has worsened recently, some major cities have eased their preventive measures, like Sao Paulo opening up shopping malls in Mid-June and beaches getting crowded again. With all of this happening, hospitals are close to running out of intensive care beds.

In early March, Brazil declared a public health emergency, a few days after the World Health Organization. The Ministry of Health in Brazil urged the officials to cancel all the public events and reinforce the measures of social distancing as prescribed by the World Health Organization. Some experts thought that Brazil could handle the pandemic based on its records during past public health emergencies. Brazil’s health care system is underfunded, but it does not fail to provide robust coverage across the country. The efforts of the state government went awry when the President called the virus a “cold” and provided anti-malaria tablets as a solution to the virus. President Bolsonaro’s clash with the governors and officials led to two health ministers leaving- one was fired and the other one quit. This left the military general, with no public health training, in charge of the virus. The clash amongst the government left the citizens of Brazil uncertain about the importance of following the preventive measures kept in place to prevent the spread of the virus. This led to the defying of the measures, which in turn led to the pandemic’s rate being one of the highest in the world.

The Ministry of Health has not presented a comprehensive plan to beat the virus yet. One of the main initiatives by the Ministry of Health is to boost the production of hydroxychloroquine and has encouraged the doctors in the public healthcare system to prescribe the same. The country has struggled to import lifesaving instruments, like coronavirus tests and ventilators. The lack of tests, in turn, has made it difficult to track the spread of the virus. This might result in the undercount of cases of the virus in the country.  Between Jan. 1 and June 6, 23,171 people who were not diagnosed with the coronavirus died from acute respiratory infections, according to data released by Fiocruz, one of Brazil’s state-run health research institutes. Experts believe most of them died from coronavirus.

At a time when Brazil needs to be putting all its efforts into fighting the virus, the president has been wrapped up in his own political battles. The Supreme Court is investigating allegations of disinformation and intimidation by the President’s supporters. Investigations also state that he has interfered in federal police investigations to protect his family. Due to this, the tensions between President Bolsonaro and the judiciary are high.

During the past few months, politics have become bigger than the pandemic. Even though the health crisis is extremely important, the magnitude of the political scandals has had a huge impact on how the country reacts to the pandemic. There is anger over how President Bolsonaro is handling the crisis and at the same time, there is a fear as to where the country is headed after the pandemic passes.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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