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The impact of COVID-19 on reproductive justice

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash - picture shows a large question mark written in graffiti on a wall

Umut Erel, Professor of Sociology at The Open University, chaired a webinar this week which explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 'Politics of Social Reproduction, Migration and the Hostile Environment'. 

Families’, and in particular women’s, labour of reproducing family members, elders or those with disabilities is usually taken for granted, as an invisible yet indispensable part of the economy. An ongoing crisis of social reproduction has led to the sharpening of inequalities in the resources and rights to social reproduction, along gendered, racialized, transnational and migration status inequalities and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this crisis. Social reproduction is the labour and love that makes, sustains and supports lives on a daily and intergenerational basis. Social reproduction also refers to the effort to make and sustain lives in a meaningful way in the context of state retrenchment, marketisation, and neo-colonial expropriation. It also entails, however, the social reproduction of capitalist social relations and relations of production which are relying and maintained to a great extent by states and societies’ public sectors and have reduced the resources available for social reproduction. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned a number of shifts in the way this work of social reproduction is seen and exposed as never before these relations of dependency of the capitalist market on public and social reproductive work. There has been a growing realisation that bodies are fragile and interconnected on a global and local scale which has made the importance of reproductive labour even more obvious. While some of this labour is unpaid within the household, some of it is located in the labour market, yet poorly paid. The working conditions in socially reproductive jobs are often harsh and make it hard for those in such employment conditions to find time and the resources to care for their own families. Many of these jobs are undertaken by migrants, including those with insecure migration status and who are targets of hostile environment policies. While austerity and ongoing racist migration policies, including the No Recourse to Public Funds policy, have already put many migrants in a position where they were denied the right to sustain, support, and care with dignity for themselves and their families, this situation has become even worse during the pandemic – despite the fact that much of the labour, both paid and unpaid- of social reproduction is increasingly being recognized as indispensable. 

This seminar brings together feminist, antiracist and Marxist perspectives to interrogate the connections between unpaid and paid work in social reproduction through racialization and migration. With an increasingly racialized and migrant workforce in socially reproductive jobs, with precarious social and welfare rights, what does it mean to work for reproductive justice? How can thinking through social reproduction help us to understand global connections and disconnections? How can we foster solidarities for reproductive justice locally and transnationally? 


Sara Farris: Social Reproduction in the times of a pandemic. Sara Farris is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. Most recently, she is the author of In the Name of Women’s Rights. The Rise of Femonationalism (Duke 2017) and of numerous books and articles on gender, migration, race/racism, social reproduction and social/political theory.

Yasmin Gunaratnam: The violence that sustains us, plantations, care and the pandemic Yasmin Gunaratnam teaches sociology at Goldsmiths. She works on race, gender, migration, disability and bodies. She is an editor of the journal Feminist Review.

Gwyneth Lonergan: Migrant women, reproductive justice, and the hostile environment during the Covid pandemic Gwyneth Lonergan was awarded her PhD in Sociology by the University of Manchester in 2016. She is currently a Welcome Trust Research Fellow in Social Science and Bioethics researching migrant women’s experiences of maternity care within the NHS in Manchester, Leeds, and Kirklees. Her research interests include migration and citizenship, in particular how racialised and gendered discourses around citizenship interact with neoliberal restructuring and impact experiences and practices of biological and social reproduction


Umut Erel is Professor of Sociology at the Open University. She has widely published on the intersections of migration, ethnicity, citizenship, racism, gender, class. Her methodological interests are in creative and participatory methods for research and engagement.

Rachel Rosen is an Associate Professor of Childhood at UCL. Her research concerns unequal childhoods at the intersections of generation, migration, and social reproduction. Current research includes ‘Social reproduction in the shadows: migrant mothers and children with NRPF’ and ‘Solidarities: negotiating migrant deservingness’.

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