Standing With Nurses Is a Feminist Project
What is the enduring image of the Covid-19 pandemic? For me, it is the nurse at the bedside, on the front lines of this global emergency, overcoming her own fear of illness to provide care to patients and to offer comfort in the face of likely death. For millions of nurses living in countries where Covid-19 vaccines continue to be scarce, this is an image of everyday life. But even in countries where the worst of the illness has dissipated, we are only beginning to understand the toll that this work—day after day—has taken on nurses’ lives.
We are in their debt, and that is why we must follow their lead. Right now, nurses unions from 28 different countries are rising up to defend their lives and to protect their patients by taking some of the world’s most powerful governments to court with a simple demand: Waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines, and end the pandemic now. I believe that it is essential for feminist movements not only to support these unions in their legal challenge, but also to make their struggle the central element of our organizing in the months to come.
In April this year, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, in widely reported public remarks after a week spent in the hospital recovering from Covid-19, paid tribute to “the two nurses who stood by his bedside” during his illness. About a month later, one of the nurses, Jenny McGee resigned from her post, fed up with his government’s treatment of health care workers. “The NHS saved my life, no question,” he said. A year in, NHS workers now face erosion of pay and pensions.