Article 3

2020-04-16 Stefano Basaglia

Covid-19 and the Prison of Categories

A broad debate is developing in Italian media on the so-called "phase 2" of the coronavirus emergency. This period will involve the gradual opening of non-essential activities (remember that essential ones are already open) and the reduction of the restrictions on mobility for citizens. In this debate, various categories are used to distinguish between businesses and workers.

For businesses, the first major distinction is that between those that operate in essential sectors and non-essential sectors. This division into categories can be problematic, because while on the one hand it is possible for there to be non-essential businesses that due to their physical structure, the characteristics of their production process and the method of organization of work, are able to guarantee smartworking and/or the safety of their workers, on the other, it is possible that some essential businesses are not able to implement smartworking and/or guarantee worker safety. So there is a need to distinguish not only between essential and non-essential activities, but to try to combine essentiality with a guarantee of worker safety.

As for workers, some suggest a return to activity based on age (younger first, then older). Others[1] have suggested that women could be the first to start working again. The reason for these proposals is that young people and women seem to have a lower rate of mortality compared to the elderly and men. In this case as well, though, there is a risk of rolling the dice, because we still don't have a clear idea of the risk factors behind these differences in the mortality rate; they could be due to genetic, behavioral, social, or cultural factors. So thinking simplistically about categories of age or gender could be risky. It would be better to start with a distinction between those who are immune and those who aren't. To do this, though, requires testing, with valid and reliable data and information. But at the moment, this is not available.[2]

Lastly, the question of categories had an effect on the composition of the so-called phase 2 task force. Apart from the considerations on the advisability and utility of this body,[3] some have pointed out that of the 17 members of the committee, only 4 are women.[4] This opens up the age-old debate on what elements should be taken into consideration when a joint body is formed: technical competence? Professional background? Age? Gender? Political preferences? Sexual orientation? Ethnic origin? A balance between all of these characteristics? Is it always possible to find a balance between the technical efficacy and the equity of representation along multiple dimensions? It's also notable that little has been said[5] about another task force, called "Women for a New Renaissance," instituted by the Department for Equal Opportunity. The goal of this task force is to "develop ideas and proposals for the social, cultural, and economic revival of Italy after the Covid-19 epidemiological emergency." Out of 12 members, 12 are women.