The international response to Ebola has been decried for being ‘too slow, too little, too late’. As well as racing to respond, we need to consider what has happened over the past decades to leave exposed fault lines that enabled Ebola to move so rapidly across boundaries of people’s bodies, villages, towns and countries.
Gender is important to these fault lines in two related spheres. Women and men are differentially affected by Ebola, with women in the region taking on particular roles and responsibilities as they care for the ill and bury the dead, and as they navigate ever-diminishing livelihood options and increasingly limited health resources available to pregnant women. Furthermore, structural preconditions in ‘development’ itself have deepened these gendered fault lines.
A currently powerful set of ideas in gender and development discourse locates certain patterns of ‘non-modern’ gender relationships as the root cause of poverty and underdevelopment. This has encouraged development actors to underplay the much deeper forms of structural violence that underpin the vulnerability of men as well as women, in some of the world’s poorest communities. By focusing on the current health crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the dangers of this form of ‘gender scapegoating’ are revealed to be tragically stark.