GenPol’s Quarantine Kitchen: Giorgia’s Focaccia Pugliese

I made this last week after my mum sent me 10 kg of flour from Italy: she thought it essential that I keep eating focaccia in these extremely uncertain times. The pungent smell of the yeast sent me directly back to my grandma’s kitchen – it was my madeleine moment. Best eaten just out of the oven. And don’t hold back on the olive oil!

Giorgia xx

Focaccia recipe:

  • 500 g flour
  • 300 g of water
  • A spoonful of oil
  • 25 g brewer’s yeast
  • A large pinch (about 2 teaspoons fine salt)
  • A little sugar
  • 1 boiled potato (strained)
  • Preheat your oven to 220. Put the yeast in the slightly warm water and mix with a spoon until it dissolves. Add salt, sugar, oil and mix together (add potato if you want).
  • Add the flour slowly, until it is absorbed and the dough becomes smooth with small bubbles. Put in a ceramic bowl, cover with a tea towel and let it prove for about half an hour under two pillows or a blanket, until the dough is bubbly and entirely fills the bowl. Take an iron pan (if you have one), put plenty of oil to cover the bottom, roll out the dough with your hands by putting a little oil on the surface so it doesn’t stick to your hands.
  • Season with sliced tomatoes (or peeled, seasoned and crushed), salt, pepper, oregano or basil. Place your pan in the oven for 20/30 minutes.
  • Remove it as soon as the top is golden brown.

The Impact of Covid19 on Single Mothers

Alessandra Sciarra

Alessandra recently graduated from LSE with a master’s degree in International Social and Public Policy. She is interested in gender dynamics, economic inequality and informality and advocates for the rights of women and minority groups.

************

By now, there should be no doubt that when a crisis strikes different groups are hit differently. As the COVID-19 emergency has shown us so far, a pandemic ends up magnifying existing – and often conveniently ignored – inequalities.

The situation faced by single mothers exemplifies the effects of the pandemic on women. In the UK alone, there are about two million single parents, 90% of which are women. Around 70% of all single parents in the country are currently in work and, out of them, three out of ten live in poverty. School closures and self-isolation have meant that single mothers have all of a sudden found themselves alone with children at home. Self-isolation makes it extremely difficult to count on the help of family members and many women have reported the stress of being locked inside all the time looking after children on their own, while, in some cases, also caring for the elderly in the family. At the same time, single mothers tend to work in more precarious, low paid jobs, which do not offer the option of remote working. Thus, this situation forces them to decide whether going to work, exposing themselves to the risk of infection and having no one to look after their children, or staying home, eventually losing their job

The mental stress that comes from this situation is extremely high and is worsened by the implications of children staying at home. These include an increase in food costs as single mothers now have to deal with the additional and unexpected economic burden of substituting school lunches with home-made meals. For a single mother of two that means providing ten extra meals per week. From a social policy standpoint, the situation in which single mothers currently are allows us to draw a few lessons. Firstly, the austerity measures implemented throughout Europe in the past years, which have led to cuts in budgets for welfare programmes targeted to categories deemed as “undeserving”, clearly have a responsibility in the poor coverage and low support that many women are now receiving. Secondly, the caretaking systems that many countries have in place at the moment are just not good enough. The lack of available and affordable care services places too much of a burden on women, who are not able to break out from the cycle of less secure and lower paid part-time job positions. Many single parents do indeed prefer to work more flexible but lower paid and lower quality jobs, as it allows them to perform the level of care-taking they actually need. 

The vulnerability of this of women during the pandemic calls for emergency measures to be implemented as quickly as possible. Access to financial support schemes should be easy and quick and extra money should be put into the system to allow everyone’s needs to be met. A gender-neutral policy-making is not going to be effective as it is not going to cover the needs of those groups who are systematically disadvantaged. While it is pivotal to act intelligently during the crisis, it seems clear that these issues are rooted in deeper gender-based disparities and more has to be done during normal times in order to strengthen women’s position in society. 

COVID-19 is a disaster for women worldwide, threatening to turn the clock on gender equality. But it could also offer a window of opportunity for change and evidence-driven policy advocacy. In order to shape improved and gender-sensitive future policies, it is now important to record how differently this pandemic is affecting women and men. As vulnerable single women are currently paying much of the cost of poor and narrow-sighted policy making, this situation offers us a chance to rebuild a system that was insufficient in the first place. 

 

GenPol’s Quarantine Kitchen: Polpette di Carmn

This dish reminds me of childhood. The smell of the fried meat reminds me of home. It’s not a bad smell, because fried meatballs are a festive dish: something we eat to celebrate. The pine nuts make it special. As a child, I would put pinecones on the fire to burn. I always loved the smell of incense. I grew up in church and convent and was very devout as a little girl. Pine nuts bring back good memories because I associate them with incense: that scent of solemn days. Maybe that’s why I chose to listen to Bach when I was making these. Neapolitan cuisine is as solemn as classical music!

If you want to make your own polpette, you will need:

  • Stale bread soaked in water
  • Minced beef
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated cheese
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Parsley
  • Pine nuts
  • Raisins
  • Herbs/ Spices (I use rosemary and a bay leaf)

 

Mix everything together in a bowl, using the second egg to help you bind the mixture into balls. I measure- and make- things instinctively so I can’t really give you precise amounts. This recipe will give you the measurements for roughly 25 meatballs though (small ones……I usually make them large!)

Buon Appetito,

Carmn

 

What a Virologist Thinks You Should Know About CoVid-19: GenPol in Conversation with Nerea Irigoyen

As part of our ongoing Covid-19 series, this week GenPol were lucky enough to interview  Dr Nerea Irigoyen, a virologist from the University of Cambridge.  In 2010, Nerea was appointed as a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow (Wellcome Trust), working under the supervision of Prof Ian Brierley, recording mechanisms in retrovirus and coronavirus. Since September 2018, she has been working as a Research Group Leader focusing on Zika Virus translation and its relationship with pathogenicity and disease.

We sat down to gauge her thoughts about the Covid-19 pandemic, and what she thinks you should know about it.

1) What’s life in your lab/department like these days? How are you holding up?

On Friday 20th March, all the labs in our Department were shut down. The University of Cambridge activated the red alert on Wednesday and gave us 48 hours to finish all the essential experiments. Since then, the whole lab has been working remotely!

2) What are you and your colleagues working on exactly?

In the lab we are working on the Zika virus. The Zika virus made the headlines in 2016 when it was linked to the sudden spike in babies born with significantly smaller heads, (what is also known as microcephaly) in Latin America. The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and isolated in Africa in 1947, was never considered remarkable because previous cases had been asymptomatic. Therefore, our main interest in the lab is to know what sets the new American Zika virus apart from the African Zika virus and to know whether there are differences in how they replicate, produce their viral proteins and ultimately how they can cause disease.


3) At GenPol we have been looking at the gendered and intersectional implications of the pandemic. What are your thoughts on this?

The last two pandemics (Zika virus in 2016 and the current SARS-CoV-2) have had a huge effect on women. During the outbreak in Latin America, the Zika virus caused profound social impacts, particularly on women and girls. Despite recommendations from health authorities in endemic countries to postpone pregnancies for up to two years, it was made difficult for young women to avoid pregnancy due to a lack of clear reproductive health information by the Brazilian public health system. It was also difficult to access long-term contraceptives. In addition, abortion is criminalized in many Latin American countries and can be punishable with a 20-30 year prison sentence.

Women in Brazil also sought abortion through clandestine means, often involving dangerous methods such as caustic acid. In 2015, half a million women in Brazil underwent abortions, and tragically unsafe abortion was the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality. Furthermore, the lives of mothers with children diagnosed with Congenital Zika Syndrome have been profoundly impacted, with many women unable to maintain a job, whilst having to pay for medication and travel costs to access consultations in urban areas.

Associations that help victims of domestic violence have raised the alarm after Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the stress caused by social isolation is exacerbating tensions and increasing the risk of domestic and sexual violence against women and children. In addition, fears for job security and financial difficulties are also increasing the likelihood of conflicts in homes with no previous history of domestic abuse. In this sense, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has indicated that refuges will remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being physically or emotionally abused. In addition, it is important to be aware that millions of children are spending more time online and that they may be even more vulnerable to online predators.

4) Why is SARS-CoV-2 so virulent? What makes it different from other viruses you have been studying?

This novel coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2 is not so virulent compared to the ‘cousin’ virus SARS-CoV but more easily transmissible. The SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003 in China had a fatality rate of 10% but did not have the capacity to spread as easily as this.

SARS-CoV-2 has managed to spread across the globe in just a few weeks (it is important to notice that the first pneumonia cases in China were reported by late December) but although the fatality rate will be 1-2%, the great number of cases is hugely increasing the number of deaths.

The real dangers of this virus are that it is completely new for humans and not very well adapted yet. This is why it is so pathogenic. In addition, we do not have any immune memory to combat it yet. Also, viruses that are transmitted through respiratory droplets, produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, are easily transmitted compared to other viruses such as mosquito-borne like Zika virus.

6) What is the likelihood of more different strains developing?

Unlike flu viruses, coronaviruses can proofread their genomes as they copy them, correcting mistakes along the way. This feature reduces their mutation rate and is probably the one bit of good news about coronaviruses. This makes coronaviruses less of a moving target for our immune system and our immunity will likely last for longer.

7) Is another recurrence (or second wave) of a a pandemic likely in your opinion?

Quite likely. In the near future there are two possible scenarios for the recurrence of this epidemic unless a vaccine is available. The first one will be during the release of the lockdown and this is why is extremely necessary to test all the population in order to prevent asymptomatic carriers to infect new people. The second scenario will take place next autumn, as good weather might lower the virus transmission in the Northern hemisphere but there is a high chance that it will come back later in the year. In the worst case scenario, SARS-CoV-2 will arrive at the same time as flu virus and this will cause health systems to collapse extremely quick. This is why we should start to prepare now for a potential second wave.

Currently there are a lot of research groups working on developing a vaccine against this novel coronavirus. We need to take into account that vaccines do normally take years until they can be developed. In this case, as we have done a lot of previous work with related coronavirus such as SARS and MERS, we will probably reduce this time but even though we will not probably have a safe and effective vaccine for the next 12-18 months.

8) What are the personal dangers faced by scientists who work with the virus? How do you protect yourselves?

Laboratory workers handling this virus should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) which includes disposable gloves, laboratory coat/gown, respirator (e.g. N-95), and eye protection. Furthermore, any procedure with the potential to generate fine-particulate aerosols (e.g. vortexing or sonication of specimens in an open tube) should be performed in a Class II Biological Safety Cabinet. After specimens are processed, work surfaces and equipment should be decontaminated and all disposable waste should be autoclaved.

9) Are there many women scientists in your lab? How are they coping with the extra load of work and work/life balance in these difficult times?

There are a big number of female scientists in the Division of Virology especially at a graduate and postdoctoral level, for most of us this is going to be the first time working from home, and for an uncertain amount of time. The idea of continuing with our full-time jobs while simultaneously homeschooling children, attending to elderly or sick relatives is extremely challenging. I think we need to acknowledge this new situation and that it will take time to adapt, probably more than expected. Probably everything will start to improve once as we settle into our new routines (i.e. designate a workspace or defined working hours). For the time being, we need to keep as positive as possible, this will help at getting the work done and at maintaining our mental wellbeing.

10.) What can we in our daily life do to help protect the most vulnerable?

The best strategy to help the most vulnerable during the current epidemic is to stay at home and practice social distancing. So far, this is the only way to avoid the spread of the virus and to flatten the epidemic curve.

Another way of helping vulnerable people is volunteering. That includes helping with shopping, delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments, bringing them home from hospital, and making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. Remember always to carry out this work in a sensible and vigilant way, always maintaining the physical distancing rules.

 

Coronavirus and Social Justice: GenPol teams up with Fondazione Feltrinelli

As part of our CoVid19 series, our own Lilia Giugni was commissioned to write an op-ed for The Feltrinelli Foundation (Fondazione Feltrinelli).

Lilia’s article compares the social justice implications of the pandemic and related public health measures in the UK and her native Italy. It argues that the virus is brutally revealing the dramatic patterns of inequalities that underpin our ways of life, with the most vulnerable ones paying -as always- the heaviest price.

Italian speakers can read the article here

GenPol in the time of Coronavirus

This week the World Health Organisation has declared the current outbreak of the new Coronavirus a Pandemic, meaning that the virus is spreading across different countries, affecting large numbers of people at a global level.

In spite of the WHO’s declaration and the numbers which are clearly pointing towards a global phenomenon, something which many are already recognizing as a historical event. We’re observing governments still approaching the problem with different levels of concern and seriousness, and adopting radically different sets of measures to address the outbreak (also depending on the current severity of the epidemic on their national territory at a certain moment).

GenPol is a transnational project, conceived to promote gender equality and influence policies and stakeholders, across Europe and beyond, to include gender and social justice concerns in their behaviour.

At this time, it is imperative that we all act as a community, work at all levels to protect not only ourselves and our loved ones, but especially those who are most vulnerable in our societies. 

Women (and womxn) stand to be some of the most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as by the unprecedented safety measures many governments are adopting.  This includes women with unstable jobs (or no job at all), homeless women, victims and survivors of domestic violence, and all those who might not have a safe home where to self-quarantine. It includes single mothers, single older women, those who are more vulnerable to isolation and discrimination (women of colour, with a migrant background, or belonging to sexual and gender minorities), detained women, health workers and women operating in a (still) overwhelming gendered care sector. Mental health will also be a central topic in the weeks and months to come, as society comes to terms with the outbreak.

From today, and in spite of the limitations on our usual activities, GenPol is planning to continue working and focusing on analysing, researching, producing content and raising awareness on all these topics. We’ll also try to collect and highlight all available relevant resources across as many European countries as we can, which can be used by women experiencing difficult or distressing situations in these troubled times.

Take care of yourself and people close to you, keep connected and continue to fight the good fight.

 

The GenPol Team

 

GenPol Newsletter

Sign up to receive updates on our research and advocacy work (Read our privacy policy here)

Contact

If you would like to find out more about our research, advocacy and consultancy work, we warmly invite you to get in touch. We are not advertising for vacancies at the moment. Please note that we may not able to respond to unsolicited applications.

Contact Info

Gender & Policy Insights (10783588)
Registered address: 11 Peterhouse Mews
High Street Chesterton
CB4 1UW Cambridge
United Kingdom

GenPol is also a registered Italian charity (1269/3)
GenPol e' un'associazione culturale registrata
Registered address: via Schipa 91
80122 Naples
Italy