By now there is sufficient evidence to suggest that women have had it much worse during pandemic. From domestic abuse to increased work load, women have been pushed to the limits. These findings were recently published by Nature where it has been argued that women are affected more than men by the social and economic consequences of infectious disease outbreaks.
Most household chores and child care responsibilities fall on them. They are also likely to the primary care giver of an ill family member. Lockdowns have made them more vulnerable to domestic violence and their access to reproductive and sexual health services has been hindered. Moreover they are likely to lose their jobs more often than men since they are already in jobs with lesser security.
However limited data is being collected on the gender differences during a pandemic. Policy response is similarly limited. Oxfam recently came up with brief on effect of lockdown on domestic violence. The brief uses data from NCW that reported a 100% rise in complaints of domestic violence cases. A nationwide WhatsApp number was then launched by the NCW to provide an alternate method for women to report domestic abuse. There are several reasons for the same. The lockdown restricted movement and access to safe spaces for escape. Moreover, means of communication with trusted family members was limited. Similarly formal channels under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act had not been identified as an essential service during the lockdown. Hence, the protection officers were not able to visit households of victims, NGOs were not able to have physical interactions with them and the police officers being at the frontline in our effort to tackle COVID-19 were overstretched to help victims effectively.
For many women pandemic has disrupted the delicate and difficult work like balance they had tried to achieve. With limited child care options, online schooling and household chores, work from home for women became a nightmare and it resulted in productivity losses and many losing their jobs. Economic downturn has meant that finding a new job is next to impossible. Most women also realized that men actually take little responsibility for household and childcare with Indian men faring worst in this regard. Pre lockdown socio economic survey conducted by NSSO showed that while women spend 84% of their day on unpaid activities, men spend 80% of theirs on paid work. In addition, only 26% of men reported doing any kind of housework. Of those, 8% of men reported participating in house cleaning for any length of time, and just 6% reported participating in cooking for any length of time.
Women’s health has also been neglected. Pregnant women are high-risk group for COVID-19 and have thus found themselves especially vulnerable, anxious and isolated during the year. Some pregnancy related check ups etc. have also reduced often at the cost of health of mother and child. Women undergoing fertility treatments have faced a frustrating delay in their plans. This is apart from the host of other chronic conditions women are facing and are unable to get regular treatment for. Added stress of work and household chores has further diminished their health.
Report by non-profit international aid organization CARE showed that pandemic has caused a crisis in women’s mental health. They have been isolated and cooped up at home, their support structure has become inaccessible and unpaid labour around the house has increased exponentially, income losses have been severe and access to mental health services has been curtailed. Director of Knowledge Management at CARE and primary author of the report Emily Janoch said, “Six months ago, CARE sounded the alarm that the global health crisis would only widen the gender gap and reverse decades of progress across women’s health, nutrition and economic stability. And after six months of listening to women and capturing their stories, our alarm bell is ringing louder than ever. Our data must be a call to action for the entire global community to mount a more effective and equitable response to Covid-19.”
There is an urgent need to understand and capture gender wise differences with regards to effect of pandemic. This must be in areas of income, mental, physical and sexual health, safety, division of household labour and child care responsibilities and access to support networks – professional and intimate family and friend ones. The resultant policy must account for these differences and work towards addressing the specificity of needs of women who have especially suffered due to pandemic. This has especially been true for women who are economically weaker, suffering from other health conditions, who are young mothers with jobs and away from family, young women students, young career women, old women living with little support, women from religious and sexual minorities, STs and SCs who anyway face multiple deprivations, migrant and domestic workers who work with little job security often as casual labour etc. If their needs are not efficiently addressed then the world will have another crisis in post COVID world.
The views expressed above are author’s own.