Socio-economic Impact of Covid-19 on Women
Today, women and girls are facing a double whammy - their sources of income have dried up but the workload has increased. There is a great need for gender-sensitive policies to recover from the pandemic.Dr. Manju Panwar | Updated: 06-06-2020 10:53 IST | Created: 06-06-2020 09:49 IST
Women constitute the first line of vulnerable class in any crisis but COVID-19 has made their life highly challenging and complicated. As millions of people have been forced to stay at home due to pandemic caused lockdown, women's livelihood stands standstill but the burden of work has increased at home.
In the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the women are in the high risk of contracting COVID-19 because they are the main caregivers in their homes, communities and health facilities. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2020 women make up to 70% of global healthcare workers and as much as 95% of long-term care workers. However, their sufferings are more than their male counterparts.
The women at home are also facing multiple problems. These problems and sufferings are higher for women in the underprivileged group that have single room accommodation for the whole family or living in makeshift accommodations. The surveys and media reports during the lockdown period also suggest an increase in gender crimes across communities.
There has been a steep rise in crime against women across the country due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. As per the record of the National Commission for Women (NCW), a total of 587 complaints were received from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 are related to domestic violence. The incidence of gender-based abuse and violence (GBV) is a "shadow pandemic," as highlighted by the UN Women and the World Health Organization (WHO). Women and girls are not only experiencing stress, enhanced workload and limited resources but they are also the victims of physical, sexual and mental abuse.
Concerned on the rising number of complaints related to domestic violence, NCW launched a WhatsApp number - 72177135372 - on April 10 to report domestic violence on an emergency basis during the lockdown. Today, women and girls are highly technology-savvy but they are helpless in using this number because of the patriarchal society. The male members of the family generally have control on mobile, computers and other forms of technical devices resulting in rarely reported cases of gender-based violence.
On the economic front too, women have been the hardest hit due to lockdown. No doubt, women have a large share in the workforce from hospital to industries. But it is unfortunate that women generally not only earning less but also holding insecure jobs which always has a risk of falling back below the poverty line. We all know that poverty is a problem but women experience higher rate and risks of poverty because they are under-compensated, over-represented in low wage jobs and do unpaid caregiving work.
Researches indicate that across the globe women earn less, save less and holding insecure jobs and more likely to be employed in the informal sector. Due to COVID-19, such kind of workers was first laid off by employers. At home too, women are sufferers of unpaid work. According to a study of the UN Women, the women contribute three times more time than men in household activities. The closure of the schools and daycare centres have intensified the working hours of the women and increased their burden.
Aliya Hamid Rao (2020) a sociologist professor at Singapore management university highlighted the point that women take longer to return to work after the lockdown because they are the ones who look after the family and men are primarily responsible for bringing bread and butter. As a result, women take a greater share of the unpaid housework which further hampers their growth and come in the category of unpaid employment. It has also been observed in the society that though men might be employed and their partner is working full time but still men feel discomfort in sharing their responsibilities of the household. Wenham et al (2020) have cautioned how important it is that within our response to a crisis, we address patriarchal norms, roles, and relations so that we do not end up reproducing or perpetuating gender and health inequalities and reinforcing economic deprivation of women.
The UNESCO recently reported that out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, over 89% are currently out of school because of COVID-19 related restrictions. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university, including nearly 743 million girls. According to Stefania Giannini, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education "due to the closure of the schools and colleges, it will create gender gap in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation and early and forced marriage". This has exposed the school going girls to further risks of being out of the education system and falling back in the vicious cycle of poverty.
The silver lining in dark clouds
It is imperative to mention here that the year 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the Bejing Platform for Action and various programmes and policies were thought of by many countries for achieving the goal of gender equality. But because of the spread of COVID 19 the limited gains that we have made in the past remain standstill or at the risk of being rolled back.
However, there is a silver lining in dark clouds. The pandemic has established that women are the best suited in handling this crisis. There is a lot of media attention paid to female leaders who have been effective in handling COVID-19 crisis. A new women leadership style has been praised all over the World and their potential has been acknowledged to fight with global threats. The examples of female leaders in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, and Taiwan are praiseworthy. These women are managing COVID-19 crisis better than their male counterparts.
Women have been making their mark from global to local in combating COVID-19. For example; Kudumbashree, a community organization of Neighborhood Groups (NHGs) of women in Kerala (India) has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19. The organization formed 1.9 lakh WhatsApp groups with 22 lakh NHG members to educate them about government instructions regarding COVID-19 during the lockdown.
What to be done?
In order to combat violence against women, it is imperative that community-based groups like SHGs, youth clubs and other important stakeholders like ASHA, village council, Anganwadi workers need to be trained to take immediate action and report if any case of domestic violence happens in her village. Men and boys also need to be roped in for the prevention of gender-based violence and they should be sensitized to share household works in the family.
It is painful to see that marginalized section of the society including women, girls landless workers, lower caste groups and people with disability have been hard hit by this pandemic. At this juncture, it is important to provide them with immediate emergency relief, food/nutritional security and health services. It is high time that government must join hands with big companies and industrialists and make the best use of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds in providing avenues to poor people particularly women so that they can sustain a livelihood. Banks need to be sensitized for providing loans to small and medium-sized companies led by women to restart their work.
There is no doubt that women have been hit the hardest by pandemic but they are the ones who will be instrumental in the recovery process. The need of the hour is to ensure their equal representation in all COVID 19 response planning and decision making. In every difficulty, there is a blessing in disguise and in the difficult times of COVID-19, there is an opportunity to address gender inequality and bridge the gender gap. As the women have proved themselves at all the fronts during the pandemic, the governments have no reason to neglect them in policy formulation and implementation. Women network and civil society organizations including microfinance and saving groups must be roped in for framing effective policies and programmes for women's development. It is imperative to consult, inform and negotiate with women while formulating the gender-responsive budget in the post-COVID-19 in order to achieve the goals of gender equality (SDG5) adopted by the United Nations as the 5th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2030).
NOTE: Dr. Manju Panwar is the Chairperson of the Department of Social Work, B .P. S Women's University, Khanpur Kalan, Sonipat, Haryana.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)
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