Measures taken to slow the spread of the COVID19 pandemic in India are demanding ever more unpaid work from women, curtailing their opportunity for paid work and putting them at increased risk of violence, says Angelin Jenifer.
Physical distancing measures, school closures and overburdened health systems have meant increased demand on women and girls to provide around the clock care for children, the sick and the elderly. The absence of household help has forced them to do all this by themselves. These domestic workers, who are mostly women that migrate from rural areas, are also massively impacted by the pandemic. They are usually hired by middle class urban women; financial pressures and movement constraints mean many have lost their jobs. This informal sector rarely provides legal contracts and there is little regulation or support for these women.
Lockdown, although now partially lifted in most places, still means limited availability of public transport. The metros, railways and buses women use to reach work have been deprioritised as they aren’t major commuter routes. If this continues for long, it will only magnify the damage to women’s position in families and society.
Boys get phones and girls get left behind.”
In rural India, it is considered a taboo for young girls to have access to mobile phones. If there is limited economic resource in the family, boys get phones and girls get left behind. The digital gender gap is growing, and as online classes and working from home have become the new norm, the consequences of this unequal access to technology are greater than ever. Especially in rural areas, where internet access and smartphone ownership are least common. Post-pandemic this might exacerbate gender inequalities in education and the job market as well.
Women’s employment and remedial services to combat domestic violence must become a priority in the recovery efforts. The social and economic crisis of COVID-19 must be understood through the lens of gender. Initiatives to enhance digital access and skills should be scaled up and targeted specifically to low-income women. The policy response to this crisis must be structured around rebuilding economies and societies in ways that empower women to lead safe, productive and fulfilling lives. Right now, our response is making matters worse.
Angelin Jenifer, a Public Policy student working as a Youth Accountability Advocate with Restless Development, New Delhi. Her focus area is Gender Based Violence, she works in raising awareness in a slum community.