Gendered imbalances in the burden of domestic labour are making life incredibly difficult for women during lockdown, says Ria Sardana.
Gender equality isn’t a new concept, but a centuries-old fight. Some battles have been won, others still seem out of reach.
There is a perverse irony that perhaps one of the greatest victories in that fight has now so unjustly burdened women. Women fought for so long for equal employment and the right to earn a living. And whilst great strides have been made here, now too often they find they have disproportionately hectic schedules, and extremely stressful lives.
The progress made in the economic sphere, has been stymied and twisted by the ongoing injustices in the domestic sphere.”
Women, whether working or not, are still expected to take on the full weight of domestic work and childcare. Even if in wealthier families this means organising a staff of domestic workers rather than filling these duties directly. This forces women to choose between a family or a job, or an attempt to juggle both at the risk of their mental health. A decision men do not have to make.
Shouldering the Burden of the Pandemic
This problem has been further magnified by the pandemic. For wealthier women, the lack of household help has meant that all kinds of domestic chores, like cooking, and cleaning, have been added on top of meetings and work deadlines. For those women usually working in domestic service positions their financial independence has been shattered.
The continuing traditional notion that women bear sole responsibility for the upbringing of children has further compounded the issue. With creches and schools shut women, whether housewives, employed or unemployed have had to deal with the extra workload of their whole family being at home all the time. These situations are just the tip of the iceberg. For other women, such as the pregnant, women with newborns and women with mental and physical disabilities, things are even more complicated.
It is in this context that domestic violence has seen a disturbing spike. Domestic violence has always been an unfortunately prevalent problem but according to recent data, reports of abuse to the NCW doubled from February to March 2020. The problem is not just in India, but around the world. And sadly these statistics only reflect the number of women who have been able to reach out. The true scale of the problem is often hidden from view by fear and stigma.
The pandemic has left women more vulnerable than ever. I have been working with other young people to reach as many women as possible in the communities we are in touch with through digital mediums to ensure their safety but given the confined spaces they live in, there is only so much that we can do. As this pandemic drags on, and we spend more of our lives indoors, it is essential that we talk about and begin to address the inequalities and injustices of the domestic sphere, both in terms of labour and violence.
Ria Sardana has worked as a Youth Accountability Advocate with Restless Development India on the issue of Gender Based Violence. She is currently the founder of a social initiative The Millennial Men Co.