Lately, every iota of information seems to be about the much dreaded Coronavirus. The lockdown aims to ensure that India doesn’t have to deal with it blowing up all over the country. We read about how to avoid it, the importance of social distancing, and the most affected countries, but no one is talking about the gender implications.
One of the most evident impacts of Corona has been to disproportionately disrupt the lives of women everywhere, especially in India. Wait, hear us out:
Pressing Matters: Indoor Chores
It is no secret that women tend to contribute more around the house than men, especially in India. This stands true even when we aren’t confined to our own houses. The man of the house often finds household chores demeaning . The women’s prerogative is assumed to be care based responsibilities. This is because ‘maternal instinct’ is peddled as a woman’s gift and burden in life.
The backbone of most Indian households are the help: maids, cooks, malis, dhobis, and drivers help us run our lives relatively stress free. Now, the help is also confined to their own houses, which has disrupted the system completely. Additionally, the workload at home has only increased with kids staying home from school and the elderly at higher risk. The number of chores per household has increased exponentially, and who do you think is responsible for taking care of the kids, preparing food, washing clothes and doing the dishes?
In theory, both man and wife should divide up the work. In reality, the avalanche of household work falls on the female members of the house, regardless of whether they are working women or not. This is not just a prediction of a trend; hardcore numbers prove the point even before the lockdown. Indian women spend 298 minutes a day on unpaid household work compared to 19 minutes that the Indian man on an average spends on similar unpaid work. So the disparity in the division of work at home is not imagined.
The Hurtful Truth: Gender Violence
A lot of these women who have now been burdened with the lion’s share of the household tasks which take a toll on the physical and mental make up. Additionally, some women also suffer through unspeakable abuse at the hands of their spouses or in-laws or other family members. The National Family Health Survey stated that approximately 30% of women between the ages of 15-49 have suffered some form of physical abuse, and since we know that most cases of domestic violence go unreported, this is a conservative figure.
With the country wide lockdown, we’re all stuck at home, itching to go outside. While home is a safe space for many, we often forget that it isn’t a safe space for everyone. The lockdown has recorded a sudden rise in the number of domestic violence cases in India.
India, at its root, is a patriarchal country, where women must depend on their husbands for social and economic standing. One of the main reasons for under-reporting of serious violence and abuse is that Indian women fear social exclusion. With no adequate response to violence or ability to mount a staunch defence, perpetrators often get away never having to answer for their crimes. Now, with families locked up for days together, husbands take out their frustration on their wives. With the police busy trying to keep people in their houses, women end up bruised and battered for simply being present at home. There is no recourse to intervention or help available in the time of such a crisis.
Legal assistance and helplines were inadequate even when the world was not at a stand still. With Coronavirus putting the world on hold, women find themselves isolated and scared in their own homes, without anyone to turn to.
What does a pandemic do? It makes care work more prominent. Children and the elderly will require care, and without household help, women will be taking up the mantle. It also will be a matter of practicality: if one person must stay home, it should be the one who is paid less, right? COVID-19 started off as a somewhat concerning health crisis and has escalated to a full blown economic recession, maybe the worst the world has seen yet. Generally, women hold more vulnerable jobs with flexible hours, which also means they are the first to lose their jobs when recessions hit. Women are anticipating the loss of their job, disproportionately to men, and this will only add to an already declining female labour force.
Working mothers are predictably going to face a dilemma; their children are home from school and require care, not just day to day needs but also help with home-schooling. What the pandemic will essentially do, is take many households back to the 50’s where gender roles are rigid, and inequalities are obvious.
Not to mention the number of expected new pregnancies, at the end of this pandemic. 47 million women worldwide are expected to lose access to contraceptives if the pandemic lasts 6 months. We are in month 4. In a world with shrinking opportunities, how many women will be forced out of jobs because of their pregnancy?
“They estimate that the number of women unable to access family planning or facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices, could “skyrocket” by millions due to the crisis.”UN Women
The COVID-19 pandemic is a huge hit on feminism all over the world, and is already hitting developing countries like India in ways that will take years to recover from. It’s integral to figure out how to lockdown without making women’s mental health and equality collateral damage. Pandemics affect everyone disproportionately, and women are going to be one of the most affected groups.
Unfortunately, even after millennia of human existence, we have failed to build a society where gender isn’t a societal measure and each sex contributes equally to the household and the economy. Living in this reality, we cannot overturn and uproot an entire patriarchal setup overnight, but we, the educated class could be more mindful. Help out the women in your life: with chores, be a sounding board, and with fiscal responsibilities! We don’t have to be defined by our data trend, be the exception to rule and step forward to share in responsibilities!