Skip to main content

Gendered impact of 'catastrophic' second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in India

By Ishika Chaudhary, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar* 

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance. – Kofi Annan
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has layers of crisis embedded in it as it’s a political crisis, economic crisis, humanitarian crisis, and psychological crisis. India has the largest number of cases in Asia and the second highest confirmed cases as of June 25, 2021. 
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a public health crisis in India. The shortage of oxygen, vaccines, beds and basic health amenities has been reported. In May 2021, World Health Organization (WHO) has declared two variants in India ‘Delta’ (B.1.617.2) and ‘Kappa’ (B.1.617.1).
The catastrophic second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated miseries and inequalities to a great extent. The gendered impact of this is visible in the increasing cases of unequal access to opportunity based on one’s gender, economic dimensions, mental health, domestic violence, abuse, and sexual harassment. The National Commission of Women (NCW) received 2,383 domestic violence complaints between January and May 2021, the highest since 2000.
Moreover, to describe the gravity of the situation, the term Shadow Pandemic has been used to highlight the violence perpetrated against women and the unaccounted miseries that arose during the pandemic. However, the depiction of gender-based violence against women during the ongoing pandemic as a “Shadow pandemic” can be contested. This is because violence against women is very much embedded and visible in our deep-rooted structures, social norms, and societal behaviour, portraying the situation as rather Business as Usual (BAU).
Here we examine the dynamics of violence, caregiving burden, economic dimension, ASHA & Anganwadi workers, period poverty, digital illiteracy, overall well-being, and way forward.

Violence

Gender-based violence is a spectrum. It can take the form of physical, sexual, and psychological violence. It lies at the intersection of other identities like race, class, religion, caste, and socioeconomic status, which further makes the situation dreadful.
Home is considered to be a place full of warmth, love, and affection but the pandemic has revealed that the definition of home varies according to individual experiences. Living with a family member who is abusive traps an individual in a cage, wherein it becomes difficult to even find space to breathe.
According to NCW, over 70% of women who experienced physical violence during Covid did not seek help or tell anyone about it.
Preventive, curative, and systemic support needs to be ensured to the survivors of violence. One-stop crisis centres need to more effective in reaching out to the victims of domestic violence. Awareness needs to be built regarding the laws and rights of women.

Caregiving burden

In a patriarchal setup, women are responsible for all the household chores and taking care of the family, which has led to caregiver burden. Caregiving is multifaceted. Studies show that women experience more secondary stressors i.e. relational and financial problems, combined with different tasks.
Oxfam India estimated that women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. It is equivalent to the contribution of Rs 19 lakh crore (trillion) a year to the Indian economy.
The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of India, released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementationin 2019, indicated that the only sector which has a larger number of women getting vocational training is work related to childcare, nutrition, pre-school, and crèches. Women are the primary caregivers all across the world and constitute almost 70% of the global health workforce but it is estimated that they hold only 25% of senior roles.
Working women are finding it more difficult to work from home due to additional family responsibilities. According to a Deloitte report, a Global survey finds that nearly seven out of 10 women who experienced negative shifts in their routine as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic believe their career progression will slow down. Virginia Woolf said it right that women need their own space to pursue their dreams.
The movie “The Great Indian Kitchen” depicts how gender roles are embedded in our perceptions of each other. Doing household chores and cooking is considered to be natural for a woman, as she must know that her end destiny is getting married and fulfilling household responsibilities at the end of the day. This stereotypical perception needs to be challenged by active interventions at the micro-level.

Economic dimension

India’s female labor force participation rate (FLPR) has been declining for over three decades. While 36% of male workers lost employment during the lockdown in 2020, 74% of female workers lost jobs. Raising FLPR to the same level as men can boost India’s GDP by 27%. The reasons for the low participation rate are lack of formal wage opportunities, socio-cultural norms, lack of workplace safety, and less access to education.
The Union Labour and Employment Ministry told the parliamentary standing committee on 23rd June 2021 that it doesn’t have any data on women’s participation in the labor force. For effective policymaking, data is a prerequisite.
Schemes of the government like Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, Self Help Groups, Skill Development, PMAY, SBM, Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana Scheme, Mission Shakti, and the One-stop center scheme have been beneficial to women. India needs to focus on interlinking women’s issues and building a comprehensive outlook. An integrated approach that focuses on sensitization can enhance women’s rights in the long run.

ASHA and Anganwadi workers

The majority of the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi workers are women. They have been the lifeline of the country amidst this pandemic as they are working on the ground level and providing services to the people. But there is no system for ASHA workers. They are not treated as permanent workers and are considered activists and volunteers.
ASHA workers have helped to build a deep connection among the people in rural areas as their role in distributing oxy-meters, thermometers and creating awareness has been very significant. However, due to a lack of personal protective equipment, many ASHA workers have succumbed to this virus.
They are paid a meagre sum of rupees 2000-3000 per month, which doesn’t adequately compensate for the tremendous work they are doing. They are protesting countrywide for their right to work with dignity, in accordance with Article 21 enshrined in the Indian Constitution. We need to move from Relief to Reform. Educational and counselling sessions need to be organized for these workers.

Period poverty

Period poverty refers to a lack of access to menstrual hygienic products, especially for women in rural areas and those belonging to weaker sections of society. We need to ensure that pads, menstrual cups, tampons, soap, and napkins are included in the list of the essential items as according to UNICEF, “Essential hygiene products are a priority for the health, dignity, and welfare of all people who menstruate”.
Taboo and stigma around menstruation need to be tackled with a mitigation approach. Awareness mechanisms need to be created by the government to move towards an equitable future.

Digital illiteracy

Due to digital illiteracy in rural areas and the perception that women should not be given mobile phones, women find it difficult to seek help via helpline numbers and even to get vaccinated.
Digital inclusive policies are the need of the hour.
Equal opportunities need to be provided to everyone irrespective of gender. Door-to-door vaccination drives are essential. Education programs should be conducted at the ground level to generate awareness among the masses.

Overall well being

The mental health of women needs more attention. A research study by CARE International revealed that while almost everyone experienced anxiety and emotional fatigue because of the pandemic, women suffered three times more when it came to mental health. Psychological health services need to be included in primary health care. Every individual should know Psychological first-aid.
The Covid-19 pandemic is traumatic not only because it threatens our and our loved ones’ existence but also because it threatens the cultural norms, frameworks and habits that we deem granted and assume will still operate after we’re gone.
People, during this pandemic, are experiencing “Group Trauma”, as it is a collective trauma shared by society. Therefore, trauma-informed care must be given attention. We need to remember “Emotions need motion”, that it is okay to be sad, anxious, or angry as these are human emotions and they need time to pass by. We need to build more empathetic communities and find ways to stay connected with each other.

Way forward

Covid-19 has revealed stark inequities in India. India needs to invest more in research and development (R&D) as that can lead to innovative policymaking. Gender-responsive budgeting and policy-making can go a long way in mitigating this crisis. Gender segregated data needs to be maintained for effective policymaking. Sex workers and the LGBTQ+ community’s concerns need to be incorporated into the broader policy framework.
Women should be decision-makers for moving towards an egalitarian future. A gender-sensitive monitoring system has to be developed. Stories of women’s valour during the Covid-19 pandemic need attention as Empowerment of women is the only way towards real #AatmaNirbharBharat and #NewIndia.
---
*Researchers at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i