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Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta* 

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support.
The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.
To address this issue and to pave the way for solutions, the Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organized a #WebPolicyTalk under the State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on the topic Pathways towards Combating the Third Wave: Impact and Policy Learnings from the Second Wave Through a Gender Lens.
The talk commenced with Prof Vibuti Patel, economist, and feminist, former professor, Tata Institute of Social Studies (TISS), Mumbai, giving the backdrop of the second wave, where people were shattered and scared by a large number of deaths, and volunteers were stigmatized by sheer mental health issues.
She addressed the issues which would be the primary reason in the third wave, lack of medical infrastructure, awareness among people, and low rate of vaccination. She highlighted lack of health investment by the government.
Dr Ravi Vaswani, professor, Department of Internal Medicine, and clinical Covid officer, Yenepoya Medical College, Yenepoya (deemed to be university), Mangalore, Karnataka, has been working for the past one-and-a-half years in Covid-19 hospitals. He narrated his experiences as a change-maker and the lessons he learned to the centre stage.
First of all, he suggested, one shouldn’t panic. The conflict got worse because of the panic among the individuals, doctors to governments. Secondly, switch off your social media, the main source for misinformation and panic, he insisted. Thirdly, Covid appropriate behaviour should be the new norm. We should accept that we are required to wear masks, sanitize our hands regularly and maintain social distancing, he said. And finally, one should respect frontline workers, who work continuously for the betterment of the people.
The lesson for doctors is to not rush to treat patients, be calm, and properly research the use of medication before application. The lesson for the Central and the State governments is to promote social health and medical insurance, upgrade and enhance medical infrastructure at every level, increase the number of medical staff in hospitals, and pay more salaries to them. All these developments should be done on an equitable public-private partnership.

Women during pandemic

Jayashree Velankar, director, Jagori, New Delhi, highlighted not only the carelessness on the government’s end, despite being warned about the second wave, but also the hesitance and inaccuracy of government data. She recommended the policies that should be formulated based on the gender- relevant data.
Domestic violence and other problems faced by women and children, as being the secondary citizens of the society, has deteriorated the problem of anemia and other easily transmitted diseases among them, she said. Non-transmittable diseases among women are prevalent, but still hospitalisation and treatment have been substantially fewer as compared to men. This condition got worse during the pandemic.
Vaccine policy and research are driven by the interest and profit motive of capitalists. The burden of the household has gone unnoticed, reinforcing gender norms. A universal public distribution system and maternity benefits should be enforced. The biggest policy learning would be disparity among people, which leads to fatalism accompanied by irrational policymaking. The next step should be to make our policies rational and base them on properly evaluated data.
Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, founder, The Prajnya Trust, Chennai, said, there was lack of support or sensitization. Victims of inter-caste or LGBTIQ marriages and relationships particularly suffered. Women across sectors were more affected compared to men, as the excess workload took a toll on their work performance, and that is never taken into account. During lockdowns, work division among genders, cases of domestic violence and non-consensual sex were the prime issues.
Kiran Desai, professor, Centre for Social Studies, Surat, gave details of the plight faced by migrant workers during the pandemic. The terrible standards of living and poor working conditions are a norm among them. The pandemic worsened their misery. 
Pandemic took a toll on the people living in slums, as they became a hub for the spread of virus, challenging the authorities
Most of the labourers were not paid for the work they did before the pandemic. Living in the city was not an option as they had exhausted their savings. The trains and buses arranged by the government were heavily mismanaged and lacked basic needs, with many walking their way to home.
During the second wave, many migrant workers refused to go home, citing lack of facilities. The rural employment programme could have helped that but it is poorly funded. Underpaid work and inaccessibility to Covid vaccine are prime concerns that are still not being addressed. Irregular employment has been a constant issue. Many new government policies for migrant workers are not working as they lack political will.

Second wave in different regions

Brinelle D’Souza, assistant professor, Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, TISS, Mumbai, andd Co-convenor, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Mumbai, referring to health issues in the financial capital of Mumbai, said, even though the number of cases steadily increased, investment in medical infrastructure remained a major problem.
The pandemic took a toll on the people living in slums, as they became a hub for the spread of virus, challenging the authorities and individuals during the second wave. Vaccines, which could be the only hope, are in short supply and poor people are heavily deprived of it.
She outlined how the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan made an effective cnge in Mumbai during the second wave. Its commitment and dedication helped thousands. She talked about its collaboration with other civil society organisations and the government to reduce the effect of the second wave. She briefly explained how we could reduce the gender divide, which is been created by the pandemic.
Dr Tauseef Fatima, assistant professor, Centre for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, has conducted extensive research on women’s labour in various cities of Uttar Pradesh. Most of the women worked in the textile industry, lock industry, or electroplating.
These women faced the common issue of lack of orders and worsening conditions. Most of the women who worked in the informal sector have changed their mode of survival. The women faced a lack of work during the lockdowns. In the first wave the government support was helpful, but during the second wave these supports were missing.
Alpana Borgohain, professor, Department of Women’s Studies, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam gave a background of the geography and demographics of the North-East. Se talked about the spread of the virus in the state and the public health system being a major disappointment in the second wave.
She brought into focus issues like mental health, domestic violence, etc. The health care system has not been fair to women, not only it is dominated by the men but also the income and benefits to women are much less as compared to the men.
In these times, staying at homes is suggested as a solution, but not everyone can do so. Women at home face mental health issues and extreme work burdens. Organ trafficking became a mode opted by locals to generate income. Women suffered hugely as a result. Apart from the policy changes, she suggested that the boost in the vaccination process could be a possible solution.
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*With IMPRI. Inputs: Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta, Anshula Mehta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary

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