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Feminism in The Post Pandemic World

by Rinku Khumukcham
0 comment 5 minutes read

By: Kaustov Kashyap, HR & Career Consultant
Author and journalist, Helen Lewis, has described the COVID-19 pandemic as a disaster for feminism. Women and girls are the worst affected social group across the world and the pandemic is already reversing most of the gains that women have made in the last century. However, the idea of feminism is so deeply misconstrued by men and women alike, a critical part of the conversation is missing. Indian feminism and feminist issues as they stand, most often, are not fully inclusive of all women or experiences. The problems of underprivileged women became nothing more than just facts and figures on paper. The feminist discourse became more nuanced and we moved on to talking about issues such as socialization, subtle messages of discrimination, glass ceilings, etc.
If we are not advocating for the women whose realities do not look or feel like our own, then we are unequivocally a part of the problem. As feminists, we’re all about upsetting the status quo, so we should pay attention to anything that makes doing so more difficult. Covid-19 pandemic is exposing and exploiting inequalities of all kinds, including gender inequality. Hunger, unemployment, and inequalities are on the rise. While all vulnerable populations will suffer, a gender lens is warranted as women, in particular, are ranked lowest in the hierarchy of caste, class, or religious stratification in the long term, its impact on women‘s health, rights, and freedoms could harm us all. In India, various states are considering or implementing an increase of daily working hours from eight to twelve hours and some have proposed dilution and removal of labor laws which may implicate key provisions around maternity and welfare. While a few of them have had the fortune of working with organizations that can sustain their operations with ‘Work from Home’ policies, not everyone has had the same luck.
The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 200 million jobs will be lost in the next three months alone. Women make up a significant part of the part-time and informal workforce around the world, and these are first to get cut when companies need to downsize the labor. As women are losing their paid employment, they face a huge increase in care work due to school closures, overwhelmed health systems, etc., This will further delay their return to the paid labor force. Currently, India ranks 112 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020. Given India’s poor track record on gender justice, the disproportionate impact wasn’t entirely out of blue. Gender inequality in labor force participation, wages, the burden of care, household work, and sharing of resources could be substantially altered due to the crisis. We know that women are more deprived along certain dimensions even in the non-poor households. After being 50% of the world, women comprise just in every 10 political leaders worldwide. They are disproportionately represented even in poorly paid jobs without benefits, as domestic workers, casual laborers, street vendors, etc.
Economic constraints may force poorer households at the margin to make tough choices that seem efficient but are also culturally sanctioned under a patriarchal setup. As incomes shrink, males may be prioritized for availing limited resources instead of females. This could have implications for food security, health, and education of females. Indian women are already more likely to be malnourished than men, and about 53% of them are anemic. Such choices could deepen health inequities even further. If young women do not get enough to eat, in addition to being underweight, it could disadvantage an entire future generation of children. Girls may be forced to drop out of school earlier than boys due to education-related expenses or to tend to household responsibilities; they may be married off at a younger age with implications for their health and a consequent loss of their agency. During the Ebola crisis, a large number of girls dropped out of school due to an increase in caring, domestic responsibilities as well as a shift towards income generation. In most cases, boys were prioritized over girls to attend school. Owing to similar socio-economic settings, where the burden of unpaid domestic and care economy is largely carried by females, India may face identical consequences in the foreseeable future.
Economic empowerment for women is the linchpin of gender equality; erosion of income generation activities for women can have negative implications on their health-seeking ability, decision making within the household, control over finances as well as their ability to protect themselves from Violence. Women are already suffering the deadly impact of lockdowns. These essential restrictions increase the risk of violence towards women trapped with abusive partners. Recent weeks have seen a global surge in domestic violence. The support services for women at risk also face cuts and closures. These negative impacts on women led to the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) to appeal for peace in homes around the world. Since then, over 143 governments have committed to supporting women and girls at risk of violence during the pandemic. However, policymakers and society must respond to the specificities of this new gender burden and work together to create a framework that would protect, enable, and empower women in this world dramatically altered by the pandemic. This movement towards gender parity should be more inclusive and one strata’s problem should worry us all.
Now is the time to increase advocating the state support for welfare schemes and safety net measures like economic security for small-business owners, a financial stimulus paid directly to families to relieve widespread economic stress. Specifically, for women, MGNREGA spending should be substantially increased as we know women participate in it higher numbers than men, and wage inequality between men and women’s wages in MGNREGA is far lower than in other jobs. It is crucial that our policy-makers adopt a gender perspective to understanding and analyzing the effects of the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown on the economy, livelihoods, and social structures. The first step to that end would be evolving a gender-appropriate response that leaves no one behind.

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