The economic effects of the global pandemic has been profound and forced people to work from home triggering hue and cry about how individuals and entities both will suffer in this epidemic. However, even in an epidemic of this scale, gender inequalities of the past have come to the fore and women are bearing the brunt of the problems
Amid the threat to our white-collar jobs, we completely forget about the domestic help whose labor most of us choose to ignore. As per the Ministry of Labor and Employment records, there are more than 30 lakh women working as domestic workers which makes it an industry carried on the shoulders of women. The Corona crisis has impacted this particular section of people most.
Most of the domestic workers including maids, cleaners, cooks, and nannies, are out of work and not getting paid. National Committee for Domestic Workers, SEWA Union reported that most domestic workers have been refused payment by their employers. Reema Nanawaty, director of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India said, “Some industries, such as construction and waste recycling, have completely come to a halt. Thousands of women workers engaged in these trades have lost employment.”
Not only is the pandemic hitting women’s current economic avenues, but also hurting their chances of having a meaningful future. Longstanding patriarchal values and the social hierarchy in India dictate that a boy’s education is more important than a girls. As it is, the average time that a girl spends in school is around 4 years, which is half of what boys spend in school, i.e., around 8 years. In India, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), women perform nearly 6 hours of unpaid work each day, while men spend a paltry 52 minutes.
With the epidemic unfolding, girl students will be the first ones to withdraw from formal education because they will be required to help at home, while the boys will continue get education.
Not only sociological but there seems to be an institutionalized economic oppression of women at play. The ASHA initiative, or the Accredited Social Health Activists is a women-based medical force which gets paid on the basis of incentives. Since their jobs are not salary based, their contribution to healthcare is often minimized. A magazine reported, “ASHA workers often work long hours, sometimes seven days a week, at par with (or exceeding) workers in other sectors who not only receive salaries in line with minimum wage requirements but are also eligible for various other statutory benefits.”
The Guidelines on Accredited Social Health Activists in clause 9 talks about the compensation that ASHA workers should be given. It says that these workers are honorary volunteers and hence, will not be paid any salaries. It has been held that ASHA worker scheme, a key component of the NRHM, perpetuates, legitimises and normalises gender-based occupational segregation and systemic pay inequity. This suggests of an institutional economic oppression these women go through at the hands of the government.
This is just another instance of treating women’s labor as sub-par by the government. Not only this, it has been reported that these ASHA workers do not even have access to proper protective equipment. They are forced to buy masks and sanitizers for themselves, in a situation where the country can depend only on the services of healthcare officials. This despite government itself acknowledging how important protective equipment is to prevent Corona and the Supreme Court issued interim orders to the government for protection of healthcare workers.The entire country came out on 22nd March to clap and rejoice to celebrate the contributions of healthcare workers but sadly, paeans don’t buy food, money does.
The gender work load is an issue that irks women even when the situation is normal. Now, with Covid-19 threatening the world into isolation, most workers are required to work from home. When this happens, even in the most modern households, the burden of housework remains on the woman. Anita Bhatia, assistant Secretary General and deputy executive director of the United Nations' women's agency expressed her fear and said, “The gap could increase this year as women are likely to be disproportionately affected by home responsibilities in quarantine.” A U.S. based think tank has also pointed out that there is a huge possibility of Coronavirus reversing most of the progress made towards achieving gender pay parity.
It is also a well-known trend that when companies downsize, women and minorities are the worst hit. There is a general perspective of seeing the work done by women as expendable.The looming threat of recession due to Covid-19 will almost certainly result in downsizing and this will hurt the economic prospects of all women in the Corporate Sector.
Its not a surprise that the lockdown has resulted in disproportionate gender impact with women bearing the brunt of it. The present gender-blind policies have further aggravated the already existing inequalities making women more endangered than ever.
The amalgamation of economic shock, unemployment, lack of access to education and the possibility of recession has widened gender disparities more than ever. It’s high time the government firstly recognises these problems and then takes required measures to improve them. This lockdown provides an excellent opportunity to propose gender-sensitive, systemic and structural changes that could protect vulnerable women and to build gender-equal systems.
(The writers are 1st year students of LL.B at NLU, Jodhpur)