Single Women, Double Burden: The Lockdown Has Been Very Hard On Us

Single women dealing with the lockdown, either living alone or taking care of kids or of elderly and ill parents, have unique challenges, especially in Indian society.

Single women dealing with the lockdown, either living alone or taking care of kids or of elderly and ill parents, have unique challenges, especially in Indian society.

Lockdown has presented various challenges to single women either living alone, with children, or as caretakers of their elderly parents.

The experiences of single women from across a spectrum of society show that each of their challenges is unique to them. Among the most affected, though, are domestic workers and women of the working class.

Senior citizen domestic workers in Bangalore

Geeta Menon, Domestic Workers Rights Union in Bengaluru, speaks of the tragic incident of 62-year-old Lakshmamma.

“She has been staying alone for a major part of her life as her sons refused to stay with her, and stayed alone in her house. She passed away about ten days back. She had to look after herself despite her illnesses — she had gout, high blood sugar and hypertension. She was also having to go to work, and had absolutely no help from her sons.

“The plight is immense when it comes to domestic workers or any other woman of the working class. Besides this particular case, there are a number of domestic workers who are staying alone because they have been either abandoned or their children don’t allow them to stay with them.”

Geeta says that during this pandemic their senior citizen group of domestic workers aged between 50 and 55 has not been taken back for work. “So now it is a double burden. They don’t have work. They don’t have any moral or emotional support. The women who are 50-55 have been working from when they were much younger. They have worked in some households for more than 10 years. The kind of attention that they have given to those households is invaluable. And so to now say you are 50-55 you go, you are not needed; what kind of justice is this? Now they are at a crossroads. Where do they go? Many of them do hard labour despite back aches and knee problems.”

Middle aged working class single women

Another group of single women comprise those who have are either unmarried or have been abandoned by their husbands, divorced or separated.

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“They have the burden to look after the children. They have a lot of financial and social burdens. The social burden is of living as a single woman. They are a prey to all kinds of harassment because they are considered vulnerable. Employers have said you don’t come, and they haven’t even spoken about compensation, they have just said we will call you when required.”

Teacher and single mom of one, also taking care of elderly mother

32-year-old Silambarasi Ilakiya Palani residing in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, takes care of her 11-year-old daughter and 68-year-old mother. She is a teacher with a private school. “We are getting only 40 per cent of our pay but I still have to pay rent and EMI.”

She is particularly concerned about the needless pressure both teachers and students have to face in conducting and attending online classes. “I have written many posts and letters, both in English and in Tamil, about the problems with online classes. Students cannot hold their attention during a 40-minute class and staring into the screen almost the entire day is tiring for a child.

Silambarasi’s day typically starts with making breakfast, going to the store to buy groceries and then getting to work. “I have to rush to the shop to buy groceries and essentials before I start my online classes.  I also have to spend time with my daughter and engage her with reading or some other activity. I take care of my mother and my child.”

Entrepreneur and single mom of two

For Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Payal Nath, a single mother of two (aged  7 and 9), the initial days of lockdown meant dealing with a time crunch, but over the months, she has evolved good time management skills.

Payal started her own business in health and holistic living, and then co-founded an edtech company. “Lockdown had me juggling between handling my business, my role in the edtech company, and taking care of my children. But being in the health and wellness industry, I have always focused on health for my family. We have always taken care of immunity. That was such a relief. And so I could focus on other problems.”

Payal took inspiration from the life of technology entrepreneur Elon Musk. “He breaks his time into 15 minutes slots and plans his day accordingly. 15 minutes does not work for me, it’s too short, so I break my time into either half an hour or an hour. I have put timetables for me and my kids on my fridge. And we religiously follow that. I am a believer in giving time to work, I never compromise on work. I neither compromise on my time and on my family time.”

Considering that the number of single women have increased over the years (an over 40 per cent increase from the 2001 to 2011 census), they are an essential part of the populace, hence the government can do more to benefit them, be it empowering self-help groups or increasing pension. Their employers can also do their bit to help.

As Payal says, she supports her domestic help as best as she can. “She is a burns victim, and I believe that it is my duty to support her,” she says.

Image source: a still from the film Varane Avashyamund

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