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From unemployment to increased housework and dealing with the double burden syndrome, the coronavirus economy is much catastrophic for women!
The Novel Coronavirus has had a profound impact on economies across the world. Businesses have shut down, supply chains are disrupted, and millions of people are out of employment.
International Labour Organisation estimates that the lockdown measures have affected around 81 percent of the world’s workforce. Across the globe, the capacity of women are more vulnerable to economic shocks than men.
The Ebola virus proved that quarantines affect women’s economic activities the hardest. And the situation is worse in developing economies like India, where gender inequality is a persistent challenge.
India imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. And the obvious effect of this was massive unemployment due to the shutting down of the economy. India’s GDP is predicted to contract by 5 percent, perhaps the worst slump in the economy since India gained independence from the British rule.
According to a survey, women have lost more jobs than their male counterparts during the pandemic. In terms of the total population, 23.3 percent men and 26.3 percent women employees have been laid off. Let’s have a look at the reasons for the coronavirus economy being more catastrophic for women in the country.
Firstly, it has to do with the sectors women are mostly employed in. Many of the hardest-hit industries during the lockdown have been those with a majority of women employees like manufacturing and hospitality. Even as the lockdown is being lifted, some form of social distancing measures in workplaces will be required.
While it would be easier to practice these in the formal sectors, informal sectors will continue to suffer. Since the informal sector has a high proportion of the female workforce, even as the economy reopens, they won’t be able to recover too soon.
Employers, whether in the formal or informal sector, are more likely to lay off women as they deal with the economic slowdown. This is because women are considered less productive than men. They are considered as easily disposable since they are not seen as the primary breadwinners of the family.
In the formal sector, women may be viewed as ‘costly’ post the Maternity Act because it allows them up to six months of paid leave. Thus, making employers more inclined towards laying off female employees during the economic recession.
Even urban women with secure jobs are struggling to deal with the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. This is because of the increased domestic and care responsibility that has fallen on them due to the lockdown.
On account of gendered social norms, women spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work than men even during normal circumstances. This double burden has only become heavier with the implementation of the lockdown and closure of schools.
Most people choose not to have household helpers come to work to maintain social distancing. Women are thus, required to balance both working from home as well as managing all household chores that previously could be left to the help.
The shutting down of the economy has also exacerbated deep-rooted social problems in India. There has been over a two-fold increase in the complaints of domestic violence ever since the lockdown.
Changes to everyday life brought on by the COVID-19 economy (recession, job losses, financial problems, and economic stress) make people feel as if they are losing power and control. Normally, people turn to healthy coping mechanisms like picking up an old hobby or learning a new skill. But this frustration can often have cruel outlets as well. When an abuser feels powerless it put their victim to risk.
Due to the crippling economy, there has also been an increase in arranged marriages since families see this as a way to secure their daughter’s future. India’s leading matrimonial websites have reported a surge in new registrations since the lockdown began.
The economic constraints that come with this recession may force poor households to make choices in terms of reallocation of resources. These choices and decisions are usually made with a patriarchal mindset.
Consequently, as incomes reduce men and boys may be prioritised over women and girls for availing these resources. This could result in implications in terms of health and education of women.
Indian women are already more likely to be malnourished with 53 percent of them being anaemic. Such decisions could further impact women’s health in the country, also affecting that of future generations.
Most of the low-income households, often do not have proper access to technology and the whole family shares only one smartphone. Unequal access to technology further results in struggles in terms of education and employment for women.
A number of schools and colleges are going online and in such cases, female students are most likely to lose out. This may be either due to the lack of resources or because their families are unable to afford their education expenditure owing to shrinking incomes.
It is thus evident that the Indian economy has been hard hit by the pandemic. And women across the country are the worst affected in this situation. While the focus remains on recovering the economy, it is important to apply an intentional gendered lens to the design of social and economic programs and policies. This will only help us achieve greater equality, opportunities, and social protection for women after the pandemic.
Picture credits: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
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Anjika is a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, pursuing honours in English
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