Coronavirus. Just a health and economic issue? No, a gender issue too. How am I so sure? Let me explain.
Who has the role of the bread earner and who belongs to the domestic world? Yes, men are the earners and women belong to the domestic world. That is the construct we live in thanks to the nature of patriarchy and capitalism. Now, in a typical scenario men tend to establish their superiority by earning from the outside world. Suddenly due to the lockdown imposed by various governments across the world including India, these ‘outer-world’ creatures are now forced to sit at home and become domestic. So how do these men cope with the given situation? By dominating over women in the domestic world too, by not helping them in their chores, by increasing it many fold and by being more violent against them.
Consequently, women are completely drowning in domestic and care work without any help, especially housewives who previously had some spare time for themselves after the children and the men of the household would leave home for the day. Suddenly they find themselves overburdened since the entire family is indoors all the time, perennially making demands, adding to the regular workload. Also, with no domestic help coming in, women’s work has not only increased (without domestic help, work at the moment has increased for all women, whether she is earning a living or not) but their communication with the outside world has considerably reduced, if not completely cut off.
Women may also lose their sexual and reproductive rights because in the process of being subject to male superiority, women will also have to succumb to the sexual pleasures of men where her consent may not matter as much. And in such cases of emergency, one is unsure of how much importance will be given to their abortion rights and other aspects of sexual and reproductive health.
Also, isolation can increase the risk of violence, not only at home but also in public spaces. For women, being in isolation wards can be quite risky, making them vulnerable to sexual violence. In Bihar, we hear of such a case where a migrant woman was sexually abused in the isolation ward and subsequently died.
It has also come to light that the government has received 92,000 calls as complaints against violence and child abuse over a span of 11 days. Domestic violence victims are the most vulnerable at the moment. NCW mentions that domestic violence complaints have been increasing by the day (since the lockdown) with 69 complaints registered only via email.
Often, for women facing violence, according to NFHS data, 75% of them do not seek help from anyone. In such cases, domestic help and other people coming and going in and out of their homes keep them relatively safe and in touch. But now their communication and movements are hindered by the lockdown and in isolation, there are no safe places to move to.
Another reason for the pandemic being patriarchal is that women as caregivers often fall into the vulnerable category of coming into direct contact with the virus (though there isn’t sufficient data about COVID-19 affecting more women than men).
The livelihoods of women in the unorganised sector will be among the first to get affected. In the given situation, there might be a huge drop in sex work and domestic work. Many beedi workers and fisherwomen’s livelihoods may be hit by this disaster.
Girls’ education may also seriously come into question because soon after the lockdown, the nation will most likely have to work through a deep economic crisis, where amongst many other important areas, girls’ education is most likely to be cut down upon. Therefore, female drop-outs may increase.
Editing and Sketch: Neha