Margaret Thatcher once said that, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”; but somewhere along the lines of the present circumstances, maybe what Margaret Thatcher said was probably just uni-directional. The social media is flooded with images of both men and women nurses and doctors fighting a battle, not of swords and guns, but of medicine and cure. The role of both genders is crucial in this stage of the pandemic that we see in India, whether in terms of curbing it or in terms of spreading it. But what one has to note is the fact that a pandemic affects people differently. It moves men in another way; while it changes women in a different way.
When Shakespeare was quarantined due to the plague, he wrote and presented his work of King Lear to the world. Some would say it’s because he didn’t have Twitter or because he had child care services employed to take care of his daughters or maybe because Mrs. Shakespeare did what had to be done. Isaac Newton, on leaving the university because of the growing bubonic plague, devised the calculus and developed the theory of gravity.
A pandemic whatever be its nature, magnifies the existing inequalities and brings the family statuses back to what it was like in the 1950s; where men would be engrossed in professional yet qualitative activities even at home, while women cooked, cleaned and fed the children. A quarantine that Covid-19 brings, henceforth plunges women into the same hole of varied gender roles as far as household activities are concerned; and as for many experts this time of quarantine, might be the best time to break the prevalent stereotypes. However, things in India are as not as easy as they may seem.
A pandemic whatever be its nature, magnifies the existing inequalities and brings the family statuses back to what it was like in the 1950s; where men would be engrossed in professional yet qualitative activities even at home, while women cooked, cleaned and fed the children.
Purely as a physical ailment, according to CNN reporting, Covid-19 might be killing more males than females. However, in the last few days the discussion on the repercussions of the pandemic has widened. On the 24th of March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a complete lockdown of the country, with 21 more days of quarantine, social distancing and self-isolation; coupled with the Janta Curfew, has made India realize that the issue is indeed no more precautionary but rather alarming. Normal life remains extremely compromised and local markets seem like the platform of the survival of the fittest.
What one must realize is the fact that the consequences of Covid-19 is not momentarily or temporary in existence. Pandemics have changed the way we see history, and it has to be kept in mind that, Covid-19 will do the same. In 2014, the Ebola crises shook three major African nations, the outbreak of SARS, and the spread of Zika in the year of 2015 to 2016, the instances of bird flu and swine flu bought about exasperating changes to the socio-politico order.
Scholars, academicians and researchers who study the course of these viruses, came about with conclusions that these chapters of pandemics in global history had abysmal and long-term effects on gender equality. In a recently published article of New York Times, Julia Smith, a health-policy researcher at Simon Fraser University said that out of the various outcomes of a pandemic, one of the most concerning was that “men’s income returned to what they had made pre-outbreak faster than women’s income” and the distorting effects of a pandemic would be seen for over years.
Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global-health policy at the London School of Economics, opined that the pandemic irrespective of the country would affect its women disastrously. She said, “At an individual level, the choices of many couples over the next few months will make perfect economic sense. What do pandemic patients need? Looking after. What do self-isolating older people need? Looking after. What do children kept home from school need? Looking after. All this looking after—this unpaid caring labor—will fall more heavily on women, because of the existing structure of the workforce. It’s not just about social norms of women performing care roles; it’s also about practicalities.Who is paid less? Who has the flexibility?”
As far as the status of female employment in India is concerned, the gender gap in the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is more than 50 percentages. This gender gap is far too visible and women workers often constitute the most vulnerable of the workforce as they are “employed in the least secure, informal, unskilled jobs, engaged in low- productivity and low-paying work” in India. International Labour Organization (ILO) calculated that Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) claimed a consistent reduction in female participation by 20.5 percent since 2000s in India. The only reasons why these statistics matter is due to the fact that if female participation overall showed a negative trend in times of poor yet evolving health and infrastructural capacities, then what would the condition of female workforce participation be, after India survived the menace of Covid-19?
In a country where labor forces and job opportunities seem to be masculinizing with every passing day, the menace of Covid -19 might make it nearly impossible for 121.8 and 28.0 million female rural and urban worker to go out back there in the working domain. However, this is not to imply that male employment would not face a blow, and that only women would suffer in this outcome. Rather the argument that one has to explore is that fact that women compared to men might find it very difficult to bounce back, with the intense competitiveness that would return for jobs and opportunities.
In a country where labor forces and job opportunities seem to be masculinizing with every passing day, the menace of Covid -19 might make it nearly impossible for 121.8 and 28.0 million female rural and urban worker to go out back there in the working domain.
When the juggle between ‘caring’ and ‘earning’ take over, women often have to make tough decisions. And sometimes these decisions might often go against them. The issue of bargaining and conceding of gender based roles, not only in India but even in Britain, change women’s fate in the workforce after pandemics. 90 percent of British families are actually headed by a single parent, and most of them are females, who during closures of educational institutions of their children face immense complications.
The Ebola epidemic taught the world several lessons; school closures during quarantine later showed increasing dropout rates in female students. Scholars feel that the chances of domestic violence and sexual violence to increase during lockdown are nearly inevitably. Stress, alcohol consumption and difficulties growing out of economic insecurities will eventually prompt and trigger violence and anxiety. Lockdowns may become the best option for offenders and perpetrators to take up tools of force and vehemence against women, since lockdown and self-isolation curbs the routes to opportunities of safety and security.
Helen Lewis writes in The Atlantic, “Grim as it is to imagine now, further epidemics are inevitable, and the temptation to argue that gender is a side issue, a distraction from the real crisis, must be resisted. What we do now will affect the lives of millions of women and girls in future outbreaks.” The worlds academic community watched and predicted how Covid-19, would via the seeds of globalisation take its roots globally, and shake every possible strategy of government plans and financial goals, but the question that remains is whether the question of women’s opportunities to safety and job security in the post pandemic socio-politico arena of India and other countries would be sustained and deliberated; which only time will tell.
Aniba Junaid is currently an undergraduate student of Loreto College, Kolkata. She is pursuing Political Science Honours. Her field of interest is Political Psychology, Public Policy, Human Rights and Islamic Feminism. Writing remains as a passion for her and she wishes to write more on women in politics and their role in the changing world order. You can find her on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: BBC