WINTER ISSUE

How is the COVID-19 economy more catastrophic for women in India?

The Covid-19 pandemic is almost a super cyclone on the tanking economy of the country and certainly exacerbating the existing inequalities in society. When the country is not only going through the public health crises but also the economic crises it has a substantial gendered impact, where all vulnerable populations will suffer. However, through the gendered lens, women, in particular, will be affected,  they are ranked lowest in the hierarchy of caste, class or religious stratification. Gender inequality in wages, labour force, household work, and resource sharing, could be deepened due to the substantially altered crises.

Though there is a lot of uncertainty about Covid-19’s global and national economic trajectory as well as its impact on society. Research shows that women will have higher deprivation in a specific dimension. One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic is the increase in the care economy of women. Before the lockdown, the closure of daycare and child schools impacted both homemakers and labour force women. Women bearing a high disproportionate burden of care responsibilities from handling the care of children, elders to household duties while managing their job responsibilities and participating in the market became difficult for them, unless men step up and share the household responsibilities, the situation for women will remain only disastrous. 

The burden of the closure of schools, caring for the elderly will increase the workload on women along with that the bargain that there are so many dual-earner couples with the notion where both of them work, while someone else is looking at there children, but after the recession which leads towards the conclusion that the one who takes the high hit will work. The other one will take care of household work and children, which again narrow down the job opportunities for women. In many heterosexual relationships, women are more likely to be the secondary earners, where their jobs are considered a lower priority, and with these devastating conditions, women’s lifetime earnings will never recover.

Massive involvement of the women in the care economy will impact their labour force participation rate along with the dip in the rate of working women. Most women have been employed in non-mobile sectors; hence they will have a higher burden of the slowdown. Also, most of the formal and informal sectors grappling with the economic downturn may lead to the dismissal of more women as these sectors consider them ‘less productive’ and not the primary breadwinners of the family-like men and can be easily laid off. In informal sectors, women are entitled to cost machinery and post the commencement of the Maternity Act the sanctions paid maternity leave to women for six months while the act failed to be implemented in the government sector as there is no support for paid leave.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, women might flock to the labor market to supplement household income and to sustain their primary livelihood which might lead to similar conditions in 2004-05 because of the labor market and agrarian distress. This distress leads to lower wages, long working hours, and layoffs for women which may further lead to exploitation and unclear options. India already has declining female labour force participation, and if the rate of exploitation keeps on increasing at the same pace, it might result in a drop in women participation, which is vital for boosting the GDP. These conditions of recession and economic stress may increase the result of greater violence against women within the household. Economic stress may force marginalized households to make difficult decisions that might seem efficient but are culturally entitled under the patriarchal umbrella setup. With the ongoing passage of this shrinking economy, men may be allocated with more resources rather than women, which again brings them down to the lower cartesian of health, education, and opportunities.

In India, the female literacy rate was found much lower than the male literacy rate according to the survey done by NSSO and now in these conditions of economic distress when women are already being neglected, they may be forced to drop out of schools due to education-related expenses or will be burdened with more household responsibilities, with many getting married off at a younger age, due to losses in their education and workforce. The rate of anaemic and malnourished women is already higher than that of males, about 53% of whom are anaemic. Choices of feeding families and kids would further deepen the health inequities as women are considered the last person to have a meal in most of the families and if young women do not get enough, this will lead to lack of nutrition and other health issues which could be disadvantageous for their well being. To combat from all social and economic problems during this global pandemic, it is necessary to keep women’s employment a priority in recovery efforts and to enhance the digital and on-ground initiatives, which must especially target women from low-income backgrounds. The policy response must be framed in a manner to empower women, so that can to lead safe and productive lives, and therefore it becomes necessary to understand the COVID-19 economy through a gendered lens.

About the author: Naina Bhargava( she/her) is a 3rd-year Philosophy major student at Miranda House, Delhi University. Naina is the Founder and Editor at The Philosophy Project. She is a Founding Member of Tara Foundation and is a Research and Study head at Women’s Development Cell Miranda House. Apart from that Naina is a literature and cinema enthusiast who loves to read and explore new things.

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