Lockdown through the gender lens

As we gear up for yet another extension of the national lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 crisis, the gendered impact of the current state of affairs ranges from domestic violence to loss of livelihoods.

Covid 19Image Courtesy:thenational.ae

“Stay safe, stay home” has become the international mantra in a matter of weeks. As we adjust to this new reality of our world, the realisation that “home” is not necessarily “safe” for many of us, women and LGBTQIA persons in particular. Being trapped in a house with people who can and do perpetuate physical, mental, or emotional abuse is not just damaging, but dangerous. The UNFPA predicts that six more months of theCoronavirus crisis could result in 7 million unplanned pregnancies and 31 million gender-based violence cases. 47 million women worldwide stand to lose access to contraception in the next 6 months.In India, feminist activists and celebrities like Javed Akhtar have also raised concerns about the availability of liquor during lockdown and how it might exacerbate instances of domestic violence. Most of the people raising concerns about the increasing reports of domestic violence across the country, including the National Commission for Women, are facing backlash from Men’s Rights Activists despite clear data indicating that women and children are the most at-risk groups for domestic violence in times of crisis- be it war or a natural disaster. The helplines are overwhelmed, the police and courts are in a state of limbo while responding to reports of domestic violence, and leaving the house during a lockdown, is not an option. Even getting access to therapy or mental health services is extremely difficult as there may be no privacy or access to internet/phone without monitoring by the abuser.

In terms of financial independence as well, women face a larger challenge. According to Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, UNFPA’s deputy executive director, “Women are the first to lose their jobs during these crises, they’re the first to stand up for the family, they take most of the brunt economically.”

An extremely distasteful article from Times of India made its way to our timelines as people started tweeting pictures of it.

There are many layers of what is wrong with this article even if it was meant as satire (to which TOI is yet to offer an explanation). First, the sexism. The convenience with which men can find a way to blame women despite the women shouldering the entire burden of household work, is not a new phenomenon in the pandemic. This is hundreds of years of patriarchy at play. Far be it for such entitled men to actually divide household chores equally even in a global crisis- the demands of food, snacks, and general housework can increase as they spend more time at home. Second, the classism. Is it time to introspect if the only thing keeping a middle- or upper-class family in harmony is the reliance on another woman? Is the reason of empowerment and emancipation of middle- and upper-class women, not that they have supportive partners, but rather that the domestic responsibilities are outsourced to another woman? Third, insensitivity. Most households who employed domestic helpers prior to lockdown have not been paying their salaries since the lockdown started. Many of the women who work as domestic helpers are the only breadwinners for their families. Stories abound on social media about out of work women who have been denied salaries and now cannot afford to keep their families fed in this crisis.

As a chronically ill person, I rely on the people around me for many household chores. Domestic helpers are a valued part of our lives as disabled or chronically ill people. Many of us are not privileged enough to afford their services. Some of us do not have caregivers or helpers living with us during the lockdown.Even the acts necessary for staying alive: cooking, cleaning, buying and stocking essentials, etc., can become burdensomeif the person is living aloneand no time or energy can be dedicated to the pursuit of livelihood. I wonder how many of us will lose our sources of income during this lockdown because staying alive is the only priority and the only thing we are able to do at this point. In the case of chronically ill women and women with invisible disabilities who need to take care of their children and the men of the house in the absence of domestic helpers, I can only shudder to think of the various ways their minds and bodies are undergoing invisible abuse in terms of pressure from their families to shoulder domestic duties.

Women’s labour has long been taken for granted in households, their testimonies against their abusers have long been silenced or disbelieved by society and their own families; their struggles have been compounded by their gender expression, sexuality, caste, and class. Transwomen relying on begging and sex work for earning have been hit hard by the lockdown in terms of loss of livelihoods. Anindiya Hajra from Pratyay Gender Trust puts it succinctly, “They do not have the social privilege of operating within a distant ‘online’ world when their lives are precariously balanced on the thread of social interaction and functions”.

As a new day unfolds in this extended lockdown, another scandal hits our timelines- this timeteenage school boys from Delhi who have regular Instagram chats about underage girls, share their private pictures and comment vulgarities, and plan gangrapes under the garb of locker room talk. The internet, which is the great connector of these times, is also a battleground for safety. Violence is throbbing just under the apparent calm of this lockdown as we marvel at the empty roads and cities. Safety is a multi-layered privilege that seems just out of reach and the only thought I had upon seeing the circles drawn outside a grocery shop in the interest of social distancing- was the first ever assuredness in my entire lifetime, of knowing no one would grope me in a queue today.

Related articles:

Sexism in the time of Corona: How the “Corona Dayan” took over social media
1.6 billion informal economy workers significantly impacted by lockdown measures: ILO
“To my utter shock, the police seized my phone citing inquiry into the Delhi violence”: Kawalpreet Kaur



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