Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta

‘Gender’ is the social construction of our identity. It defines a way of co-relating with each other through one’s experiences, mainly determined by our gender identity. Men and women are inserted into the patriarchal system of the Indian society. Society has power hierarchies between men and women dictating accessing the resources such as education or representation at the national level. These inequalities has been exacerbated during COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in every sphere of life.

According to professor Ritu Dewan, the lack of policy response has reversed the past years’ gains. She quantified the problems of the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic life by presenting data. She mentioned, in pre-pandemic era, there has been a sharp fall in GDP and employment. The trend was worst for rural women, resultantly reducing women’s work participation rates (WPR). The gender wage gap has increased significantly.

According to OXFAM reports, income inequality has heightened in the past four years. According to NSSO, 76 percent of rural households cannot afford nutritious food which is alarming, as malnourishment is the considerable problem. There has been a fall in various global rankings such as global hunger index, global innovation index, gender wage gap index etc.  

Professor Ritu Dewan said that lockdown was quick and an unforgivable decision. Indian Government was highly insensitive towards the marginalised and vulnerable sections of the people, which led to ‘Migrant crisis’. In the post-pandemic period, there has been a 50 percent fall in GDP. There is a fall in monthly minimum wage by 22.6 percent, the lowest in South Africa.

Global female job loss rates due to COVID are 1.8 times higher than males. In India, four of every ten salaried women lost their jobs. 86 percent of domestic workers lost their jobs, 99 percent used their savings and 68 percent resorted to loans. 52 percent women and 46 percent men received no wages. 85 percent of the health workers are women as nurses and midwives. There is a no single policy on Self Help Groups (SHGs) which are a significant source of women’s income and livelihood.

She analysed the effects of  codes of wages, bonus, social security and industrial codes on beedi workers and plantation workers. These new codes will have an effect on the livelihood of the concerned. There is going to be an effect on the socio economic aspects too, she gave example of the Maternity benefit Act, 1961 as there has been de-linking of sexual harassment from safe conditions of work and Patriarchal definition of household has been enforced. She concluded with her remarks that “Labour codes should not be business codes”.

176 million poor women do not have Jan Dhan accounts which hinder economic development. School dropouts have increased due to low access to mobiles and online classes. Non-disbursal of Scheduled Castes scholarships led students to commit suicides. Hence, digital divide needs the attention of the government and civil society to make education accessible to all irrespective of class, caste and gender.

Poverty rate among women has increased from 13.3 percent to 14.7 percent. Social demons such as domestic violence has been aggravated during lockdown terming this pandemic as ‘Shadow Pandemic’. Due to conventional and patriarchial norms of the society, women are responsible for household chores and are indulged in unpaid care work that has hampered the women’s mental health well-being. Pandemic has sparked the debate of number of hours women devoting to unpaid care work. 73 percent of Nirbhaya fund went to Ministry of Home Affairs and not to Ministry of women and child development which again perpetuates the patriarchal mind-set.

45 percent of women are underweight and 53 percent anaemic, hence, effective policies related to women’s health need to be designed and implemented at the ground level. Fall in age of marriage is an issue of concern and resulting Unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions have increased, jeopardizing the women’s reproductive rights. Due to closure of child care services, women are finding it difficult to work from home as childcare is notionally considered to be the responsibility of a mother.

Violence at the macro level has been normalised as evident from the release of many prisoners due to overcrowding of prisons. There are cases where these prisoners have killed their victims after being released, thus such cases are required to be avoided in a democratic nation.

Destitution among the sex workers and LGBTQs is an issue that needs more attention. Government needs to formulate policies for the protection of sexual minorities and thus their rights. These concerns needs to be “visible at the mainstream level” and not to be shied away in New India. 

There has been a fall in central tax revenue. Food subsidy has fallen by 33 percent which is really disturbing considering the situation of pandemic. Also there has been reduction in consumption expenditure. Effective monetary policies are the need of the hour. The Government needs to refocus on data collection to implement policies at the ground level.

Ms Pankhuri Dutt remarked that transparency is very important in spending of public money. As public transport closed down and many women are not car owners which led many women to quit their jobs as they were not able to commute. Dr B Rajeshwari remarked that unpaid household has hampered women’s development in terms of professional career. GDP Averages are deceiving as it doesn’t take into account human factors. She posed the question of ‘what should be the threshold of universal income?’ she emphasized that pattern of resistance need to be unearthed through critical lens. And can intersectional approach work towards creating inclusive policies.

Professor Dev Nathan emphasized on the monopoly and oligopoly of the economy by richer industrial groups. Big industrial corporations are starting their own banks which need the attention of the civil society. Professor Govind Kelkar said that de- equalization has increased greatly as women are always seen as ‘others’. Many schemes were launched but they were just palliatives. Women needs to be seen as individuals and not just as wives and mothers. Recognition of sex workers needs more attention. Signature movements are becoming really important nowadays to generate collective consciousness among the masses. Resistance against state is increasing. Therefore, resilience building is at its peak.

Professor Ritu Dewan responded to the questions by focusing attention on the increasing privatisation of roads and centralization of capital which led to increase in the wealth of the richest during the pandemic. Migrant workers were seen as non-required citizens by the government. NGOs and housing societies have played a very important role during the lockdown by helping the marginalised sections of society through food distribution. Therefore, collectivity is essential in times of emergencies.

People should be at the centre of the policy. The best practice is people’s resistance movement. Trust deficit among the people needs to be resolved for the functioning of an effective democracy. COVID-19 crisis has led to realisation of many challenging issues. Therefore, Economic recession should infuse more labour reforms.

Basic income should be ensured by distribution mechanisms. And state should be an enabler of equality by designing and implementing effective policies at the core level of the Indian society. More awareness needs to be generated among the citizens of India to promote “Less government and more governance”!

The above are the event excerpts of the talk – The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on Pandemic, Policy, and Patriarchy: Process of Gender De-equalization. Professor Ritu Dewan is the Vice President, Indian Society of Labour Economics (ISLE). Ms Pankhuri Dutt is public policy consultant at NITI Aayog. Prof Dev Nathan is an eminent professor. Dr Govind Kelkar is the executive director at GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation. Dr B Rajeshwari is Assistant Professor at GD Goenka University.

Acknowledgment: Ishika Chaudhary is a research intern at IMPRI. She is pursuing BA Hons in Political Science from Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi University.

YouTube Video for Pandemic, Policy, and Patriarchy: Process of Gender De-equalization

Picture Courtesy: Google images