Impact of Covid-19: A gender perspective

Pandemics are the disease outbreaks that become widespread as a result of the spread of human-to-human infection. The 2019 corona virus disease (COVID-19) epidemic is a public health emergency of international concern and poses a challenge to psychological resilience, economy and social life of people.

Pandemics and outbreaks impact women and men differently. From peril of exposure and biological vulnerability to infection to the social and economic implications, individual experiences are likely to vary according to their biological and gender characteristics and their interaction with other social determinants. The impact of covid 19 is exacerbated for women simply by virtue of their gender (WHO, 2020).

In other words, the pandemic is deepening the pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems for women which are in turn amplifying its impact. (UN,, 2020). Women are more affected by the COVID-19 than men, specifically in low income and developing countries. (Swain, Live mint, April,22,2020).

In the resource constraint countries like India where women are culturally marginalized, the economic issues need more nuanced examination. Women’s income is the lifeline for slum households. Women have reported increase in domestic violence by their spouses. The closure of liquor and toddy shops have led to these men becoming violent. It’s not just livelihood, but the safety of the women in these situations is at great risk (ICRISAT, 2020). Women experience a huge increase in care work due to school closures, overwhelmed health systems, and the increased needs of older people. There is an alarming global surge in domestic violence; the largest support organisation in the U.K. reported a 700% increase in calls. At the same time, support services for women at risk face cuts and closures (Gueterries, April,30 2020.The Hindu).

History is witness to the fact that wars, pandemics and epidemics leave a lasting, mostly irreparable dent on the life, work and mental well-being of women. Unfortunately, they are not given due attention as most cases are recorded off as collateral casualties (Jose, June,5, 2020.The Hindu).

According to WHO, women’s health is indistinguishably linked to their status in society. It benefits from equality and suffers from discrimination. Unfortunately, even today the status and wellbeing of countless women still remains tragically low. Women’s mental health  has been de-prioritised from a long time. The issue of women’s mental health is not invisible but culturally invisibilized. The impact of ignoring this reality is too high, it needs to be acknowledged to lead to changes in policy (Bhattacharya, April,11, 2020.Times of India).

In developing countries, about 70% of women work in informal sector including service sector and tourism which is worst hit by business closure due to the pandemic, with no protection against dismissals and paid sick leave and have very less access to social protection, thus making them more vulnerable (TOI. April 10,2020. The Times of India).

In the current pandemic, women are facing a sharp increase in caregiving responsibilities, with even less freedom, space, or economic security. Gender is a crucial determinant of mental health and mental illness. “gender determines the differential power and control males and females have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives” (WHO,2000).

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) also lays stress on “gender-sensitive” deployment of healthcare, especially mental health. There is a worrisome situation in developing countries as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates, there is an increased risk of women dying during childbirth (India Today, June 13,2020, India Today)

Jammu and Kashmir presents no different picture than any other place. There is a sharp spike in the corona positive cases, there are 17,305 confirmed positive cases, while as 9,517 have been recovered, and has and has led to 305 deaths as on 26 July, 2020. Experts suggest that the growing numbers are a stark indicator of the community spread of the disease in pockets of Kashmir and is further expected to escalate. Furthermore, other aspects merit attention such as the potential increase of gender-based violence and domestic abuse.

The number of women being infected by covid-19 is increasing sharply. It is reported that the destitute women in J&K face the brunt of the pandemic and there has been a rise in domestic violence against women during Covid -19 lockdown (Deccan Herald, 2020). As per a report of High Court of Jammu and Kashmir in which Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal stated that, all crises disproportionately impact women, therefore, this pandemic poses a negative impact on societies and economies and the situation for women and girls is more devastating (Iyer 2020, Bar and Bench). Since the lockdown has been imposed, violence against women is exponentially rising world over. Several countries have enforced special policies, laws and programs to deal with violence against women in homes. A higher proportion of women suffer from the social and economic impacts of covid-19 because of gender norms that attribute care roles to women in the domestic sphere.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified and heightened all existing inequalities and a higher proportion of women suffer severely on the health front. There is an irreparable dent on the life, work, health and mental well-being of women. Women have unique health needs, but they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines, maternal and reproductive health care. A more worrisome picture is that pregnant women are getting infected, around 70 such cases were reported in just the first four days of June. The total number of pregnant women infected on 5th of June was 181 rising to 240 pregnant on June 11,2020.

There have been many Covid maternal deaths too, deprivation and denial of health and other services (like ambulances and hospitals) or conversion of hospitals to quarantine centres during the COVID crisis is aggravating the disaster. Women face additional burdens associated with paid and unpaid work, often without consideration or the alleviation of other life responsibilities.

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is new to humans, and only limited scientific evidence is available to identify the impact of the disease COVID-19 on various aspects of women’s lives. Women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be impacted economically. Crowded homes, substance abuse, limited access to services are exacerbating abuse in homes during the lockdown. In addition to that there is increased burden of household work on women. There is an urgent need for the scientific community to generate sound clinical and psycho-social behavioural links between COVID-19 and different aspects of women’s life.

Recommendations

Understand how women’s lives are changing in the face of COVID-19 in terms of health, economy, social protection and outline suggested priority measures to accompany both the immediate response and longer-term recovery efforts.

Ensure women’s equal representation in all covid-19 response planning and decision-making drive transformative change for addressing the care economy, paid and unpaid: target women and girls in all efforts to address the socio-economic impact of covid-19.

Transmuting the inequities of unpaid care work into a new, inclusive care economy that works for everyone

Designing socio-economic plans with an intentional focus on the lives and futures of women and suggesting various recommendations to policy makers and non-governmental organisations regarding establishment of Separate hospitals for pregnant women with Covid-19 in every district, designating safe spaces for women where they can report abuse without alerting perpetrators, e.g. in grocery stores or pharmacies etc., moving services online, stepping up advocacy and awareness campaigns, including targeting men at home.