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Understanding Gendered Implications Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
Credits: World Economic Forum

As India is entering its fourth week of national lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, one can’t help but fathom the gendered implications of the crisis. Although emerging evidence shows that more men than women are dying, potentially due to sex-based immunological or gendered differences, such as pattern and frequency of smoking, there are various invisible differences which mostly remain unaddressed and make women more vulnerable in this global pandemic.

With the unrestricted movement of people in the initial months of the spread of the crisis, the virus has transcended national borders and inadvertently spread throughout the world, affecting every nation of the globe. It has penetrated every aspect of our lives; affected the global economy, with the stock markets taking a plunge; migrant labourers and daily wage workers being suddenly rendered jobless due to no job security; people being laid off due to companies downsizing, as a result of the plummeting economy; and various marginalized communities having to face double discrimination. It has clearly impacted all our lives in different ways.

Looking at the crisis from different lenses, it can be inferred that it’s the women who are being impacted disproportionately by the pandemic. With many countries being under total lockdown, the pressure of managing household chores has increased for women as they are often the primary caregivers of the family.

Unlike various other data being analysed to compare situations before and during the crisis, it is difficult to measure how the situation has worsened for women, as unpaid work like household chores, performed by the women at home, is unmapped and uncaptured in the country’s GDP. It is often women who offer emotional support to the family members during times of crisis.

Despite having to put up with various patriarchal constructs, which are undoubtedly discriminatory, oppressive and exploitative, so much of this emotional labour goes unaccounted in the various indicators and metrics of national growth. According to an ILO report, women spend 4.1 times more time in unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific. The condition of India is particularly bad, and has to be acknowledged due to the fact that it has been estimated that women engage in 10-12 times more unpaid care work than men.

Under lockdown situations, countries throughout the world are seeing a steep rise in the number of domestic and sexual violence cases as a side effect of the lockdown, a pattern seen in all crises ranging from economic crises, conflict or outbreak of diseases. Even though men and women can both be victims of domestic violence, there has been an array of reports showing more women than men tend to be domestic violence victims throughout the world. Various activists in China have reported a surge in domestic violence complaints and helpline calls since early February. In France, the French police have reported that domestic violence cases across the country have jumped by more than 30% since the country went into lockdown, and in Paris alone, cases were up by 36%.

Closer to home, the National Commission for Women (NCW), an advisory body to the Government of India concerned with policies related to women, has also recorded a two-fold rise in gender-based violence during the lockdown period (since March 23 to April 1), and has subsequently launched a WhatsApp number to provide assistance and support to women in distress and violence during this lockdown situation.

The violence in many cases is not just limited to physical abuse of women but has also extended to their mental harassment, forceful isolation, constant surveillance of their behaviour and actions, and in many cases, limiting their access to basic necessities like food, water or sanitation. This rise in cases could be attributed to women having to be stuck with their abusive and controlling partners, rising frustration in both men and women which could stem from being trapped indoors or people being laid off from their jobs, experiencing salary cuts, pressures of debt repayment to loan sharks or unpredictable futures. 

Female Chinese medics shaved their heads before heading to Wuhan.||Credits: The Daily Mail

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the disproportionate amount of women exposed to deadly infections in frontline healthcare jobs. According to the World Health Organisation, women constitute about 70% of the workers in the health and social sector. Lest we forget, the viral video showing female medical workers from a Chinese province collectively having to shave their heads off before being dispatched to help fight the coronavirus outbreak will be a stark reminder of the conditions women have to face.

Even in India, we see women account for 83.4% of the nurses and midwives, even though the percentage of overall health workers who are female is only 38%, with distributions changing substantially across states. With the workload being more demanding than usual at the moment and a deficiency in protective gear, it is taking a toll on not only their physical health, but also their mental healths, with an increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia being reported in nurses in the frontline.

Not just for women and girls, but things have been particularly hard for women with disabilities, non-binary, gender non-conforming and LGBTQ community. They’re mostly victims of violence and abuse who have already been living on the brink of poverty, do not have enough access to resources to combat COVID-19, do not have equal access to education, paid lower wages, live without health coverage, sick leaves or paid leaves, usually rely on informal sectors of work with limited or no social security benefits, and some experience higher costs of living than other women due to disability-related needs. 

This global pandemic no wonder needs a global response, but what is also needed is strong national response in the form of robust national policy, while shifting away from the gender-neutral approach. In addition to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package and initiatives like the Kerala government’s suggestion to include Self Help Groups in food provisioning, the government needs to introduce policies with a strong gendered focus which can address the needs of women and other marginalised communities.

Various non-governmental organisations in the country continue to offer services to victims of domestic violence and abuse, mental health victims, etc., but these are expected to get strained with the sudden surge in cases and their limited financial resources due to an increase in demand. Shelters also run into the risk of spreading the virus, and hence, many are unable to take victims. The state needs to invest in primary health care and reproductive services for women, domestic violence response programs, and bolster the production of proper personal protective equipment so as to limit the risk of infection to healthcare workers. The state should also ensure that the basic needs of women with disabilities, non-binary, gender non conforming, LGBTQ community are addressed, and they can find alternative means of income and education. Therefore, there has to be a multilateral gendered response so we can ensure the proper health and well-being of the least fortunate in our society.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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