Times of crises demand comprehensive, intensive and inclusive measures to fight the challenging situations, mitigate the impact and bridge the worsened extant gaps amidst various sections of society. The current COVID 2019 pandemic has thus seen the national and state governments doing their own efforts to battle the grave situation amidst lockdowns across the world.
The economic stimulus package announced by the government named as PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojna included a free LPG cylinder for the next three months, a monetary transfer to women Jandhan account holders and doubled credit limit for Women SHGs. In this context, we will talk of the reasons for the need of gender focus in the face of pandemics and disasters. In the extant patriarchal and hierarchical system, it’s often women who are the most deprived ones.
Thus, disasters exacerbate the already horrible socio-economic conditions for women and other sexual minorities like transgenders. Statistics, across the world’s largest disasters, like the 2004 tsunami, show that women have a much higher share in deaths than men in such times. Also, as per CEDAW, in the absence of social protection schemes and in situations where there is food insecurity, coupled with impunity for gender-based violence, women and girls are often exposed to sexual exploitation as they attempt to access food and other basic needs for family members and themselves.
In camps and temporary settlements, the lack of physical security, as well as the lack of safe and accessible infrastructures, including drinking water and sanitation, also result in increased levels of gender-based violence against women and girls. Domestic violence, early and/or forced marriage, human trafficking and forced prostitution are also more likely to occur during and following disasters.
On a similar note, Hasina, a transgendered qualified plumber, lived in her partner’s house in Tamil Nadu, India. She could not find a job and therefore begged for a living in order to save for her studies. However, after the 2004 tsunami, Hasina’s partner threw her out of their temporary shelter. She was forced to sleep out in the open and was gang-raped several times. Human trafficking and forced prostitution are also more likely to occur during and following disasters.
An article elaborately discusses how such lockdowns actually might increase the responsibilities of women at home. 13 million single mothers in India alone would face the biggest challenge in balancing work and child care. Moreover, the extraordinary circumstances often need the extraordinary diversion of resources, resulting in difficult situations for pregnant mothers, ailing women or those who go through labour in these times. Despite essential services being open, the whole supply chain remains shut down or disrupted.
The digital divide is another big reason for much higher vulnerability among women. India accounts for more than half of the world’s digital gender gap worldwide. That’s why information, warnings and government support often does not reach the bottom-most strata of the society. For instance, rural women who are at the double intersection of gender and rural-urban divide, might not have easy real-time information during crises. Television, though, has reached rural households but patriarchal structures might deprive them of information access. They are usually dependent on men of the households for the same. Besides, the literacy gap also makes them more anxious and panicking in times of crises.
Women’s labour force participation has been always dismal for a long time now and when the economy gets huge blows during pandemics and disasters, it’s due to ‘practicalities’ that women need to stay home with more burden of unpaid care even post-pandemic job losses. Also, during droughts and recurrent floods, the scarce food distribution even within the household results in lesser food and nutritional security for women .Drought induced agricultural losses forced many, especially tribal women, to take up less remunerative activities such as subsistence farming or MGNREGA etc as per this article.
Thus, gender and sexual minorities need to be protected, supported and cushioned against the conspicuous and inconspicuous fallouts of frequently occurring disasters and epidemics. Disaster management practices and plans need to mobilise, train women leaders, especially young women from the communities for preparedness, immediate response and awareness programmes.
Anganwadis and ASHA workers need to be put to work for rural and urban poor women . Transgenders and homosexuals’ health rights, which are still obstructed, must be ensured through government schemes. Women SHGs under NRLM are fine examples of working for the economic upliftment of rural women. But this needs to be expanded to urban poor women, transgenders and queer community who fail to access public and private resources on their own.
For the inclusive growth goals and building the disaster-resilient communities, gender has to be incorporated in a comprehensive manner in the narrative. Otherwise, disasters will be unimaginably devastating for the current and upcoming generations.