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How The Pandemic Is Harsh On Men But Harshest On Women

This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement supported by Malala Fund to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

The coronavirus has been the biggest news across the world since February 2020. With the implications of the virus on healthcare, business and travel and tourism industry, among many others, this has definitely not been the best year for anyone. People all around the world have been laid off in huge chunks, which in turn has impacted the global economy. This has certainly been a challenging time for every human being globally since the World War II. That being said, it has explicitly been a major challenging time for women all around the world.

Decades of efforts taken to build a system of gender equality and a system for women’s security have been reversed in just a few months of the pandemic and the consequential disruption in the education system, the largest one in history. Women have been facing so many interrelated issues of this pandemic and it’s difficult to overlook them. There is a great deal of issues associated with poverty that disproportionately affects women in cases, such as domestic violence, deprivation of education, child marriage and child labour among many others, due to the inequalities set up by our society.

Women’s equality and visibility are not very encouraging in our country. There has been an evident surge in complaints for crimes against women since the lockdown began in March. The National Commission for Women (NCW) itself received a total of 587 complaints for crime against women between March 23 and April 16 compared to 396 complaints during the 25 days preceding the lockdown. A study determines that there were 32 complaints per one million women in Delhi, making it the state with the highest complaint rate.

Woman on street corona

 

Uttar Pradesh recorded a total of 600 complaints for domestic violence till May 2020, the highest among all states. Syawam, a city-based women’s rights organisation in West Bengal, received a total of 1,100 complaints between March and April when compared to a total of 1,000-1,200 cases yearly.

The spike in cases does not mean these are the only cases, many cases go unreported. Studies depict around 57% of the women in India don’t have access to phones, and 75% of women who reported a domestic violence case did not seek help. The stigma revolving around gender equality has much to do with this. The so-called social and cultural norms make men feel like they’re superior beings, which is why 42% of men in India agree that the husband is justified in hitting and beating his wife. Being stuck at home with their jobless husbands/family members has made these women vulnerable to domestic and sexual exploitation.

Education of girls has been one of the issues that have been mostly worked on by governments as well as NGOs over the past few decades. The overall enrolment of girls at all levels increased by 25% points in the five years since 2013. With schools being shut and instruction format shifted to virtual platforms, girls will not be able to benefit from it, as only 16% of females have access to the internet compared to 36% males, according to the National Sample Survey 2017-18 of India.

Studies tell us that the most vulnerable bear the heaviest burdens and due to lockdown, there has been a burden on girls to do household chores and take care of younger siblings. Poverty is another reason for girls to drop out of school. According to The Hindu, as many as 24 million students may drop out of schools this year. Education is interlinked with other issues and impacts many different areas of a girl’s life.

With the massive number of dropouts from school, it will have implications on women’s safety and result in increased cases of child marriages, immature pregnancies, child trafficking and child labour. Studies show that one percent point increase in poverty results in a 0.7% increase in child labour in certain countries. Due to deteriorating employment since the locldown, almost 55%, or four billion, of the people across the globe do not have social protection.

Since the year 2000, as a result of many interventions, practices and efforts by several NGOs and government initiatives, child labour had been brought down by almost 94 million. According to the new data released by UN Women and UNDP, 4.6 crore more women and girls below the poverty line, reversing decades of progress to eradicate extreme poverty.

An increase in the number of child marriage cases is not new — after the 2004 tsunami, an increased number of girls were forced to marry tsunami widowers.

Because of the pandemic, many families of migrant workers had to go back to their hometown, jobless. This has increased the cases of child marriage. This pattern isn’t new — after the 2004 tsunami, an increased number of girls were forced to marry tsunami widowers, and after the Ebola crisis, Nepal earthquake and in Bangladesh and Syria, there was an increase in the number of cases of school dropouts and gendered violence. Child Line India witnessed an increase of 50% calls for protection from abuse, violence and child marriages and intervened a massive 5,584 calls reporting child marriage during pandemic.

The states that have so far reported the most number of cases of child marriage during the pandemic are Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, with Karnataka alone accounting for 29% of national interventions. The UNICEF intervened in 183 cases of child marriage in Odisha, 138 in West Bengal, 56 in Jharkhand, 25 in Bihar and 16 in Rajasthan.

However, these numbers are not just about the denial of their basic, lawful and rightful education because of child marriage, these girls also become vulnerable to early pregnancies and sexual violence. The risk depends on a number of factors from place of residence to family’s financial status and education level of the girls. Rural areas account for 80% of child marriages in 13 states, and the risk reduces with an increase in family’s wealth and education.

The importance and need for women and girl empowerment have been recognised at every level. We are aware that equal rights and equal opportunities are necessary for all  genders to live equally and get respect without discrimination and violence. However, a lot of the efforts made worldwide for women’s security and gender equality have been simply reversed back to 10-20 years due to Covid-19.

The above-given facts do not give the complete picture but are sufficient to drag the attention of the government, stakeholders and other key players. The current situation indicates that girls and women are in a more vulnerable situation. It needs efforts at various levels to minimise the effects. There is an urgent need to study the situation more deeply and understand various aspects of it. It is required to collectivise civil society, stakeholders and the government to brainstorm and come up with a gender mainstreaming strategy and working plan for implementation, and ensure allocation of more resources and funds.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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