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Gender Implications Of COVID-19

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

By Dr Simi Mehta and Ritika Gupta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

As India has crossed 3.4 million coronavirus cases, these extraordinary times have created conspicuous situations both at personal and professional places for women. For example, there has been a rise in the cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence within households. Also, there has been an increase in the layoffs and loss of jobs for women in professional places. Women are finding their homes as spheres of anxiety and fear.

Even before the pandemic, research had shown that progress towards gender equality had been slow across the world, there were large gender gaps in women’s employment caused by childcare burdens, inadequate employment, public and private spending on services like education, etc.  Globally, COVID-19 has adversely affected the livelihoods of both men and women but it has been harder on women as compared to men. With this background, a lecture on Gender Implications of COVID 19 organised by Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) on 20th August 2020 and it aimed to understand the national and regional effects of COVID 19 on women.

Professor Vibhuti Patel Former Professor, Advanced Center for Women’s Studies, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai stated that in the past as well, gender implications of pandemics and epidemics had been hardly discussed. She mentioned that the term ‘social distancing’ was itself a highly controversial term because it has a painful legacy of the caste system in India. Women workers have been disproportionately affected by job loss, reduced working hours, and bankruptcy. She also said that if we see the data from 2000 to 2019 from 30.4% to 23.4%, we will find a continuous decline of workforce participation of women in the Indian economy.

Professor Patel also explained the gendered differences in the experience of COVID-19. Women who were employed had to juggle work from home and household responsibilities. As care work was stereotyped as a woman’s domain around the world, they tend to spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. In India, 94% of women are employed in the unorganized sector, involved in work which lacks the dignity of labour, social security, decent and timely wages, and in some cases, even the right to be called a worker.

She also mentioned that as reverse migration is happening, not all migrant workers left for their hometowns. As there was a lack of public health services they were doing community services like running community kitchens, looking after the sick and elderly as this was more economic in the times of lockdown. There was an increase in volunteerism to help the needy, especially from the students. They networked with the supply chains so the essentials could reach the households.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, only 24.05 % of pregnant women and 17.47 % of newborns were registered between 1st April and 10th June. We do not even know if the rest even survived or they gave birth at home or whether the newborns received vaccinations and adequate medical care.

She also said that there has been a 24% increase in the export of agrarian goods but women are still not given equal wages. They are not even registered as workers or farmers. Women eat at last or eat the leftovers due to which they receive less nutrition. Reproductive health was completely neglected. During the lockdown, most of the private nursing homes closed down due to which highly inadequate public services have been treating COVID-19 patients.

Representative image.

As a result, women’s access to reproductive and maternal health care has been severely hampered. Due to the lockdown, there has been a switch to online classes. More girls dropped out of schools and colleges and there was an increase in forced and underage marriages. NSSO has already revealed stark gender gaps in computing ability. Violence against women escalated due to social isolation.

She also mentioned that there has been gender bias in government relief programs like Atmanirbhar Bharat and PM Garib Kalyan Yojna. Women have been completely neglected in these programs. She also pointed out some of the major concerns of the women’s rights organizations like ensuring delivery of reproductive health services, sanitary kits, menstrual health supplies, and mental health care, need to fight increased child marriages and gender-based violence, services of women’s helpline should be fully functional and be classified as essential services.

She also pointed out that to combat gender inequality we need to encourage equitable sharing of the domestic task through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers, implementation of legislation and policies for equal access to information, public health education, and resources in multiple languages. The migrant workers should be assisted with cash transfers as the informal economy is heavily dependent on them without whom sectors like manufacturing, construction, etc. would come to a standstill. Professor Patel also questioned why the Fortune 500 companies have not shown the same level of enthusiasm as for marathons when it comes to helping migrants or raising gender issues.

Professor Samapti Guha, Professor, and Chairperson, Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, TISS, Mumbai highlighted that 9.09 % micro-enterprises are lead by women in India, these enterprises are usually survival-type and not opportunity-driven in their working. This means they lack financial resources and even social capital because of societal pressure as they are usually based out of their homes. Most of them are not even registered so they do not have any credit history. She suggested that there should be skill training for women, not only for job employment but for self-employment as well.

Ms Urvashi Prasad, Public Policy Specialist, Office of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog pointed out that there is a need for a dedicated unit in the government which collects metrics concerned with women. She said that gender is multi-faceted: it is about health, education, labor force participation, and attitude towards women. She also said that apart from rolling our legislations and policies for women, we also need to focus on its implementations where we presently lack. There is a need to work on capacity building and knowledge management. She also pointed out that there is a need for a change in attitude towards women via campaigns.

Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International pointed out that there was a lack of action from the union government towards the migrant crisis and in their way of managing the pandemic. He also stated that states which were open to civil society interventions faired well as compared to others.

Ms Maitreyee Hanique, Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi also highlighted the lack of data, as no attempts have been made by the government to provide gender-wise data of those who have been affected by COVID-19. She also said that during a recession women are the first to lose their jobs and also get less pay. The government even went ahead to dilute labour laws in the pandemic. The government has announced a host of initiatives which are detrimental to women’s concern and spirit of democratic government as a whole.

Representative image.

She also highlighted that Kudumbashree Programme in Kerala has been able to manage the COVID-19 crisis better because women, in general, connect better with the community. She also pointed out there is a need for more women-focused legislation like MGNREGA, which does not differentiate in the wages between men and women.

Professor Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI, New Delhi and Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurgaon, who also chaired this event, summarised that there is a need for policies and programs to reduce the amount of unpaid care work. Only talking about the change will not help, we need to bring it in our practice so we need more studies and research on how to reduce this unpaid care work.

She also said that employers or state-funded provisions should provide childcare and tax policies that encourage both personal and professional spheres of work of women. She also talked about women’s access to basic infrastructure. Women need to be trained in the technological front as India is moving towards the digital age. There should be interventions to address gender norms that would create awareness about women’s role in 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.

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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.

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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 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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