This article is part of the series — Post-Pandemic Development Priorities.
Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which succeeded the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, were adopted to take forward the agenda of development and ensure a better future for member countries. Many SDGs are sensitive to gender issues, however, out of the seventeen SDGs, SDG 5 deals with women’s issues directly. It aims at improving the conditions of women by removing the gender pay gap and enhancing the quality of life for women. The current pandemic, however, has reversed the progress made on SDG5 to some extent.
It is well noted that patriarchy has subjugated women for centuries, especially in developing countries. Gendered social and cultural norms have bound them and, at times, made women active participants and enforcers of patriarchy. Socio-cultural norms prevalent in rural areas have prevented women from getting an education. As a result, women are underrepresented in various walks of life — 55% of the female working class population (aged 15-64 years) are engaged in the labour market
as compared to 78% for men. Economic empowerment and change in societal patterns have made women question established norms that have been imposed on them for centuries. However, the situation is not likely to change soon.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020
, it will take 95 years to close the gender gap in political representation. The situation is even worse as far as economic participation is considered. As per the report, it will require 257 years to attain gender parity in economic participation globally; it was pegged at 202 years as per the 2019 report. So, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in fact, worsened the situation for women. Women received differential treatment during the pandemic. Women constitute two-thirds of the global workforce in the health sector but a pay gap of 28% exists as per a working paper of the World Health Organisation (2019
). Despite discrimination, women working as nurses and caregivers are at the frontline fighting the deadly virus.
Women received differential treatment during the pandemic. Women constitute two-thirds of the global workforce in the health sector, but a pay gap of 28% exists.
According to a recent report by Mckinsey, female job loss rates are 1.8 times higher
than the male job loss rates globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A high proportion of women are suffering from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The situation is no different in India. Apart from comparatively less pay and greater rate of job loss, there has been an alarming rise in domestic violence against women in during the lockdown period. The National Commission for Women (NCW) received a large number of distress calls every day from women seeking help. The pandemic resulted in job loss and caused stress for men and women alike but domestic violence has affected women adversely, resulting in further subjugation of women. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2020
, participation of female labour force in India is one of the lowest in the world. Women constitute 49% of the Indian population but their contribution to economic output is only 18%. The pay gap in India is 35% compared to the global average of 16%. Mostly involved in irregular or unpaid work, women in the informal sector have been considered as the most vulnerable by the International Labour Organisation
. Many women lost their livelihoods and had to make a permanent exit from the labour market because of the pandemic. Stalled participation of women in the labour market in recent months has further enhanced income disparity. As per the CMIE Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS)
data, four out of 10 women lost jobs in India and 17 million women lost their jobs during the nation-wide lockdown in March and April 2020. A World Bank Report
suggested that 49 million people will be pushed to abject poverty because of the pandemic; out of this, more than 12 million people will be pushed to poverty in India. Women will be overrepresented in that category creating a new cycle of poverty.
Women constitute 49% of the Indian population, but their contribution to economic output is only 18%. The pay gap in India is 35% compared to the global average of 16%.
Measures to combat COVID-19 did not take into account gender disparities. A vast majority of women in India are self-employed in the agricultural and manufacturing sector. Lockdown affected their livelihoods and cut down their income. Many women may permanently exit the labour market if appropriate policies are not adopted to address the issue. The pandemic virus, SARS CoV-2, may not discriminate by gender but the impact of the pandemic and the response of the state have been gendered. It has been observed that the autonomy of women is compromised during any health emergency. This pandemic was no different. Policy decisions to combat the disease should have been gender balanced by incorporating gender concerns. A recent Lancet article also pointed out that the gendered implications of the pandemic
have not been taken into consideration.
In the short run, redressal and prevention mechanisms should be in place to curb the rising cases of domestic violence in the country. Employment of women badly suffered during the pandemic should be made a priority. Any unemployment support must include women who form a large proportion of the workforce in the informal sector. Going forward, policies need to be adopted to prevent the marginalisation of women from economic activities. Fair wages and better terms of employment need to be ensured. In the absence of clear policies, COVID-19 will only result in an increased gender gap due to the widening of already existing social and economic inequalities in India. A social safety scheme should be provided to women. Self-Help Groups (SHGs) can help women at the community level. Some of the SHGs are making masks, running community kitchens and, thereby, generating livelihood for women. Improving digital literacy of women and promoting women entrepreneurship can be very effective to bring women back to labour workforce and generating income for them.
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