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Gender, Care & COVID-19

António Guterres, the UN Chief, recently said that the girl child and women must be at the centre of the plan to deal with the Corona situation. Even the World Bank, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations have expressed the same view. Why do they sound so worried? It is because the socio-economic uncertainties, such as epidemics, usually make the women and girls comparatively more vulnerable, apart from increasing the gender inequality.

During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the outbreak of Zika virus in 2015-16, or during the recent outbreaks of the SARS, MARS, Swine Flu or Bird Flu, the affected areas experienced an economic downturn. However, it took more time for the women there to return to the prevailing normal situation, than men. During the crisis, there was an increase in infant mortality due to complications or other infectious diseases in women. Even, the outbreak of viruses triggered an increase in incidents related to domestic violence. The volume of domestic labour of women, too, increased! And in the post-outbreak period, issues – such as child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and female malnutrition – came to the fore.

António Guterres

Any economic instability delivers the initial blow to women! During pandemic, this economic instability is accompanied by a number of other factors, including fear of death, and social and political unrest. As there is a shortage of resources in relatively backward or developing countries, the weaker and backward section of the population has to bear the brunt of this situation!

As per a 2003 study conducted in an economically backward area of the Indian capital of New Delhi, diarrhoea killed almost twice as many girls than the boys. Another study has revealed that the death rate of women during the season of drought was much higher than that of men in India. The general condition of the women is worrisome in the South Asian Nation even in normal situation. As per the World Economic Forum’s International Gender Inequality Index, India ranks 112th out of 153 countries in 2020! Women’s Participation in Economic Activities, Education, and Participation in Health and Political Affairs were the three main criteria of the index. The Indian Women are ranked 149th, 112th and 150th, respectively! So, India has no other option, but to follow the directive of WHO.

In India, women and children have always been victims of discrimination and oppression. Their condition has further deteriorated since the outbreak of COVID-19. Hence, before trying to finding the effective solution to the problem, one needs to understand the age-old underlying problems that are present in cases of the Indian women! Studies on Women’s Development, so far, have stressed on some basic elements of their emancipation and development. These can be identified as women’s education, health, economic independence and the power of independent decision making.

It is possible to present these elements of development in a cyclical manner. Education helps people get Professional Qualifications and increases their job prospects, thus, paving the way to Economic Freedom. As Economic Freedom enhances the Freedom of Expression, as well as the ability to make independent decisions, it, thus, becomes easier for the women to ensure a steady advancement in health, education and other sectors. There are also some other issues, such as social system, local beliefs and superstitions, tradition and unequal division of labour concerning men and women, which should be taken care of by the Policy-makers. So, a special emphasis should be given on the above mentioned issues in an attempt to make the overall development of girls and women on the basis of the suggestions prescribed by the UN Chief, in dealing successfully with the Corona situation.

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