Woman, Interrupted

“O Bhagwati, Only if Shiva is conjoined with You, can He create Without You, O Shakti, He cannot even move O, Mother, Hari, Hara and Brahma worship You.”                                                     (Wave of Beauty, Wave of Bliss – Adi Shankaracharya)

Although culture, mythology and history depicted women and men as coequal, the clogged thinking and prejudices of mankind stumbled us on the path to a gender equal world. Every catastrophe ever attacked the world has brought along a sheer rise in the trend of various sorts of inequalities. The current pandemic widened the already existing gender divide worldwide, worsening the predicament of women like never before. 

 Initially the virus and lockdown were reckoned as gender equalizers as they forced people to stay indoors which made them discern the plight of women at home. This led to many positive effects like increased share of workload and household chores, increased sense of belonging towards home and family but respite was short lived. There was a sudden upsurge in the number of domestic abuse cases reported, the UN termed this surge as ‘shadow pandemic’. Women were tortured and exploited widely. The UN Secretary General himself stated that lockdowns can trap women with their abusive partners which can escalate cases of domestic abuse. According to reports more than 92000 calls were received all over India seeking protection during the initial 11 days of lockdown. Horror of such incidents and inability of adequate protection tore down the mental state of many women. 

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 Moreover, this pervasive malady affected women’s jobs and livelihoods largely as the magnitude of inequality currently prevalent is striking. It was found that female jobs are more at risk than male ones simply because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Women hold a majority of the insecure, informal and low paying jobs round the globe which made them even more vulnerable to economic crises. They have less access to social securities and welfare schemes, and thus the economic shocks created by this disease are supposed to outlast the actual pandemic. Extending elementary protections to informal workers and enacting fiscal relief activities at the earliest only can lessen the gravity of the situation.

This crisis also created a drastic shift of attention and resources from basic provisions for maternal and child health around the globe to COVID relief activities.  Many countries ceased health care services for women terming it as ‘non-essential’, this decision not only denied women and girls access to time-sensitive and potentially life-saving services, but also further distanced them from already difficult-to-access basic health care amenities. The Ebola outbreak had taught us what all terrifying effects can side lining essential health care result in, shutdown of routine health services and people’s fear of going to clinics and hospitals where they could get infected backlashed severely as thousands of women and infants died due to neonatal and other maternal health issues. We are heading to a similar situation; the aftermath would be even more acute. 

Education endured severe setbacks during these hard times. According to UNESCO, lockdowns and school closures have already caused almost 743 million girls to miss out on their education, and 10 million more secondary school aged girls are predicted to drop out of their schools before the pandemic gets over. On top of these often girls are the first to be pulled out of schools and forced to work and earn livelihood whenever families face economic hardships.  Restrictions on travel has also made it impossible for social organizations to directly reach out to girls and other communities that need help thus they lost both support and guidance too in this pandemic. 

Apposite help at the right time can ensure mental and physical wellbeing of both men and women. Social, educational and economic opportunities should be ameliorated during this crisis. Fight against this pandemic is not only about flattening the curve of the infected population but also ensuring humanity only wins at the end of the tunnel and comprehending every Shiva is powerless without Shakti.  

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