Why did COVID-19 hit Differently to Women and the Third Gender – Economic Aspect

It was December 31, 2019, when Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China reported a cluster of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, Hubei Province to the World Health Organization. Eventually, the novel coronavirus was identified. The first case of COVID-19 beyond the borders of China was reported in Thailand on January 13, 2020. With the sudden spread of the virus around the globe, every country commenced to adopt various measures, such as social distancing, so as to protect the citizens but the virus continued and shall continue to broaden the narrowing inequalities around the world, one among which is – Gender Disparity.

Every nation has a history of gender inequality and therefore each country prefers dealing with the situation, keeping in mind the resources available in the country. Countries like, Norway and Finland do provide a ‘happy’ place to women and third gender but nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt have stringent laws against women and the third gender.

Image: Bloomberg

Belarus ranked 29th out of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 is a country where education is compulsory till secondary level and women are more qualified than men. According to a world bank report of 2016-17, 100% girls and boys were enrolled in school but a wide gender gap lied in tertiary education- 68% boys seemed to opt for vocational schools and women joined universities to increase their educational qualification. Therefore, today, women tend to dominate sectors like, healthcare, education, social sciences whereas men dominate in the labour sector. Even though more women are involved in white-collar jobs, they are offered 2.5% less managerial positions than men and the gender wage gap increased from 19% to 25% in 2017. Belarus by May 3, 2020, reported 15,828+ cases and the number, unfortunately, continues to increase because of NO strict social distancing measures adopted. In this case, the question lies that – Will the gender wage gap in the country decrease or increase? Will women start earning more since they dominate the healthcare and education sector, also because they tend to be more qualified? WHO has recommended the nation to commence taking the necessary measures, but does that mean, men will lose on their jobs as most of them are employed as labourers?  Or will the gender wage gap remain the same? Are there any chances of having absolutely no wage gap? These questions can only be answered after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko takes firm steps in regard to overcoming the catastrophic situation.

Also Read: COVID-19 and the ‘other’ struggle of Indigenous Communities in India

On the other hand, when we look at India, a country where only primary education is declared as compulsory, women are considered to be the primary ‘caregivers’ of a household which undoubtedly puts them into more danger of being affected by the virus as they are the ones who come in contact with the rest of the family members more frequently than the rest, although the sex-disaggregated data show, a more or less equal number of men and women have been affected by the virus. In a situation in which, educational institutions, workplaces are suspended in the country, the woman has been burdened with the household tasks which puts them in a more vulnerable situation than men. In addition, the lockdown has increased family issues in every household – from increasing stress and anxiety, substance abuse to financial issues and domestic violence. The information presented by the National Commission For Women states that 291 cases of domestic violence have already been reported via mails.

Tribal women wearing masks made of palm leaves during the pandemic

According to a report published by the International Labour Organization, nearly 81% of the country’s population is employed by the informal sector and the majority of them are women but due to the pandemic, informal and part-time jobs stand at the forefront of being suspended. A high percentage of women have always been engaged in imports and exports but there is a high possibility that the crises may make them unemployed.

As a necessary measure, the government has announced a financial relief scheme, in which, a small amount of Rs. 500 ($6.6) will be transferred in the Jan-Dhan accounts of women belonging to the poor-class for over next three months. Even though the amount is ‘sympathetic’ rather than ‘empathetic’ taking into consideration the crises, we cannot deny that the government is making attempts to better the conditions of the poor. Besides, the government has launched an employment plan for women who have lost their jobs or are on the verge of losing them. We wish that the government takes some action to empower widows and divorced as well. In addition to it, the NGO’s are playing a key role during the time of the catastrophic situation by providing food, shelter and distributing menstrual pads among women.

As everyone in the world stands one- on- one to combat the virus, the third gender around the globe stands ignored. The lockdown has left the third gender at a higher risk of poverty and illness as many transwomen, so-called ‘hijras’ in the Indian society used to earn for their living by going to events and celebrations, begging in local trains and being involved in selling sex. In a personal interview conducted by our team, Sonakshi Agarwal, a freelance queer model based in Delhi expresses her concern towards the marketing and fashion industry by saying “The difficulty is not just faced by me but by several others who are in the marketing /fashion industry, which is purely based on fieldwork. The entire team- containing models, photographers, designers, stylists, make-up artists are on a toll economically. Currently, we’re all living on our savings but if the lockdown remains, there sure will be a day when we will burn all our savings and will have no bread to eat.”

Image Credits: PTI

It is not just today that the community is standing in a crucial position because the same had happened with them at the time of demonetization when they underwent extortions by local goons so as to get their currency exchanged. Henceforth, the government should emphasize on the needs of the community and come up with policies and advisories that are much required for their living.

We, on our parts too need to take a step forward by paying our maids and sweepers their monthly wages even if they are not visiting our places to perform their respective tasks. If not economically, we can help our friends mentally by listening to them over phones and if you own a business by any chance, please try to not un-employ anyone because this shall somewhere or the other count in flattening the gender disparity curve and not drive us back into the gender roles of the 1950s.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Pakhi Gauba

Pakhi Gauba is a Former Research Intern at The Kootneeti. Her area of interest includes Gender and Society

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