The gender-based struggle is an epidemic in itself that has affected all continents in the world. In such a scenario, any crisis never has a uniform impact on all sections of society. History has witnessed that the marginalized groups are the most affected during a crisis.
While the past decade saw several women step up in the work field and hold horses themselves, the concluding year of 2020 rendered all the hard work in vain. A report by the World Economic Forum(WEF) suggests that 4.2 per cent of women employees have been eliminated from 2019 to 2020, while only 3 per cent of men have been impacted so adversely.
Worst Affecting Causes, Unpaid Care Adds To Misery
The International Labour Organization (ILO) statement mentioned that even though job losses affected women more than their counterparts, men are most likely to attain the pre-COVID levels of employment faster. Job losses or income cuts are not the only worst affecting causes; unpaid care work adds to the misery for women mainly. ILO had predicted in 2020 that, "In 2021, only 43.2 per cent of world's working-age women would be re-employed as compared to 68.6 per cent of working-age men."
A report by McKinsey states that in India, till 2019, women comprised only 20 per cent of the organized sector's workforce, and after the pandemic wreaked havoc, their share of job losses in the industry mix contributed to 17 per cent.
The figures from unemployment data show a more distressing picture. There is no denying that women have lost more jobs than men, the pandemic and the measures to control it pushed women further on the verge of joblessness and reduced their work time. One of the most unfortunate reasons for this disparity can be that the most impacted sectors like food, entertainment and retail employed more women than men.
The condition is grim in a developing country like India, where people find it hard to let go of the beliefs passed down the generations. A report titled 'State of Working Women 2021' by Azim Premji University mentioned that in 2020 after the imposition of the first lockdown, only 7 per cent of men lost their jobs in the country.
In contrast, the women accounted for a whopping 47 per cent in the job losses index. The conditions in the informal sector were even worse. At the same time, most women experienced massive job losses, the ones who could manage to hold onto their jobs faced salary cuts. The employers in the informal sector complained of lack of business and thus justified slashing of incomes.
Women from financially unstable backgrounds were stuck at crossroads. They could still manage to run their livelihoods on reduced salaries, but not on no salaries at all. To top the crisis, Indian women perform more unpaid household chores than men.
The data by NITI Aayog mentioned that they spend 9.8 times more time on domestic chores and an average of 4.5 hours more than their counterparts in caregiving responsibilities for children, the elderly and the sick in the families. The imposition of lockdown led to all the family members staying at home all day. Thus, chores like cooking, washing clothes and dishes increased by 30 per cent.
The psychological impact of extra working hours for unpaid or lesser work tends to have a psychological impact on women. Women who have experienced anxiety, stress and loss of confidence is far than men. This socio-economic backseat that women have been forcefully put on is expected to have long-term consequences.
If in the post COVID world, women do not return to the workforce with a renewed enthusiasm, the progress made to reduce the gender gap would be considered useless, and the economic gains for several countries would be back-tracked. In the 21st century, having an entire generation of women not engaged in economically rewarding activities would take centuries to compensate.
Rising Cases Of Domestic Violence: NCW Data
Apart from all the economic, social and psychological distress, women are also likely to be victims of domestic abuse in their homes. The data from the National Commission of Women suggested that India recorded a 2.5 times increase in domestic violence cases between February and May 2020.
Several organizations supporting women rights said that in the four phases of the lockdown, they received more complaints of domestic violence than they had in the last ten years. Responding to this alarming rise, the government of India had categorized 'domestic violence support service' as an essential service. In the past year and a half, three lakh women affected by abuse and violence have sought shelter in India's 700 one-stop crisis centres.
For ensuring a steady economic growth of the country, women participation is imperative. India would add $700 billion to its GDP if the women workforce increases by a mere 10 per cent.
McKinsey had reported that if women participation in India were equal to male participation in the working population, the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would increase by a massive 27 per cent, which would be a more extraordinary leap than any other region in the world.
The comparative lower participation of women has gradually transpired over the years. One can relate it to the literacy disparity amongst the genders that have transpired to the current employment scenario. Therefore, the best time to take a corrective measure is here and now.
Heavy investments in girl-child education and providing enough auxiliary facilities like proper sanitation facilities, bathrooms for girls, sanitary napkin vending facilities, and clean water are among the most basic requirements that contribute to the rising rates of girls dropping out of education.
Every crisis in the country affects women and girls more; thus the policymakers should deliberately formulate policies for their development. Several programmes by international organizations like the United Nations, World Economic Forum and several national initiatives are already under progress to save the dream of gender parity, women empowerment and equality going down the drain.
UN Women is pushing governments and private organizations to invest heavily in formal and informal economies to enable sustainable and dignified livelihoods for women across the globe. The much-needed women empowerment needs to be visible on the ground and not only on paper.