The pandemic of Corona Virus has spread across boundaries and the entire globe is facing severe health crisis influencing the global population in diverse and drastic ways. With the increasing spread of deadly virus, cognitive, physical and overall wellbeing of individuals has undergone a considerable threat. Further, as the global focus has been mostly on inventing a cure and other preventive measures, entire population is passing through a myriad of psychological issues in adapting to current abnormal lifestyle. Thus, cognitive wellbeing issues due to the pandemic resulted into normal people being exposed to abnormal and/or extraordinary circumstances. Additionally, this has evolved several psychological evils like anxiety, melancholy, disruptive sleep and appetite, loneliness, domestic violence, child abuse et al. Also, the widespread social and economic disturbance has produced a feeling of dejection among masses due to fear of job loss and/or heavy layoffs on account of economic meltdown.
Further, the social distancing and lockdown have posed significant challenges especially to women for being exposed to extensive working from home and greater time spent with the family members. With emotionally detached husbands, women are shouldering more burden of paid work in this pandemic. Also, homes which were already unsafe for many are now becoming more unsafe because lockdown forced people to remain close doors without any chance of seeking support. This has further deepened the pre-existing patriarchy and gender gaps in our society due to long quarantine duration resulting into frustration, boredom etc. In addition to this, there has been an exponential increase in the responsibilities with the closure of educational institutions thereby, elevated care needs of children and other dependents at home. Therefore, work life balance of working women professionals in pandemic have thrown a lot of challenges towards women as battling day to day chores at home and office is not an easy task.
Helen Lewis, a British journalist and the former deputy editor of the New Statesman maintained that corona virus is the tragedy to feminism. She further added that anxiety, alcohol consumption, and financial constraints are the activators for violence in the home, and the pandemic will increase all the three including enhanced domestic violence across cultures. However, even before pandemic, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations as men are raised to see women as their possessions rather than as equal human beings.
Women empowerment through women entrepreneurship plays a vital role in the overall wellbeing of the society. However, the adverse impact of pandemic in India has enhanced chances of men replacing women especially in rural areas. Covid- 19 has resulted into the replacement of innumerable migrant women labour returning home who are unlikely to join the cities back. Significantly, therefore, such uncertain circumstances have considerably reduced the scope of employability among Indian women. Consequently, financial crunch may force numerous families to take out their girl child from educational institution even before the completion of their academic course that may never turn back to their educational institutions even after the crises are over.
Furthermore, women-led businesses encompassing tourism and hospitality sectors, education, child care services, unorganised retail outlets, personal grooming and/or beauty salons, wellness and fitness services, catering services etc. with an offline component have been hit harder during pandemic. As a result, vast number of women entrepreneurs declared the permanent dissolution of their business units due to the declining customers, lack of financial stimulus, deficiency of manpower etc. This has not only impacted their economic independence but also have repercussions on their role in household decisions, freedom of movement etc. Moreover, COVID-19 has resulted into changing employment patterns encouraging employability of men as employers consider them more flexible and proficient to invest longer hours to work as compared to women. As a sequel, such practice may pose a greatest threat to budding women aspirants and the same culture may be transmitted and continue to exist in post COVID context.
Significantly, therefore, Women are the hardest hit by this pandemic but they will also be the backbone of salvage, if their involvement and leadership is amply harvested for economic reconstruction and social reformation. Further more, prior to this pandemic, The World Economic Forum inferred that it would take us close to two centuries to achieve gender equality in true essence. COVID-19 is not only a global health challenge but also a test of our spirit and humanity. The effects of this pandemic are not gender neutral; therefore, our responses must also not be gender blind, else the impact will fall unduly on women. It is of utmost importance that, all national responses, in order to have the desired effects, place women and issues of their inclusion, socio-economic rights, equality and protection at their heart.
However, based on the foregoing discussion, the below mentioned are some of the suggestions for improving the cognitive well-being of women during Pandemic:
* Women NGO’s and other organisations should strongly facilitate the movement of protecting women rights. Further, cognitive support by establishing a direct connection through various help lines or online counselling need to be stimulated by embracing technology based solutions such as SMS, social networking and other online tools so as to extend social support. Additionally, strong intervention and strategies need to focus in order to strengthen women’s access to justice.
* In order to encourage women participation in the workforce, compulsory day care centres for children, equal wage policy and enhanced maternity leave benefits must be administered.
* Introducing direct financial assistance, extended employment and tax benefits to needy women especially belonging to unorganised sectors.
* Moreover, upgraded education, training and skilling opportunities in line with technological transformations, gender responsive trade policies, broader provision of social services and engaging women in high leadership positions are some of the other measures by which we can lessen the negative impact of this crisis on women.
* In the long run as the economic activities open, it is pertinent to return to long-standing recommendations of improving terms of women employability with implementation of fair wages, so that women are not marginalized from working. The gender responsiveness of the states must be targeted to comprehensively enhance aspects of women’s ‘world of work which including wide-ranging forms of work and workplaces.
* Policy makers should ensure that women are included in decision-making process, thereby, leading to better outcomes. CEOs of giant corporations have the opportunity to prove effective governance in such difficult times by eradicating existing gender biases. Thus, malleable office hours, efficacious career paths would facilitate to narrow the gender gap and allow women to execute more efficaciously.
* A nation needs to frame effective policies to provide social protection and other benefits to informal women workers. Also, building longer-term strategies for the extension of social protection and promoting the transition from the informal to the formal economy through inclusive social dialogue.
* Lastly, post pandemic era should direct employers to be mindful of not laying off their women employees disproportionately. Major organisational policies should revolve around ensuring gender fairness in labour force participation and wages. Such initiatives will go a long way towards paving the way for gender equality, thereby, enriching the prospects for women workforce in India.
(The author is PhD Scholar The Business School University of Jammu)