Coronavirus Impact Worsens Gender Gap: “India’s Painful Shecession”


Women represent 49% of the Indian population, but contribute only 18% to its economic production.

Women around the world have suffered financially from the coronavirus epidemic, but the situation in India is more precarious for them than almost anywhere else. In India, women already suffer from a wide gender gap in employment, wages and education.

Less than a quarter of women in India are in the labor force – among the poorest in the world – and they earn 35% less on average than men, compared to the world average of a gap of 16%.

Women make up 49% of India’s population, but contribute only 18% to its economic output, about half the world average. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi locked out this nation of 1.3 billion people on March 25, many women were further removed.

Asha Sharma, 25, is one of them. Five years ago, she left the hilly state of Uttarakhand for New Delhi to try to live from her passion for dancing to Bollywood songs. This dream only lasted a short time; she could not join a dance troupe and her graduation from a small town did not help secure an office job in the town. With a friend’s referral, Sharma found a job in a beauty salon.

She earned about 12,000 rupees ($ 159) a month and returned money to her mother, a public daycare worker. After the death of his father ten years ago, his mother found it difficult to raise three children. Sharma can no longer help, however, as she has had no income in the past two months with the beauty salon closed.

His brothers and sisters were also unemployed during the epidemic, which made them all again dependent on the 1,500 rupees a month that their mother earned.

“Our mother has done so much for us. Now we are all adults, but there is nothing we can do to help her,” said Sharma. “It is not easy for a woman to win. Unlike men, who can do any kind of work, we have limits. We also have to keep in mind the safety aspects.”

The epidemic of viruses and orders to stay at home in India have injured other women. Many millions of migrant workers forced to flee cities for their rural homes without notice were women. They are overrepresented in vulnerable service jobs such as health care and education and in informal jobs, such as agriculture and sex work, where there is no safety net. And as Sharma points out, they have security concerns, with travel being a risk to many.

“The norms of foreclosure and social distancing will likely have an disproportionate impact on women. The concern is that the economic impact will be felt on employment and well-being indicators in the coming years,” said Sanjay Mathur, economist in Australia and New Zealand. Banking group, calling it “India’s dire shortage”. It is a term used by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research after employment figures in the United States showed that the majority of jobs lost in April were held by women.

Oxfam India estimates the economic loss of women who lost their jobs during the pandemic at around $ 216 billion, or 8% of the country’s gross domestic product. This obscures the already poor economic prospects for women. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2020 Index ranks India 112th out of 153 countries for equal opportunities for women and men, and women often do not have the same access to health care and to education than their male counterparts.

Even professional women in India have experienced setbacks. The virus epidemic has led many people to work at home, but Poonam Kumar made this choice 20 years ago. An independent public relations professional living on the outskirts of New Delhi, Kumar wanted to spend time with her family, raising her son, who is now 16 years old.

“The people who started with me have grown up,” she said over the phone from her residence in Gurugram, referring to colleagues at the start of her career who rose through the ranks. “But it was a choice I made.”

Kumar said his life was going well until the pandemic struck. Her husband’s retail business has been affected by the foreclosure, and Kumar’s business, she says, “has stalled.” She lost four of her six clients and was unable to pay full wages to the two women she employs.

“When companies have trouble paying wages and laying off workers, nobody will think about public relations,” she said. “I don’t see things going back to normal anytime soon. I’m trying to figure out what to do next.”

Other inequalities

The impact of the virus also exacerbates India’s deep-rooted social inequalities. A dangerous environment in many places, with a girl raped on average every 15 minutes, and the burden of domestic responsibilities has kept many women away from work. Since the lockout, the number of domestic violence complaints has more than doubled. Experts warn that girls’ education will be disadvantaged – as only 29% of Internet users in India are women, and there is a trend for families with limited means to give boys preference for schooling.

“To the extent that violence has lasting emotional and psychological consequences, a lingering economic impact will be on the ability of women to work outside the home,” said Tarun Jain, professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.

Female employment in April represented 61% of the annual average before the lock-out; for men, it was 71%, wrote Ashwini Deshpande, professor of economics at Ashoka University, in a June 3 research paper. .


Women stand out to maintain social distance, while waiting to receive rations in New Delhi, April 2020.

India imposes nationwide lockdown as coronavirus continues to spread Women stand out for maintaining social distance as they wait for rations in New Delhi, April 2020. Photographer: Yawar Nazir / Getty Images

Neeti Pandey, 42, last month became part of those statistics when she left private school where she taught for about two years, holding a letter of dismissal. A math teacher at Indirapuram near New Delhi, Pandey was called to school and asked to resign with several other teachers. They were told there was no money to pay them because many families had stopped paying school fees.

The news came as a shock to Pandey, a mother of two who became the family’s only breadwinner after her husband, a cancer patient, left his grocery store last year. She was not paid for April and May, although she gave online courses at home. Caring for her husband, as well as caring for children and the elderly, has added to her burden.

“Life is difficult for a woman. Men will only do one job at a time, but we still have to multitask. We are supposed to find the right balance between family and work, and keep everyone happy “, she said. “But if you’re sad, you can’t hide it for long.”

For now, Pandey is managing with a little savings and financial help from the family. She is desperately looking for a job, but with unemployment exceeding 23%, her search has not been easy.

Occupational risks

In India, women are more at risk of contracting the virus because they are overrepresented in the health sector. Women’s self-help groups try to provide personal protective equipment, although the need is great.

For some women, “the choice seems to be between unemployment and jobs that put them at risk of disease and infection and make them targets of vicious stigma,” said Deshpande.

Madhu, 39, who has only one name, is used to managing risks in her work. She is a sex worker in New Delhi, saying that financial needs pushed her in this area over ten years ago. She was separated from her husband when her two daughters, almost adults now, were toddlers. She tells her family that she is a peer educator who does AIDS awareness training – which it is, a job that pays little but allows her to keep her real work a secret.


Women make up 49% of India’s population, but contribute only 18% to its economic output, about half the world average.

“There was a time when we were 12 people at home, including my parents and brothers and sisters, and there was practically no food to eat. We gave the children sugar syrup for days” said Madhu. “It was then that a friend told me about the men who pay 100 rupees for an hour-long bike ride with them. It was a princely amount for me at the time.”

The foreclosure has left Madhu and millions of other sex workers in India without a source of income. There are no social protection programs specifically for sex workers in India, and many do not have documents that allow the poor to access free food and cash transfers .

To survive during the epidemic, Madhu started working in a hospital canteen where patients with coronavirus are treated. She serves food to doctors and patients and in return obtains leftovers for her family. Some of his clients have also provided financial assistance.

“I would like to have studied and become a teacher,” she said. “I don’t want my daughters to wrestle like me.”

(With the exception of the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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