It doesn’t come as a surprise that people of color (POC) have an incredible disadvantage in this pandemic. Article after article has highlighted that POC are at a much higher risk for contracting the virus due to the nature of their jobs, lack of access to healthcare, and so much more. But what’s even more alarming is how this pandemic has turned back the clock on the progress that every women’s movement has made over the past 100 years. To say the world has been regressing would be an understatement. The state of women all over the world, especially in South Asian communities, is deteriorating rapidly and this effect can be seen in the widening pay-gap, rise in gender-based violence, and lack of access to education.
Amidst the sheer panic of financial insecurity and new norms of work-from-home, the impact of the compromise culture has been rampant. Compromise culture is a term that refers to the manner in which women are expected to compromise in various aspects of their lives in order to facilitate an easier one for the men in their lives. It can be changing their own likes and dislikes to fit those of their partners or family members, working double or triple the hours with their combined jobs of being mothers and career professionals, and so much more. This type of thinking has always been prevalent in South Asian communities, where women are expected to bend over backwards to fit the needs and requirements of everyone around them, but themselves. This was even widely seen (to much dismay) in the popular Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking, where a girl’s eligibility to marry was dependent on how flexible she would be to put her life on pause so she could take care of her to-be husband. But how does this apply to the pandemic?
The Widening Pay Gap
With everyone in the family staying at home, whether it’s in the form of working from home or going to Zoom University, there has been an unfair burden placed on women. “It was revealed that women are bearing the brunt of extra childcare and housework and are losing jobs in greater numbers than men, campaigners, politicians and work experts said a dearth of female voices at the heart of government also risks putting 50 years of progress into reverse” (The Guardian). As more and more women are having to put their careers on hold to handle the childcare, needing to be easily available while their kids go to online school, making extra meals, all while their male partners are able to simply focus on their jobs, it feels as if the progress to equalizing the roles of husband and wife in the home has been pushed backwards.
While this has been seen all over the world, many of the women in South Asian countries have been hit even harder with this rising inequality. In a recent UN Women study, it was found that while “the number of women living in extreme poverty was expected to fall by 2.7% between 2019 and 2021 … [the] new poverty forecasts indicate a rise of some 9.1%.” Further, it was found that “over the course of their lives, women are more likely to have prioritized family obligations over paid work, which can adversely affect their incomes in prime working years. This also has a ripple effect on their income security in old age. Among those aged 55 and over, women make up the majority of those living in extreme poverty (53 per cent). The 2021 projections indicate that 38 million women aged 55+ globally will be living in extreme poverty compared to 34 million men” (UN Women).
As we progress into month 9 of the pandemic, the higher rates at which women are being furloughed in comparison to men, the number of women quitting their jobs to be more available for everyone at home, and the manner in which many households are dependent on the women compromising their very identities in order to keep their households running is getting worrisome.
The Rise in Gender-Based Violence
Along with the increased pay gap and unemployment, it has been found that “globally 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual or physical violence in the previous 12 months [and] the existing crisis of gender-based violence is likely to worsen in the context of COVID-19” (The Diplomat). As more and more women and girls are staying at home with proximity to their abusers, “developing countries like India, Brazil, and Bangladesh have also reported a rise in domestic violence cases. UNFPA estimates there will be up to 31 million new cases of gender-based violence if the lockdown continues for six months” (The Diplomat).
Prior to the pandemic, although there were still large number of domestic abuse and gender-based violence cases, the access to school or work to have a separation from known-abusers or the ability to stay far away from locations with a higher rate of abusers gave women and girls some sense of a reprieve from all of the violence. But now, with everyone staying at home all day and not being able to get away from circumstances, the cases have only been rising at an alarming rate.
The Lack of Access to Education
In addition to the increased gender-based violence, there has been a startling number of families choosing to pull their daughters out of school in order to reduce the costs. In many of the developing countries, where putting more and more girls in school has been a growing initiative over the years, the sheer costs of online education has put many of these girls at the crossfire.
If a household has more than one child, online school is requiring multiple devices that connect to the internet, a costly data plan, and the necessary school supplies. When families are already struggling to make ends meet, especially with the lost wages due to the inability to work, many families are resorting to prioritizing their male children’s education over their female children’s ones and choosing rather to marry their daughters off as quickly as possible. “As many as 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school globally, according to the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation that promotes girls’ education” (FMT News)
In many of the South Asian countries, the rates of female secondary school enrollment have always been low, but now with the pandemic, the situation has only been exacerbated: “It [was] found that 42% of girls surveyed reported a decline in their family’s income during the Covid-19 pandemic and that one in two girls surveyed was at risk of dropping out. ‘When families can’t afford school and have to choose, they will often send boys,’ said John Wood, founder of Room to Read” (FMT News).
What to Change
Although everyone may not be facing the same issues and while there are many households where these unfortunate situations aren’t the case, staying informed and doing what we can as empowered individuals is just one of the many ways we can help women who aren’t nearly as lucky as others. There are many organizations that are working towards raising funds to keep girls in school and to try to give support to women who are facing gender-based violence, but we have a long way to go before any long-term solution can be identified. As the circumstances continue to change rapidly due to the pandemic, there will be many more issues that come forth that merely highlight the regression in the state of womens’ equality across the world. But rather than view everything as a negative, let’s see how we can bring change in our own communities and in other communities that are facing the brunt of the challenges a bit more than us!
Cover Photo by Ayush Kalra