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COVID19 has already raised its head again. Many places in Europe and US and other countries have closed again. In some parts, curfew has been imposed to ensure compliance with restrictions. Pakistan is also bracing for another surge. No one is sure about how it will go and what will need to be done.
Before we discuss further, I would like to bring to fore the impact of COVID19 Phase I on women in particular.
It would not be wrong to say that women suffered more than any other group in this time, and we shall see some ways in which it happened.
Women were the first to be sent home to #stayathome and #workfromhome. It was projected as a gesture of courtesy towards women. They were also the last to be called back after restrictions were eased out. Their jobs were also among the most redundant ones. Let us count from the base up.
Huge number of women working as domestic help were asked to stop work till further instructions. These women worked in 3-4 households daily to earn some amount. They were relieved from all workplaces. Being daily wagers type, these women lost all income immediately. Every morning, large numbers of women descend upon various localities and do house chores in multiple households. Multiple women from same families, mothers, daughters, sisters, come and work. Domestic work by women has never been recognized in any significant way. They are major supporters of their families, they earn more than their menfolk in many cases, and in many cases, they are the only support as their men do not work or are addicts or sick or simply lazy. Corona hit these women workers hard. The households asked them to stop work because they could bring infection from their homes or from other homes where they worked. They were not paid anything extra; just for days they had worked, and they were sent on indefinite, unpaid leave. A large number of such households lost income and became poor.
The second major category to lose pay or job was women working as receptionists, or at the front desk. The offices were closed, or had few staff members coming, and no visitors, so the receptions were closed. In most companies, it was unpaid leave, or reduced pay leave. The job resumption was not guaranteed. In most cases, these women came from lower income families and needed badly to earn. Another bulk of households got poor.
Another large category of women at work is in factories. This is probably the largest category in numbers. Textile mills, food processing companies, Pharma companies, value added textiles. Fashion clothes, and a large number of other companies employ a large number of women workers in sewing, finishing, processing and packaging. Thousands of households lost full or partial income.
Women in more formal, senior, important roles were usually spared from such difficulties, but they faced another kind of difficulty; the locked down family. The families lost balance in these days. The husbands had sullen moods as if their sitting home was the fault of their wives. Children were also in bad mood most of the time. While the demands increased due to the fact that everyone was sitting at home. There was greater demand for food, entertainment, washing, cleaning etc. Domestic help was off, and the entire burden of house chores was put on the women of the house. It is now common knowledge that women suffered the most during COVID. The suffering was emotional, psychological, physical and financial.
McKinsey Report on Women in Workplace 2020 has also been published. It has some very important findings which shall be taken up separately.
The sum up is that COVID19 impacted at multiple levels, on all segments of society and in diverse ways. As per our usual practice, we are not focused on these things. We are more entangled into political skirmishes and social unrest of other kinds. We cannot bring healing after a major event such as COVID19, nor we can make effective developmental plans if we do not analyze and understand ground realities.
The time to do so in now.