The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it added burdens of fear, loss of freedom, domestic tension and, for many, financial insecurity. As a result, it is very likely to exacerbate mental illness issues.
The National Family Health Survey found over a third of women in India experienced violence from their spouse. The lockdown has reportedly increased instances of gender-related abuse.
The National Commission for Women has noted an increasing number of domestic violence complaints and the difficulties women face in accessing support systems under lockdown. Encouragingly, state-level cells of the Commission are facilitating dedicated WhatsApp helpline numbers and one-stop centres to provide medical, legal and counselling support.
In many ways, the pandemic has exposed or deepened existing inequalities.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, is concerned it could reverse the progress made towards gender equality. The National Council of Applied Economic Research, an economic policy research institute, estimates that women are likely to suffer greater losses from the pandemic.
The vast socio-economic impact of this crisis needs a gender lens and policy responses that factor in pre-existing levels of inequality.
The OECD has recommended policies to help alleviate these problems, including:
- expanding flexible working options;
- financial support and help with the cost of alternative care; and
- incentivising employers who aid employees.
India’s pandemic-related stimulus package has, so far, included a few measures targeted at low-income women, such as the expansion of collateral free loans and the introduction of monthly cash transfers. These are welcome but only tiny steps.
There is a dire need to ensure policies aimed at support or recovery take a broader and longer view of the lasting damage this shecession is likely to cause, in order to optimise outcomes.
Bansi Madhavani is Economist and Sanjay Mathur is Chief Economist Southeast Asia & India at ANZ