2 min read.Updated: 20 May 2021, 09:49 PM ISTLivemint
We must face up to signs of our gender imbalance having taken a sharp turn for the worse after covid’s outbreak. All those with any measure of influence should take corrective action
In all that has frayed our nerves since covid struck, we should not miss a pile-up of reports that indicate this pandemic has been harsher on women. After India went into lockdown last March, cases of domestic violence saw a sudden rise, and it is not clear if this problem has lost some salience in the public sphere because of a decline in incidence or reporting. Data trends drawn from routine surveys show that women are more likely to have lost their jobs than men as overall employment shrank under the economic impact of the covid outbreak. In general, it is clear that women have suffered greater income losses than men, resulting in deprivations of financial agency that can cause much misery under a patriarchal set-up. Those who hold jobs have had to work from home under all sorts of other pressures. By convention, women have always borne a disproportionate share of household chores, and home lock-in conditions have imposed even heavier burdens. And then, the extra demands of covid-care and self-isolation also tend to get assigned by gender. In these unhappy and unfair times, the results of a recent Deloitte survey of working women that point to work discontent should serve as an alert for employers to work out relief measures.
Conducted between last November and this March among 5,000 women from 10 countries, including 500 from India, Deloitte’s study reveals that heavy work-loads at home and assignments by office have together thrown the earlier work-life balance out of kilter. As stress levels have gone up, many say they have considered quitting their jobs. More than three-fifths of the Indian respondents are less optimistic about their careers than before the pandemic, a proportion higher than the all-country average. As many as 26% of the women surveyed in India have felt inclined to drop out of the workforce, again higher than those elsewhere. The survey’s findings also highlight less satisfaction with careers, lower confidence in employer support and fewer provisions for flexible work hours than in other countries. While working around the house expected of women is a global phenomenon, as the survey finds, Indians are likelier than the rest to be saddled with the bulk of it. This corroborates a common observation that men, by and large, are reluctant to chip in.
Clearly, we need a shift in social consciousness to foster a more supportive atmosphere at home for working women. We also need employers to revise policies by taking covid realities into account. Flexibility in work routines, for example, could let women gain some control over their schedules; employees who work remotely may not be able to stay glued to laptops exactly as bosses would like. Business managers may also need to accept that corona anxieties are not necessarily distributed evenly across genders. A difference in immune systems, for example, is suspected to make women more vulnerable to some vaccine side-effects, and while the benefits of vaccination are well understood by the well-informed, very little research has been done on it so far. Neglect won’t do. Our workforce was turning more male-dominated for many years before covid hit us. It has worsened since. As researchers at Azim Premji University found, last year’s lockdown likely turned seven times as many women out of jobs as men, with the gender ratio of people rejoining work thereafter even more stark. Yes, our health emergency is top priority, but other crises need solutions too.