November 19, 2020

Gender | Insights from Charcha 2020

Gender in the times of Covid-19

A situation like COVID multiplies and compounds the struggles women face and pushes them even to the margins. It is very important to intentionalise and articulate very clearly in our response to Covid-19 the need for women to be at the centre of policy making because it impacts them more and they are greater change agents that ensure that the change we are trying to make is sustainable and irreversible.

Many gender inequities have already intensified over the course of the pandemic - gender-based violence has increased, and women have had to bear the economic impact disproportionately as a result of increased unpaid work and lack of job security. Responses to the pandemic will have long-lasting implications for equality and can ignore, reinforce, or challenge gender norms. In all these cases, the pathways followed out of the pandemic will determine whether societies are more or less gender equitable.

Women form about three-fourths of the health workforce, are concentrated in more vulnerable jobs and are seeing a spike in a range of negative outcomes on health, safety, nutrition and economic participation due to the lockdown measures.

Advancing gender-equity

There are some silver linings here if we look carefully and take the time to embrace them as a part of the new normal. This includes a long-awaited recognition among employers about the feasibility of flexible work patterns without harming productivity, families unlearning age-old behaviours and rediscovering what it means to be together and to split the load.

The women empowerment panel shared how the private sector has become more responsive to their women employees and how mentorship is the way to go, highlighting the role that media plays in resetting the norms. Need to continue the conversation visibly and publicly and hold employers accountable for change as we head out of lockdown.

If we use digital education as a way to keep girls educated through this crisis that will have multiple benefits for them in future in terms of digital benefits, access to information such as lifeskills, contraception, domestic violence, also entrepreneurship. If we use this as an entry point we have a massive opportunity. But should not underestimate the barriers that the most vulnerable girls face in accessing digital education. We need to look at both structural needs as well as the opportunities associated with edtech.

Challenges and the way forward

Covid-19 has revealed the fault lines in our social fabric, as it pertains to gender. We need gender-sensitive policies to prevent sliding back several decades of work towards building a gender-equal society.It is important to exercise our spheres of influence and make gender issues talking points.

If we don't create an environment that is supportive for survivors of gender-based violence to come forward it will always be a shadow pandemic as it slips through the cracks. It is important to have these conversations to make it non-taboo so that we can find solutions and address them at multiple levels - education, legislation or in terms of resources. The fear of violence needs to be addressed as much as violence itself. It is what prevents women from being present in public spaces, contributing to society and being able to exercise their rights

If we look at the poverty aspect of it, we really have to look at social protection schemes and add a very aggressive gender lens onto it. You can't be gender neutral because that is just being gender blind. The second thing is convergence [among ministries] with inclusion and gender lens.

There is a skills gap and an expectation gap with respect to bringing transgender people into mainstream jobs. One way we could bring in some change is to have a conscious bias, take people in who may or may not have proper training or skill sets, train them on the skillsets with no expectation that they immediately convert into full time workers. But do it, because that is the only way to bring transgender people into mainstream workforce. Businesses should be prepared to incur some cost to provide the right set of skills and training. We need to have that conscious bias.

Unless people’s behaviour changes around gender, it is not possible to achieve social inclusion. Unless we achieve social inclusion, it is going to be difficult to achieve equitable development and resilient societies.

Pressure points

  • Domestic violence and gender-based exploitation in the aftermath of Covid-19
  • Opportunity for Gendered policies and schemes for economic revival
  • Managing risk of a wider gender gap in formal education, nutrition and entrepreneurship
  • Addressing gaps in women’s access to capital and assets, going beyond the employment gap

Download the full Insight report on Charcha 2020, covering 16 events and 150+ hours of discussion.

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