This is how Kamala, a domestic worker from Delhi who lost her employment during the pandemic, encapsulated the situation at a public hearing organized by the Delhi Right to Food Campaign and National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW):
“In the early days of the lockdown, as before, we used to buy a liter of milk daily and gave a glass of milk each to our children. As we lost our jobs and our tiny savings began to dwindle, we could buy just half a liter, and gave only half a glass of milk to our children. After some time, it became a quarter of a liter and we gave the children milky tea. Now…we cannot even do that, and we give them black tea and I don’t know for how many more days we will be able to give our children even this black tea”.
The world economy, which was reeling from a crisis, has been rendered even more unstable by the global pandemic. It devastated everything. The capitalist mode of production not only failed to provide proper relief to the people from the dual crisis but increased the intensity of the devastation.
Paying homage to all those who lost their lives in the pandemic, on behalf of NFIW, I extend my warmest revolutionary Women’s Day greetings to every woman, especially those who like Kamala suffered not only from the virus but from the unplanned lockdowns.
On the one hand, the pandemic exposed the failure of capitalism and on the other posed a huge challenge to those who believe in equality, justice, and human rights. We should note that loss of life has been greater in the ‘developed capitalist’ nations. Yet the world witnessed how a small country, Cuba, which is facing economic blockade by these same developed nations could send its medical teams across all continents to support them in this health crisis.
On this International Women’s Day, as they focus on women’s rights and gender equality, women across the globe also celebrate their socio-political, economic, and cultural achievements. Centuries old struggles and sacrifices by women have helped them to march forward towards equality and justice. But women and children are the worst hit by the crises. COVI-19 and subsequent lockdowns have pushed them back by decades, increasing their vulnerability and precarity.
On this 8th March women need to start afresh with greater commitment and determination to regain and retain their past gains and proceed to a meaningful empowerment as equal citizens.
In India, the pandemic and unplanned lockdown have brought about a deepening of socio-economic uncertainty. It has exposed the vulnerability and fragility of the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who were already suffering from loss of income, increasing unemployment, mass reverse migration, hunger, malnutrition, violence, and indebtedness. Livelihoods of women from poor and marginalized sections of society have been lost completely. Caught at the intersection of caste, class, religion, and sexual orientation, the precarity faced by women on the margins is magnified. The burden of additional care work, economic instability, and increased domestic abuse have all added to their vulnerability.
The pandemic has led to an alarming increase in the rate of domestic violence globally. In India, according to the country’s National Commission for Women, 116 complaints were received between 2nd and 8th March 2020. This increased to 257 between 23rd March and 1st April; 69 of these complaints were of domestic violence. During April and May 2020, a total of 3,027 complaints were reported across 22 categories of crimes against women, with 1,428 (47.2%) being cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the schooling system in India has moved away from the traditional classroom setup to digital-online without preparation or planning. The socio-economic inequities in the society have resulted in a gross digital divide that is pushing many students, particularly girls, out of school.
The pre COVID-19 phenomenon of the disappearance of the Female Work Force (FWF) has increased during lockdown. The FWF participation in India, largely in the unorganized sector, has gone down from 23.4% to 17% in 2020. Recent farm legislation in the country is yet another institutionalized attack on work and food security and sovereignty. Codification and dilution of more than 40 Labour Laws into 4 Labor Codes has stripped away the few rights workers had.
When the majority of the Indian population depends on public sector provision of essential services, the mad push for privatization and corporatization and the stepping away of government from sectors such as health, education and employment has further devastated the lives of the people in the lockdown relaxation. Women are the biggest victims of the pro-corporate policies of the government. The alarming increase in anemia and malnutrition among women and children is ending up in silent genocide.
Is it no shock that during the pandemic, when income, jobs and livelihoods are being lost everywhere, corporate profits have risen exponentially. Corporate greed has been supported by the dismantling of laws, policies, and programs that provided some semblance of social security.
This is the real challenge before people, especially women – How do we channel the nation’s wealth so that it reaches those who produce it? This will be possible only when the gender agenda is placed at the forefront of the post-COVID governance programs of nation states. The nations of the world must show sensitivity and maturity by recognizing and upholding the gender question at this time of human, social, economic, and political crisis.
For this to happen women across the globe will have to unite in a global campaign, just as they united against war and for peace in 1945. Once again, as in 1975, the WIDF must take the lead in forcing nation-states to pay heed to gender justice and dignity for all.
By Annie D Raja
Annie is vice-president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) and General Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)