Ragini Das, Leap.Club

BENGALURU – Pandemic has emerged as an opportunity to settle gender equality in the midst of crisis. As women continue to work from home during this time with household and professional responsibilities overlapping each other, it is important to discuss the impact of present crisis on the gender equality movement, believes Ragini Das, Co-Founder, Leap.Club.

With social distancing and lockdown impacting nearly 81% of the world’s labour force, impacts of the crisis have been largely disproportionate. Women represent less than 40% of total employment but make up 57% of those working on a part-time basis, as per the International Labor Organization. Talking about economic security, Ragini believes that the pandemic has led to reduced employment opportunities and triggered layoffs, with temporary workers (the majority of whom are women) bearing the heaviest brunt of job losses. Usually jobs taken up by women do not provide enough economic security for them and their families to navigate such crisis. Earning less, saving less, and holding less stable jobs might reduce most women’s ability to absorb the economic aftershocks of these exceptional times.

Talking about her home country India, 60% of women in India between 15 and 60 years of age are engaged in full-time household work, while the current female labour force participation in the country stays at 25%. Unpaid care work is one of the major reasons for gender disparity in India and as per the latest report by Bain and Company. 60% of the work done by Indian women, is unpaid and unrecognized, while for men, the number is at 10%. This burden of unpaid labour often ends up resulting in women dropping out of the workforce altogether.

With the pandemic, home has become the most contested space for equal gender relations. Even in educated and modern households, women end up doing most of the domestic work, especially tasks that are repetitive, bone-breaking and time-consuming. The men usually offer to help with tasks like cleaning the car, doing the laundry or buying groceries. Many women are experiencing burnout because household chores and professional commitments flow into each other, leaving them with very little downtime.

Ragini believes if women continue to take up majority of the domestic work at home, traditional gender roles will start to take shape again and only intensify further.

Beyond Healthcare

Pandemic has to be viewed beyond the health issue. As front-line responders, health professionals, community volunteers and more, women are making critical contributions to address the outbreak every day. Stressing on effective women leadership, Ragini mentions Kerala, a state of 35 million people and one of the biggest Covid hubs when it all began, only four people were lost to the virus due to rigorous efforts by Ms KK Shailaja, the state health minister, and her pre-emptive response team. Globally as well, women leaders have displayed their capability of battling pandemic; still we don’t see more of them.

Working from home is surely meant to extend even in a post-Covid world because of positive reasons but at the same time it has been difficult to achieve that balance and satisfaction that could be earlier achieved working out of an office. It also may not be the best situation for every employee and every business. It’s likely that women will see their jobs affected by the specific limitations and redundancies associated with the economic impact of Covid-19, while more men will find their jobs protected or moved to a home office. Existing gender imbalances in the workforce also comes to play this time.

Women will also be directly affected by lack of childcare support. More than 1 billion children around the world have been affected by school and daycare closures that have increase childcare responsibilities. Even in double income households where both parents are working full-time, women tend to do more childcare especially when the kids are young. Single parents (gender no bar), have it worse right now and are stretched more than usual.

Covid-19 has posed several economic challenges for organizations in terms of availability of jobs, quality of work including wages and access to social protection and outsized effects on vulnerable employees (mostly women). Ragini advocates that this is the time for workplaces to take a stand for inclusivity by placing gender at the centre. They should invest in improved education and training opportunities for women; ensuring women’s representation and participation in planning and decision making; flexible work arrangements and paid leaves for parents; condemning all forms of gender-based violence and harassment.

Ragini places her hope in seeing more gender-responsive trade policies aimed at opening new opportunities to women as employees and entrepreneurs.  For achieving gender equality, now is the moment to come together as a global community to close this gender gap once and for all.