The surge in the deadly Covid-19 virus worldwide last year followed by the sudden complete lockdown imposed in India from March 24, 2020, left many poignant images of the plight of the country’s poor and migrants. One such image was of a dead woman lying on the Muzaffarnagar platform while a toddler, presumably hers, was tugging at the sheet on which she was lying.
The woman was Arvina Khatoon, a migrant from Srikol village in the Katihar district of Bihar. It is said that she died of dehydration and hunger, while returning to her native village after she lost her job during the pandemic, and all sources of income and food.
Initially, it was said the coronavirus does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, and men and women. However, with the passage of time, it was evident that the existing socioeconomic inequalities have led to an unequal health and economic impact among the various population sub-groups and defined their coping abilities in recovering from the crisis. The increasing inequality and the unequal impact on the haves and have-nots have prompted many to refer to the health crisis as the “pandemic of inequality”. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, rightly put it in his speech at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2020 when he said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities. It exposed the myth that everyone is in the same boat. While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to the drifting debris.”
The heart-wrenching image of Khatoon tells a grim picture of the huge price that women, both poor and from the middle-class, paid as a consequence of the economic shock that was brought on by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns in India. Women are likely to face the brunt of job losses the most because of the precarity of their jobs, lack of job security, invisibalisation of their work, and for working mostly in informal arrangements. Seventeen million women lost their jobs in April 2020. Unemployment for women rose by 15 percent from a pre-lockdown level of 18 percent. This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to of about 8 percent or $218 billion to the GDP. Women who were employed before the lockdown are also 23.5 percentage points less likely to be re-employed compared to men in the post-lockdown phase.
SEVENTEEN MILLION WOMEN LOST JOBS LAST APRIL. UNEMPLOYMENT FOR WOMEN ROSE BY 15 PERCENT FROM A PRE-LOCKDOWN LEVEL OF 18 PERCENT
Eight months after the lockdown last year, 13 percent fewer women were employed or looking for jobs, compared to 2 percent men. Urban women more so than rural women. After the massive dip in employment in April 2020, job recovery has steadily risen, but been tilted in favour of men than women. According to IndiaSpend, using Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, total employment in India for November 2020 was 2.4 percent lower than in November 2019, but for urban women, it was down by 22.83 percent. In November 2020, eight months since the lockdown was imposed, there were 6.7 million fewer women in the labour force compared to November 2019. In other words, 13 percent women were neither looking for a job nor were they employed. Labour force contraction was 27.2 percent for women as compared to 2.8 percent for men.
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