Khodeja Sultana Lopa:
During the COVID-19 crisis period, we are observing that positive numbers are increasing day by day. While we are worrying about how the cases are coming nearer to us, we are ignoring the fact that there is another pandemic silently going on within homes and outside. If there were numbers, they would have shown daily statistics of how many faced violence for being women, how many took shelter, how many went for legal support, how many murdered, raped or abused; there would have been a sex-disaggregated presentation of household work done by women and men, how women are systematically subordinated in our patriarchal societies.
Every day, we are following the COVID-19 graphs, the data, and, the upward trends. Unfortunately, the public information about the virus-related deaths and recoveries, for instance, are hardly presented from different perspectives e.g. sex, profession, age, etc. However, there are indications that more men are dying due to the virus; they are also the primary carrier of the virus. This could be due to a number of factors, for example, many disregard social distancing or home quarantine – mostly men are visiting here and there, joining religious gatherings exposing themselves and their near ones and communities to the virus infection. Here, women are disproportionately affected due to their relationship with men, professions, economic conditions, social roles, and responsibilities.
At workplaces, women are at the frontline professions, and at home, they are the caregivers, educators, cooks, and cleaners for instance. During this pandemic, the frontline professionals e.g. the doctors, nurses, cleaners –are mostly women. They are at high risk of infection. Among these professionals, low-income ones are also suffering from economic conditions. These nurses, especially the women nurses, might have been leaving their children at home without knowing how they would be taken care of. Many male household members are yet to take responsibility for their household chores. Lack of and/or inappropriate personal protection equipment is another form of health violence against care workers, who are mostly women.
Amid this, workers’ unions alleged that thousands of garment workers have lost their jobs or have been terminated. With public holidays since March 26, most of the garment factories were closed until April 25. From April 26, Ready Made Garment (RMG) units have gradually been reopening. Here, maintaining physical distancing during traveling and within workplaces are major concerns. Among these workers, most are, however, women. For economic sustainability, these women are thus also joining as other frontline professional groups amid the Corona pandemic. Due to the virus infection rates, job insecurity, the loss of income especially during the general holiday there is a feeling of uncertainty and unbearable tension. According to a recent study, 76% of the female low-income workers, who used to send money to family members living in their villages have already stopped sending money due to the crisis. Many of them live in slums with limited resources; for them, it would be unrealistic to expect handwashing according to guidelines and maintaining required distancing. Again workforces, comprised of mostly women, are the ones suffering the most from this pandemic.
For many middle-class families, there are fears of reduced household incomes, limited access to necessities, reduced stockpiles, and increased prices together with a lack of social activities and anxiety about the virus. School closures, working from home, on-line schooling – there are so much going on. Women, whether they are working from home or not, have to take on household responsibilities, together with children’s education. In these families, absence of part-time house-helps further adds the workloads of cooking, cleaning, among many other daily chores. Through social media, people are posting men with mops taking care of the cleaning. However, continuing this daily responsibility is often challenging, leaving women to take on again. Sultana Begum, prominent, Gender equality activist, commented, “Males must take part in household works; it’s not help, it’s their responsibility”.
Suppressing fear of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was shocking that even during this crisis, a man did not hesitate to kill his wife and shared his act on Facebook-live. And he is not alone, according to Ain o Salish Kendra, a human rights organization, 42 women were murdered by their husbands and 257 women were raped during the first three months of the year. And according to BBS’s Violence Against Women Survey 2015, 1 in every 5 women (20.8%) have faced physical violence in the last twelve months. There is no recent published data on domestic violence, however, in a country where domestic violence has already been a major concern, it would be unlikely that the situation would be better considering the crisis. And most worryingly, in isolation, women have to live with their violent partners and in-laws, within closed doors.
Similar to other disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic is also not gender blind; women have to take on more because of their socio-economic conditions assigned by patriarchal structure. Feminist guru Kamla Bhasin commented “Before Covid-19, globally 137 women were killed daily by their intimate partners. This Virus is called Patriarchy”.
And those 4 in 5 men (roughly calculated based on data that 1 in every 5 women (20.8%) have faced physical violence in the last twelve months, who are not physically violent against their wives should raise their voices against those who are and/or share their own positive image to the world; and take an active part in household activities regularly. As responsible human beings, it is high time that this burden is shared among all household members irrespective of gender.
The violence, the stress, the burden of unrecognized-unpaid work, takes its toll on women’s health, their leisure time, and challenges work efficiency and progression. Patriarchy which systematically subordinates women must be addressed, at least, in the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has been responded to. Irrespective of sex, everyone should be treated with non-violence, dignity, and respect without stereotyping their roles, responsibilities, and interests. Otherwise, the normal-before will continue its devastation through the silent pandemic of patriarchy.
- The Financial Express website: Thefinancialexpress.com.bd/trade/10000-garment-jobs-disappear-in-days-1586833209
- Innovision, A rapid survey on occupational groups COVID 19 Impact on low-income population; Deep Dive on the RMG workers of Bangladesh in Selected Clusters, April 2020
- Ain o Salish Kendra, E-Bulletin of April 2020
- Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Violence Against Women Survey 2015
About the author:
Khodeja Sultana Lopa is a rights activist and development practitioner from Bangladesh. The views expressed in the article solely belong to the writer.