Gulping down a quick lunch, Pratiti Roy constantly keeps switching tabs between her office work group and her family doctor on her phone. The past few months have been tough, with the data analyst who works for a Bengaluru-based firm juggling work from home in Kolkata amid the pandemic and taking care of her father’s health. Between household chores, frequent doctor’s appointments and tight work deadlines, the past quarter of a year has taken a toll. But she has braved it all with her battle face on, and lately, things have started to look up again.
Pratiti is among hundreds of thousands of women who have fought work-life balance, job insecurities and personal issues through the past one year. As International Women’s Day nears, a survey conducted by Change.org in India along with Sheroes on ‘What Women Want in a post-COVID world’ aimed to look at the kind of reforms women are hoping for once the dust settles on the pandemic.
Over 1600 women were part of the survey which found that a whopping 92 percent of respondents expected the government’s support in coping with the issues brought on by the pandemic. While some of these issues plagued them even before the pandemic, many reported that things have taken a turn for the worse since. To solve these issues, many are demanding women-friendly policies, child-care help and compensation for homemakers.
Workplace Struggles Aplenty
Despite the increasing involvement of women in the government and private sector, women employees continue to face a lack of empathy or a culture of sexism. With the pandemic making work from home the new norm, women are complaining against the added burdens of household chores and in some cases, even domestic abuse coupled with erratic or long work hours that several companies enforced on employees to cope with economic instability.
“But it’s at times tad too much. Putting in longer hours doesn’t always translate to better work and we are burning ourselves out. I hope the government can help to bring some semblance to the work culture in private firms and everywhere else where there are some time-off policies within our schedules," Pratiti says.
Many such as Pratiti feel that women-friendly policies are, thus, tantamount to reducing gendered obstacles for women at the workplace.
Double Duty for Many
While gender disparity at work is an endemic issue faced by women across the country, the same at home is often an invisible issue that plagues even independent and successfully working women. While working primarily from home, one in every four women found themselves struggling to manage both home and office work. Also, 15 percent of them said their workload seemed to increase significantly as most of the family members stayed back home during the lockdown, resulting in more housework for the woman. More than half of the women believed that there should be an understanding of how housework should be equally distributed and 25 percent of women wished the work should be equally divided between everyone in the house. And at homes, with schools and colleges closed, children too have been attending classes at home and for which, at least 17 percent of women said they managed their kids’ schoolwork all by themselves.
Crimes Against Women, Children
As the pandemic shut people behind doors, households also noted a disturbing spike in cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. At least one in every four women said that they had an unsafe experience at home or they knew someone who did during the lockdown period. Several media reports also cited the National Commission for Women (NCW) data which said that they have received over 13,000 complaints of crimes against women during lockdown. Adrija Nag, a product owner professional working with Blubirch in Bengaluru says, “This needs to stop. Women have never really felt safe outside and the fact that abusive households are so common in cities even today is shameful. I wish more women would just grab the phone and get help from the 24*7 helplines as the pandemic has already taken its toll on them."
Nida Hasan, Country Director of Change.org believes that issues like job cuts, pay cuts, rise in domestic violence have really affected women’s lives. “Adding to it is also the burden of housework and more. But the fact that women are talking about it can help shape government policies in the near future."
Surviving Job Loss, Child-births
The pandemic also saw indiscriminate job cuts across the world and India was no different. 12 percent of the women who took part in the survey said they lost their jobs during the pandemic. They are now hopeful of an unemployment wage from the government. For single mothers, the pandemic has brought on even more hardships as many of them even did not receive any support with child care. A lot of these women who have demanded women-focused policies are now also hoping reforms in child-care that would help them sustain an unprecedented situation.
At a time when the world is slowly readjusting to the new challenges posed by recurring waves of the virus and an ongoing vaccination drive, it is all the more necessary for the government and the society at large to acknowledge and address the problems faced by countless women.