Women’s Rights and COVID-19: A Shadow Pandemic

Women’s Rights and COVID-19: A Shadow Pandemic

Author: Pranjali Pandya
V Year| Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University

Introduction:

Big crisis leads to big changes.

The Covid-19 pandemic not only affected our lifestyle but also the economy throughout the world. The hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic are the women in our society[1]. The pandemic massively affected women’s rights situation. This article draws attention to how the pandemic impacted women migrant workers. It also talks about the increase in crime and unemployment.

Effect on Women’s Human Rights:

The pandemic had an adverse gender impact in two ways: –

  • Middle or Upper-class women, the victims of domestic violence, were locked inside the four walls of the house.
  • Poor women, particularly the migrant women workers, who worked in the household and other organizational sectors lost their jobs. Hence, they had no means of income. Secondly, their husbands also harassed them.

The government took barely any measures after the imposition of lockdown. Consequently, the police officials did not give priority to domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission of Women (NCW). The Commission had launched an emergency WhatsApp number- 7217735372 for women to register complaints[2]. A special team, constituted by NCW, handled the cases on a fast-track basis so that it does not hamper women’s rights furthermore.

Increase in Domestic Violence:

Violence against women is a deprivation of women’s human rights. Violence includes sexual abuse, marital rape, physical abuse, economic abuse and psychological abuse within its ambit. The spike in violence against women during the pandemic unmasked the tragic reality of its expansiveness.

In such a time, it is the responsibility of the government to forward their helping hand by providing protection as per the standards provided by the United Nation Security Council and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee[3]. The Committee recommended taking appropriate and effective measures to overcome all forms of gender-based violence.

Apart from such measures, there is a dire need for strict laws on such issues and the same must comply with the CEDAW and pillars of United Nation Resolution 1325[4] to ensure emergency preparedness plans and increased funding to address violence against women during such crises like that of COVID – 19. Proper implementation of existing laws in force for the protection of women is also important. Hence, domestic violence laws should have amended provisions to provide emergency relief funding for women from marginalized and rural communities[5].

Increase in Unemployment:

The imposition of lockdown had led to an increase in women’s unemployment (as compared to men). It was also noticed that many migrantlaborers were walking on roads wanting to get back home. There has also been a dramatic increase in unemployment and reduction in income, particularly for women working at low wages and in the unorganized sectors. This means that a significant number of women who were already vulnerable find themselves in even more precarious circumstances.

Many women migrant workers in the region of Beed, Maharashtra get their uterus removed so that they can work long hours without getting pregnant[6]. This shows how vulnerable women are in society and the pandemic has affected them a lot.

The government must take up the initiative by providing migrant workers with employment security and opportunities, rather than bringing up ordinances that restrict their rights.

Reproductive Rights:

The pandemic had impacted abortion access and the scope of good health care. Further, the limited healthcare infrastructure was deviated to cater to covid emergencies. One of the basic international human rights in the CEDAW is access to healthcare which also includes reproductive health. CEDAW Recommendation 24 directs the country to eliminate any form of discrimination against women in their access to health care services[7].

It is important to note that reproductive right is related to various other rights including the right to health, privacy, education, and prohibition of discrimination. Hence, the country has to respect, protect and fulfil rights related to women’s reproductive health.

Conclusion:

To date, the authorities have not come forward to combat the hike in the menace of domestic violence. Merely passing laws against such crime is not enough. Even after amendments aiming to provide harsher punishments to those who commit violence against women, such acts still take place.

A necessary step in moving forward lies in changing the overall mindset of society towards women. There needs to be more sensitization on how to treat women as equals. The NCW Chairperson had also brought certain guidelines which are to be followed by the employer during work from home[8].

Secondly, the government must come forward in providing security jobs and employment schemes in the state where the migrant workers have moved during the pandemic so that they don’t need to travel back to their place of work in such tough times.

Thirdly, the scope of reproductive healthcare, including abortions, contraception, prenatal care, and childbirth must be continued. Even during the pandemic, such services are time-sensitive and vital to women’s human rights.


[1] Brooke Ruth, Maureen Cavanaugh, Women Hardest Hit by Economic Impact of COVID – 19, KPBS, (23rd February, 2021, 3:24 PM) URL: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2021/feb/02/women-hardest-hit-economic-impact-covid/

[2] NCW launches WhatsApp number to report domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdown, THE ECONOMICS TIMES (22nd February, 2021, 12:05 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ncw-launches-whatsapp-number-to-report-domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown/articleshow/75082848.cms

[3] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for Youth, (22nd February, 2021, 12:01 PM), https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2016/12/cedaw-for-youth#:~:text=The%20Convention%20on%20the%20Elimination,women’s%20and%20girls’%20equal%20rights.

[4] Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security, OSAGI, (22nd February, 2021, 12: 06 PM), https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/

[5] Covid-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together, UNITED NATIONS (23rd February, 2021, 7:39 PM) URL: https://www.un.org/victimsofterrorism/en/node/5805

[6] Radheshyam Jadhav, Why many women in Maharashtra’s Beed district have no wombs, THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE, (23rd February, 2021, 6:01 PM) URL: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/why-half-the-women-in-maharashtras-beed-district-have-no-wombs/article26773974.ece

[7] Covid-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together, UNITED NATIONS, (23rd February, 2021, 7:42 PM) URL: https://www.un.org/victimsofterrorism/en/node/5805

[8] Bella Jaisinghani, NCW urges bosses to dress properly while video calling women employees, THE TIMES OF INDIA, (23rd February, 2021, 6:40 PM) URL: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ncw-urges-bosses-to-dress-properly-while-video-calling-women-employees/articleshow/76985649.cms

Editor: Anchal Raghuwanshi

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