Coronavirus Is More Than A Health Emergency For Some Of Us
Minorities, be them trans-gender or religious, are the most vulnerable segments of society and therefore crises such as coronavirus pandemic call for increased oversight. The consequences of the pandemic and the subsequent social, political and psychological behaviours widen the divide between them and the society at large.
Coronavirus might not be more than a global health emergency to many. Yet the pandemic has turned out to be a magnifying glass of gender and religious discrimination.
Although the whole world is suffering from the economic breakdown, the pandemic effect on the marginalized section of the society is being neglected. This social segment includes the transgender community, domestically abused women and religious minorities in Pakistan. The neglect owes to the drastic halt in economic activity as a consequence of corona pandemic and lockdowns, affecting millions and thus invoking quicker response from the federal and the provincial governments on economic fronts. Various ration packages, subsidy policies and charity initiatives for the daily wagers and the vulnerable have been announced. The Non-Governmental Organizations and civil society have also come forward, arranging food and daily utilities for the deprived. Sufficient enough or not, especially given the uncertainty how long lockdowns would last and how harder provisioning is, at least some relief effort is underway.
The conundrum however is that the transgender population, the abused and religious minorities who already lived in isolation of sorts are being neglected even in this time.
It would be heart wrenching to see cases of discriminatory provision of food and ration in a neighborhood only in particular houses. Agencies distributing ration carry a greater responsibility of vigilance. Strange that even in the time where our very existence is threatened, we have not grown out of the religious bounds. A while back, complaints of being overlooked abounded out of quarantines in Multan and Sukhur. Similarly, the transgender population that relies on begging at signals and dancing in local marriages for livelihood, is suffering because of no work due to lockdown. The government has so far failed to introduce specific subsidies and gender sensitive policies, thus pushing them and the abused under an extra layer of isolation.
Women, who constitute almost half of the population of Pakistan, are more likely to be influenced negatively by the corona pandemic and lockdown in ways not unimaginable. Home is still not the safest place for the victims of domestically and sexually abused and unpaid domestic labour. Besides increasing the economic stress and emotional anxiety, the recent lockdown has caused couples to live together for extended hours with more probability of violence, physical and sexual abuse. According to a recent publication of Huffington Post, there is a much larger risk of domestic abuse during the time of self-isolation at homes. Another major issue is the increased plight of women especially housewives as with closure of educational institutions, their daily care and home maintenance responsibilities have multiplied.
Therefore, it is important to realise that pandemics and crises such as coronavirus bring extra challenges to some of us than the others. It is also important to realise and identify these added challenges for the vulnerable and react to the crisis sensitively and accordingly.
The Human Rights Commission recently raised awareness against abuses at home by publicising hotline and whatsapp number. This is a laudable measure provided the implementation is done in a way that betters rather than worsens the plight of domestically abused women who might get ‘punished’ for reporting. Such bottlenecks ought to be watched out.
The author is a professional lawyer, researcher and women’s right activist. She appears on various TV shows and writes for Daily Times, among other top publications.