As the current pandemic magnifies existing inequalities, a malnourished girl child, under-educated since childhood, turns into a under developed, physically and mentally marginalized person. Historically the world has witnessed women bear the brunt of force majeure the most.
Women with vital caring responsibilities are overworked especially during a pandemic, working to save those near and dear to them. No wonder Shakespeare’s landlady fell prey to the plague while he in solitude had time to pen King Lear.
Women of the world were worst hit even in the past during Ebola crisis in three African countries. Then we had Zika, and in outbreaks of SARS, swine flu, and bird flu. More women succumbed due to obstetric complications than the infectious disease itself.
Unfortunately the world never learnt from previous pandemics that most badly hit segments that need to be protected the most. And now during the Coronavirus pandemic, the women of the world are paying the price for that failure of policymakers to learn.
Over a quarter of Pakistani women have been fired from their jobs in various sectors during Covid-19. Even before the pandemic struck, 28 percent of Pakistan’s women and girls above the age of 15 years were facing physical violence. A startling figure of approximately eight million women grappling with various forms of violence every year in our country sans any force majeure.
For these women, and many others sheltering at home with their abusers, safety is increasingly precarious.
In Pakistan, due to a dearth of facilities, we don’t have stable working environment for women. Efforts are needed to facilitate women’s empowerment through employment, such as safe transport, childcare support, and measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. There has to be an effort to revive women-owned micro enterprises.
During Covid-19 the women of the world with children out of school are overwhelmed by the fatigue of a domestic unpaid workload pushing them towards the edge of pre-existing nominal health facilities. During a period of domestic isolation during COVID-19 pandemic, many are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers, exacerbating social stresses and gender based violence.
Today we are living in a world where on an average 9 out of 10 countries have one gender-based legal restriction constraining women from achieving their full economic potential. Left feeble and frail because of the lower resistance of malnourished bodies, women are more vulnerable during major health crises. Facing repeated pregnancies, they easily fall victim to other fatal diseases like tuberculosis, asthma and gastroenteritis in such catastrophic crises as the Coronavirus pandemic.
Education in Pakistan is underfunded in general and the lack of learning opportunities for girls directly affects their earnings for life. On average, women with primary education are earning only 51 percent of what men earn. Although a full-time housewife does a number of tasks at home, her work is not counted as part of the gross national product, and, since it is unpaid, is not recognized in the same way that paid work is.
Globally, women perform more than three-times as much unpaid care work as men, and the majority of women in Pakistan too are labelled as “housewives.”
While women who work outside the home receive a meagre remuneration, the housewife receives nothing and is considered to contribute little or nothing to her family or society; she is also not entitled to any of the benefits that come with paid employment. It is this segment of society that needs to be regularized and seen as a vital labour force.
Since women only make up about 39 percent of the labour force in Pakistan, the government should focus on skill development and training of the female workforce in order to fully utilize their potential and enhance national growth indicators.
Women’s safety through the smart app from the Punjab Safe Cities Authority is a positive step in terms of state intervention but it needs to be broad-based and adopted all across Pakistan in order to deliver real-time benefits, especially focusing on glaring crises like one faced during Covid-19.
As a lawyer I have witnessed several cases of gross negligence being excused on the pretext of force majeure. Governments around the world and especially in Pakistan should evolve comprehensive socioeconomic plans to provide emergency relief to this reeling yet precious human resource and pillar of our society.