IOS on-line national seminar on “Impact of Covid-19: A Gender Perspective”
New Delhi: An on-line national seminar on “Impact of Covid-19: A Gender Perspective”, was jointly organised by the Institute of Objective Studies and the department of Geography, Jamia Millia Islamia, on March 8, 2021, marking international women’s day. The seminar began with the recitation of a verse from Qur’an by Hafiz Athar Husain Nadwi.
Inaugurating the seminar, the officiating vice-chancellor of JMI, Prof. Mohammad Ishtiaq said that the women’s day was celebrated every year as a mark of dignity to women. This was also an occasion to give recognition to their devotion to society and the nation. They were an integral part of society as they played an important role in its welfare. Women attained greater heights due to the equal opportunities they enjoyed. He observed that women were capable of performing every job which a man did. From the upbringing of children to doing domestic work, women were seen doing their duty everywhere. He called for recognising the importance of women in building the society. Referring to the impact of the coronia-19 pandemic, he said that it had affected both men and women. It impacted workplace and home alike. Corona-19 had had a catastrophic affect in rural areas too where women became more vulnerable. There were reports of rising number of cases of domestic violence against women after the deadly pandemic struck human beings, he noted.
Introducing the topic, the assistant secretary general of the IOS, Prof. Haseena Hashia, expressed concern over inhuman treatment meted out to women and increased violence against them. Ill-treatment to women affected every walk of life. They were a neglected lot and the government was duty-bound to recognise the damage done to them. She observed that women were a marginalised section globally and their plight should be seen in that context in India as well. Wherever a disaster struck, both men and women lent a helping hand to the affected people, but it was women who became more vulnerable. By performing household duties, women cared for economy. Quoting a UN report, she said that about 65 percent women were engaged in the informal sector. In India’s case too, they were employed in the informal sector and paid minimally. Bangladesh had emerged as the world’s second largest exporter of garments prepared by women. Underlining the need for gender equality, she observed that government should map out long-term plan for dealing with the ill-effects of pandemic on women. Gender justice mechanism should be put in place to evaluate the schemes run for the welfare of women, she said.
In her welcome address, head of the department of geography, JMI, Prof. Mary Tahir, said that the seminar was the outcome of deliberations that took place between the IOS and the department on the subject. The international women’s day suited the webinar most.
Speaking as the guest of honour, Dr. Madhu Bala from Bihar disaster management authority described women as victims and caretakers of the family. Seventy percent women health-workers suffered due to non-payment of their care work. She said that women shouldered the responsibility of performing most of the work, including passing full time with children. The world would have worn worse spectacle if the women had not registered their presence during the Covid-19 pandemic. She called for training of women to deal with the situation arising out of disaster times. She also stressed that Covid-19 should be seen in gender perspective. In her keynote address, former consultant to UN women, school of international studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof. (Dr.) Mondira Dutta, observed that the world was in corona in a way since one year and now was the time to come out of it. The covid-19 pandemic is so hard that the efforts to achieve millennium development goals had been affected. Covid-19 also impacted socio-economic life of the people. She said that everybody faced the same problem during the pandemic that affected every segment of society. According to the report based on the queries from the workers on the effect of Covid-19, pre and post-pandemic, the respondents replied that both men and women were equally hit. She held that migrant workers who left the cities of their work alone accounted for 45 percent. Out of them, 33 percent were with their families. Scarcity of food and insecurity led to the starvation of workers. They faced shortage of money which resulted in the cutting down of nutritious food, medicine, milk; etc. She noted that about 320 million children had been affected by the closure of school in India. On-line classes did not function. Cleanliness and sanitation, however, were discernible due to social distancing. She also said that government entitlements did not work much, but free rations gave some relief to workers. It was also true that 73 percent people got nothing in the name of free rations. Referring to mother and childcare, she said that most of the mothers were deprived of post-natal care and inoculation. She observed that the cases of violence against women in public places were on the rise due to the consumption of alcohol by men. She concluded by saying that working from home had benefited women adding that they could really become care-givers if trained and empowered.
In his presidential remarks, the secretary general of the IOS, Prof. Z.M. Khan pointed out that the gender study did not figure in the lecture. If somebody was interested to work on it, he could apply to the institute for financial assistance. He held that the concept of work from home, necessitated by the covid pandemic, was a new thing for India. Referring to violence, he said that it could not be tackled by the security forces, the government or social groups alone. Non-governmental organisations had been very effective in rendering help in this connection. He observed that Naari Chetna (women’s awakening) could play a pivotal role in dealing with domestic violence.
The inaugural session ended with a vote of thanks extended by Dr. Lubna Siddiqui, associate professor, department of geography, JMI.
The first technical session was chaired by the professor and former head of the department of geography, JMI, Prof. Shahnaz Parveen. Dr. Taruna Bansal, associate professor of geography, JMI was the co-chair. Prof. Ushita Mukhopadhyay, professor, department of economic and former director of women’s studies research centre, university of Kolkata, initiated the discussion by speaking on the pandemic and women’s work in India. She said that during the pandemic, many women were seen leaving their homes with the risks and vulnerabilities increasing. Women also suffered due to intra family problems and nutrition. Owing to manufacturing shut-downs, women suffered and left their homes. There was increase in the charity that sharply skewed sexual relationship. Women were working for their survival without care for the rate of wages. But now, 60 percent men were back to work with women registering only 6 percent. She described it as the reverse immigration. This spoke of the tremendous economic disparity in India. Then there was inequality within women – a common woman could not be equated with a rich woman. Common women were always in deep indebtedness. She called for immediate implementation of employment guarantee scheme and cash entitlement.
Dean and director, Women’s Studies department, University of Goa, Prof. Shaila, Desouza, spoke on ‘Can a pandemic affect women differently from men? She sought to know what the people learnt from previous natural disasters. Commenting on the Tsunami that brought in its wake destruction of life and property, she said that male survivors outnumbered females by a ratio of about 3 male to 2 female. The global fund for women created in 2005 was caught in the storm and they were at the increased risk of violence. She observed that in the chaos and disparity, women did not receive necessary healthcare. Disaster relief efforts too more often failed to provide succor to women. Despite economic vulnerability, women were often the first to mobilise local relief efforts. Natural disasters had impacted women differently from men. Quoting UN Report-2020, she said that the Covid pandemic had deepened the pre-existing equalities. Covid also impacted women’s education. She made several recommendations for the upliftment of women including, participation of women in planning, keeping them safe, protection of girls education, targeting of women’s health needs; etc. Besides, food security be provided to all women without regard to caste and creed. She also stated that distribution of equal aid should be ensured. Dr. Shubha Dwivedi, assistant professor, department of English, ARSD College, Delhi University, discussed the pandemic narratives of re-dreaming and self-becoming reading pandemic literature to interpret the condition of Indian women. She said that publishing of books and articles had almost stopped during the period. But whatever was written became a therapy as women wrote satires. Covid-19 encouraged writers to write fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Women writers and poets wrote on social, legal and political issues. They helped others understand the unheard voice during the pandemic in poetry. These writings also touched upon the inequality women were subjected to. Poems and stories written during the period raised questions of domestic laws. Questions were also raised about women empowerment, gender discrimination and the journey of self-realisation, she added.
The last speaker of the session was Dr. Suraiya Tabassum, assistant professor, Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies, JMI, who spoke on domestic violence and pandemic: a feminist perspective. She argued that physical and sexual violence against women rose because of the long spell of the pandemic. However, there was considerable cut in the number of such cases due to lockdown. She said that domestic violence was the expression of masculinity. She felt the need for a new model for redressal of their grievances. Community policing could also be put in place, she observed.
The second technical session was chaired by Prof. Arvinder A. Ansari, department of sociology, JMI and co-chaired by Dr. Lubna Siddiqui, associate professor, department of geography, JMI. Dr. S. Jameela, director, centre for women’s studies, Justice Basheer Ahmad Sayeed College for Women, Chennai was the first speaker who focused on women and the new normal: challenges faced and resilience. She noted that covid had become a new normal and nobody knew if it would remain or change. Social distancing was the new normal. Women had new responsibilities before them because the covid threw a challenge for the use of new technologies. One should be prepared for the new normal as sweeping changes would take place in social life and the business world. Women suffered a lot in terms of income and otherwise. They were exposed to high risk of economic inequality. In terms of gender equality, both men and women suffered. As working women, they had to perform all household duties. She said that women and girls were exposed to the risk of exclusion from the decision making process. In such circumstances women’s leadership was very essential. Gender parity was still 42 years away. For women, working from home and at home was very challenging. Their problems should be seen from the gender prism. While calling for the maintenance of policy responses, she held that no country could prevail over covid-19 by keeping itself aloof. Assistant professors, sociology, advanced centre of women’s studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Dr. Tarushikha Sarvesh and Dr. Tauseef Fatima jointly put across their views on augmented inequalities due to Covid-19: a study of women working in lock industries of Aligarh. They gave the example of women engaged in the assemblage of the components of locks in Aligarh. They received good wages in some cases. They had now restricted their mobility in lock industry. Covid-19 impacted the life of lock industry. By and large, they were getting exploited. Though they had networking amongst themselves, yet not formal. They said that the question of awareness among women was most important. They also spoke on feminisation of poverty goals.
The concluding session began with the recitation of a Qur’anic verse by Mohammad Rashad. In her welcome address, head of the department of geography, JMI. Prof. Mary Tahir, outlined the purpose of the seminar. She said that covid-19 impacted women most because they had to fight on two fronts. Their support to their spouse was very crucial, she observed. While Dr. Aruna Paarcha, assistant professor of geography, JMI presented the report on the one-day seminar, Prof. Shahida Murtaza, head of the department of women’s education, Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in her special address, held that about 32 participants were connected to the seminar. Referring to women and their leadership, she said that achieving the goal of their leadership in covid pandemic times had become difficult. Tracing the history of women’s day, she said that it was first celebrated by the socialist party in USA. It was followed by Australia and Germany in 1911. The United Nations formally adopted a resolution in this regard. She observed that in order to achieve gender equality, the number of women in the workplace should be increased. Inter-sectional and inter-generational vulnerability was also an issue that needed to be addressed. Commenting on the adverse effects of covid-19, she said that it led to loss of wages and a large number of girls were withdrawn from schools. The pandemic also impacted social relations that saw upsurge of sexual violence at home. Inequality had become perpetual and it was difficult to compensate for the loss. Women and girls had to travel long distances without any help forthcoming. She said that recovering from the current situation was a big challenge. She suggested a way out of the present crisis by saying that there should be societal response, budgetary resources and a centre for policy making.
Speaking as a guest of honour, Prof. P. Koya, in-charge of IOS center for gender studies, Calicut, Kerala held that the people faced a monstrous health crisis and fortunately this had been overcome. Women suffered the double jeopardy because they were forced to remain inside the house and lived with children who could not go to school. He said that women were subjected to physical, mental and psychological abuse. There was seemingly no end to the misery as covid was not going away in the near future. He suggested that the impact of the pandemic could be reduced by coordinated action of universal civil society, social and humanitarian organisations and the NGOs. He concluded by saying that about 13 crore migrants moved to their home states after the lockdown was enforced. Role of charitable organisations come in for appreciation for providing food and other essentials to them.
Speaking as another guest of honour, vice-chairman of the IOS and professor of law and director, coordination, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Prof. M. Afzal Wani, explained how women faced hassles and how they successfully overcame the hurdles. Holding that a girl child was more cosmic and more futuristic, he said that Allah preferred a gild child for Prophet Zakaria over a male child. According to Qur’an, girl was the future of humanity and a life without a girl child could not be imagined. But this was also a fact that they faced the trauma of violence in life. They deserved respect and were second to none. They held critical positions in the corporate world. Thus they should be developed as social, economic and cultural leaders. He asked the society to give girls academic niceties and acumen. He described the girl as maintainer and sustainer.
In his presidential remarks, former head of the department of geography and coordinator, centre for disaster management, JMI, Prof. Masood Ahsan Siddiqui, held that the theme was very sensitive as it involved fair sex. He said that the entire discussion revolved round the economy and health of women and domestic violence. Referring to domestic violence, he pointed out that one in every three women faced physical violence at least once in her life-lime. She faced violence irrespective of being mother, wife or daughter. He insisted that constitutional measures should be taken to protect them from domestic violence. They must be treated as mother, wife and daughter at home. Though women had representation in various fields, yet it was insignificant. Women representation was a must to attain sustainable goals of development. He called for developing a positive mindset vis-à-vis women.
At the end, assistant secretary general of the IOS, Prof. Haseena Hashia, extended a vote of thanks to participants.