Women are bearing the brunt of the lockdown

Women are bearing a disproportionate cost of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – but there may be a silver lining yet.

Creative Commons/mgrhode1

Gauri, a lawyer in Mumbai, is grappling with a new problem — how to squeeze 25 hours into a day that already doesn’t have enough hours.

With a nationwide lockdown, her maid who helps with the housework has been unable to come to work. Her parents, who live separately, face a similar situation. And it is now Gauri’s job to juggle the two houses as she cooks, cleans, does the laundry, procures groceries, and takes care of an energetic child whose school remains shut. And, since she’s working from home, she’s also reading legal briefs on the side.

“In the last few weeks it has become increasingly difficult to run the home,” says Mahesh Vyas, managing director and CEO, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. “And it is women who are taking the hit.”

Call her by her name

The December 16, 2012 gang-rape victim had a name. To honour her memory, we could start by reclaiming her identity.

Praying for the recovery of the rape victim who ignited a nationwide protest in 2012. Creative Commons

Indian law does not permit the naming of rape victims. Presumably, this is because the crime of rape is so terrible that, in society’s eyes, it stains not the rapist but his victim with shame; a shame so indelible that her honour and that of her family is irretrievably lost.

And, so, even though Badrinath Singh, the father of the 23-year-old gangraped so brutally that she died of her injuries, said he had no objection to her real name being used, media christened her the fearless one.

We made her the braveheart who accepted her martyrdom. A martyr is someone who embraces death, usually for a religious cause.

SC’s judgment on women in the navy points to ingrained sexism

A two-judge Supreme Court bench orders that women officers in the navy be treated at par with men. Those who’ve suffered gender discrimination should be financially compensated.

The Indian Navy’s all-women Tarini crew circumnavigating the world/Indian Women Blog

“The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.” Justices Dhananjaya Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, 17 March, 2020

The Supreme Court, yet again, took the wrecking ball to patriarchy with its judgment this past week that allowed women in the navy to hold permanent commissions and appointments at par with men.

The ruling shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, a two-judge bench headed by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud along with Hemant Gupta had just a month earlier brushed aside all the usual objections – it would distract women from their family responsibilities, rank and file would not obey women – to rule that excluding women from top jobs in the army is illegal.

Media celebrated the army judgment with banner headlines. By comparison, reaction to the navy judgment has been muted. Yet, the second one takes the earlier judgment a step further.

Bringing men into the conversation

In the run-up to International Women’s Day, I argue that if men and women are to work as equal partners, then we need new rules of engagement that understand the centrality of mutual respect and consent.

Twenty years ago, Abhijit Das, the founder of Men Engage Alliance, attended a meeting on domestic violence. From the sidelines of the kitchen where he was working, Das noticed about 100 men had accompanied the 3,500-odd women and were listening keenly, but had no opportunity to participate. Apart from encouraging women, or accompanying them to meetings, what could these men do?

And so began a conversation with the men. They could help with the housework, take care of the children, fetch water. These were small but significant tasks that upended the idea of what is women’s work and what is her place in society.

That was the beginning of a campaign, Chuppi Todo, Hinsa Roko (break the silence, stop the violence) where men resolved to: One, not commit violence; two, speak up when they see violence, and three, support women who have faced violence.

How Arvind Kejriwal failed Delhi’s women voters

Aam Aadmi Party’s work in schools and mohalla clinics, free bus rides for women and subsidies for electricity and water was a major draw. But if Kejriwal really wants to be a game-changer, he might want to end an old bias against including women in the cabinet.

Creative Commons/joegoauk70

Following his party’s triumph in the Delhi elections, the swearing in of Arvind Kejriwal’s new cabinet had the stale whiff of an old exclusion: No women in the team. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s explanation that there was “nothing wrong in repeating the same cabinet” doesn’t wash. Repeating a past omission is not going to fix it. This omission is particularly egregious when you consider the results of a poll-eve survey by Lokniti-The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published in The Indian Express which found that women were 11 percentage points more likely to vote for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) than men.

The fact that women have, in many recent elections, turned out in greater numbers than men to vote no longer surprises. What does is the stubbornness of the parties, old and new, to share political power. Across ideology and geography, parties pay lip service to women’s empowerment. But when it comes to sharing power, their words ring hollow. Exceptions to this now predictable dance are Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which earmarked 33% and 41% seats respectively for women candidates in the 2019 election.

How 11 women officers made army history

Lt Col Seema Singh and Lt Col Sandhya Yadav tell me how 11 officers fought tirelessly from 2008 to make history for women in the army. Their behind-the-scenes account includes tales of chocolate, congeniality and chai.

A few good women: (from left) Lt Cols Sonia Sehgal, Maninder Virdi, Sandhya Yadav, Seema Singh, Anupama Munshi/Pic courtesy Maninder Singh

When 11 women Army officers first filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in December 2008 to challenge a policy that restricted them to short service commissions, Lt Col Seema Singh’s daughter Garima was just eight or nine years old. “She used to accompany me to court whenever I went,” Singh, now 47, said.

On the day the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to keep women officers out from permanent positions (see accompanying story), Singh’s daughter was also present in court, now as a final year MBBS student. “My male colleagues were also present and brought Cadbury chocolates for us as presents,” she said over the phone. “There was never any animosity with our brother officers. We were only looking for gender parity with them.”

In fact, Singh’s husband was, like her, an ordinance officer. “There was conflict in the house because he would get so much more than I did,” she said. Her husband quit the army in 2017.

Excluding women from top army jobs is illegal: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that women army officers have a right to command posts.

Dismissing arguments made by the central government against giving women command appointments in the army on grounds of their ‘physiological limitations’ and domestic responsibilities, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of women is illegal.

The landmark judgment is a victory for gender equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. “Implicit in the guarantee of equality is that where the action of the State does not differentiate between two classes of persons, it does not differentiate them in an unreasonable or irrational manner,” noted the judgment by a two-judge bench of Justices Dhananjay Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi.

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the central government against a 2010 Delhi High Court decision that held that short service commissioned women officers are entitled to permanent commissions at par with men.

Appealing against that decision, the central government told the Supreme Court about the possible unwillingness of male troops, drawn from predominantly rural backgrounds, to accept a woman in command of their units.

Playing touch rugby, breaking stereotypes

In a New Delhi slum in New Delhi, a group of young women and men play together and, in the process, make their city safer.

Pic courtesy: Plan India

A quiet revolution brews in a narrow lane in one of Delhi’s most unsafe localities. In Mangolpuri, a locality that registers the most number of police cases, a group of young men and women have taken charge of making their neighbourhood safer. Do streetlights work? Are there enough CCTVs? How do you rid the community park of drug addicts and gamblers who gather here after sundown?

Supported by a set of non-governmental organisations, over 500 young people who live here have conducted safety audits and taken up their concerns with the police, transport and public works department. Their goal? To build safe, accountable and inclusive cities for adolescent girls.

“In this locality, girls could not go out. On the streets, boys hung out in groups and would pass comments,” says Sonia, 14, a class 10 student. Adds Komal, 21, a graduate who is now learning stenography, “The only place I felt safe was within the four walls of my house.” In 2014, the Safer Cities Programme was launched in five cities around the world, including Cairo, Hanoi and Delhi. Two resettlement communities, Mangolpuri and Madanpur Khadar were selected, and by 2018, the programme had touched 80,000 homes in Delhi.

Recognise unpaid care work as a common good

The job of cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly invariably falls to women. This impacts women’s participation in the paid economy. It’s time to change that.

Not funny: Women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of household chores.

Suvarna Santosh Ghate, a 38-year-old housewife who has never held a job, is learning to drive a two-wheeler at a skilling centre in Mumbai where I met her some months ago.

It’s an ambitious endeavour for someone whose day begins at 5 am with an unvarying routine of chopping-cooking-cleaning-washing. She cooks twice a day, because, well, her family can’t eat “stale” food. But between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, her “rest” time, she is able to slip away for driving lessons because “maybe someday I can get a job”.

All over the world, women bear a disproportionate burden of household chores. This “sexist economic system” has resulted in gross imbalances in paid work, finds an Oxfam report released this past week ahead of the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos.

The gender discrepancy is hardly news. The business of care work is the “main barrier to women’s participation in labour markets,” found a 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report. All over the world, 606 million women, compared to 41 million men, of working age said they were unavailable for paid employment because of unpaid care work.

A seat at the table

Women have their own perspective based on their struggles to ascension. To exclude them from crucial meetings is to shut out the voices of nearly half of our population.

Spot the women

They flank the prime minister, six on one side, five on the other, dressed in sombre suits to discuss serious matters. The photograph was taken on January 6 when the 11 — variously described as “telecom czar”, “richest Indian”, and even “patriarch” — met with Narendra Modi ahead of the budget.

No “czarinas”. No “matriarchs”. Just an all-boys-club meeting to weigh in on the economy, talk about the need to spur growth and create jobs.

You would imagine that some women might have been invited, particularly since the prime minister’s flagship mission, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, is to do with female empowerment. You would imagine that some women might have had a seat at that table. After all, it’s 2020 and women are flying fighter planes and working on missions to space. But in the photograph, even our first full-time woman finance minister is missing.

It’s not that we don’t have capable women in industry. I can think of Kiran Majumdar Shaw, Anu Agha, Suneeta Reddy and all those who sparkle in finance and banking from Zarin Daruwala to Kaku Nahate.