As the impact of the year-round COVID19 pandemic continues to be felt in different parts of India – where patriarchy is embedded in the social code and inequalities against women are intuitively practiced – the repercussions of the health crisis as well as the deepening gender gaps are being borne disproportionately and severely by women. Yet most of the talk around the pandemic has been either gender neutral or gender neutral, often resulting in the subjugation or systemic marginalization of women.
Faced with these challenges, the thematic debate on equality between women and men can no longer continue only on paper, it must in fact be transformed into actions by the Indian government in order to face the short-term consequences of pandemic as well as to develop long-term sustainable peace. Adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework is the best way to achieve this dual objective. An FFP could offer India a concrete opportunity to put in place a more inclusive policy framework; break with the predominant patriarchal notions; and address pandemic relief strategies – from the perspective of women and other vulnerable or under-represented groups in society.
Gendered impact of COVID19 in India
In India’s socio-cultural and economic fields – which have historically been marred by inequalities and rigid stereotypes – the gender effects of the COVID19 pandemic have been both intersectional and complex.
For starters, due to the rapid increase in the number of patients with COVID-19, healthcare workers in India, especially nurses whose about 88.9 percent are women remain much more vulnerable to contracting the deadly virus. The existing problem of shortage of basic equipment for these healthcare workers further exacerbates these concerns.
Second, the pandemic has negatively impacted an already shrinking Indian economy, leading to financial cuts and rising unemployment. Women, either because of deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes or because of the unconscious biases that flow from such attitudes, have been at the forefront of temporary or permanent layoffs. According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, with the start of the national lockdown, the unemployment rate has reached 23.5 percent in March to April 2020 with higher shares unemployed women. The unemployment rate for women has again reached 12.39 by cent as of February 2021.
Third, women in India are now facing a phantom pandemic where forced proximity, isolation, increased drug addiction, lack of access to justice, etc. during the ongoing health crisis have resulted in a growing threat of domestic and gender-based violence. . According to a data set released by the National Women’s Commission in April 2020, there were almost 100 percent increase in domestic violence during confinement.
Nonetheless, these are just a few of the immediate effects of the pandemic on women in India. Other sequential consequences will emerge over time, including issues of savings and asset depletion, pandemic widowhood, etc. which would make recovery extremely difficult for women.
Clearly, in India, the pandemic exploits pre-existing economic and social inequalities as well as social norms that give men embedded benefits, and poses a real threat to closing gender gaps. Indeed, according to the recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, India has already lost 28 places to rank 140th out of 156 countries compared to its 112th position out of 153 countries for the year 2019-2020.
But despite a differential impact, women in India have not been included either directly or indirectly in developing response strategies to deal with COVID19. As such, they remain absent from the decision tables that involve shaping the future of our societies. However, research indicates that the inclusion of women as well as other diverse voices provides better options in shaping policy and achieving comprehensive results that address the needs and concerns of all groups.
How can an FFP help you?
These unfortunate situations demand an adjustment in India’s thinking and strategy, result in a paradigm shift in its traditional policymaking, and allow for diverse representation to effectively deal with the COVID19 pandemic. The current crisis is therefore precisely the time to talk about an FFP in India and for its representatives to commit more firmly to mainstreaming gender at the political level.
By reflecting critically on existing international power structures, an FFP framework focuses on protecting the needs of marginalized and female groups and places human security and human rights issues at the heart of discussions. In doing so, it provides a fundamental shift in conventional understanding of security to include other areas of foreign policy such as economics, finance, environment, health, trade, etc.
With this new perception of health risks and crisis management as a security threat, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, India has the potential to explore expanding humanitarian trade options under its agreements. international organizations to deal with drug shortages and lack of access to personal protective equipment for health. workers in its territory, a large majority of whom continue to be women.
Adopting an FFP could also pave the way for increased regional cooperation, facilitate regional discussions on a myriad of issues and enable the development of a targeted recovery program designed specifically for the empowerment of women. Such a program would take into account that the economic repercussions of crises disproportionately affect women and therefore help India enlist the help of its neighbor in dealing with the gendered economic and social effects of the COVID19 pandemic.
Furthermore, FFP does not only mean looking at power structures and managing relationships globally only, but also evaluating results in the country’s national landscape. In this sense, an FFP could provide India with an important starting point to bring about internal change by focusing more on gender issues, especially in terms of strictly defined patriarchal gender roles and removing the obstacles that continue to hold sway. restrict women’s participation in decision-making. process.
The emphasis on the participation of women in leadership positions in India would in turn catalyze the application of a gender lens to the national policy-making process, thus achieving comprehensive results that include diverse perspectives. These policies will promote women’s concerns as humanitarian issues, prioritize and protect the continuum of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and continue to facilitate the provision of information and education, thereby making women better equipped. to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
Adding to these factors, since the FFP is a holistic approach, its application could also potentially strengthen cooperation between the Indian government and civil society organizations or women’s network at home and abroad to manage the pandemic and its deleterious effects on people, especially women. At a time when government resources are overwhelmed in their fight against the pandemic, greater involvement of civil society organizations can indeed play an essential role in the defense of social justice, women’s rights, social equity, and provide medical and food support, distribution of hygiene kits, awareness of the virus, etc. These efforts could bring a dramatic improvement in the vulnerable position of women in the context of the current Covid19 crisis in India.
As such, the FFP approach offers enormous potential to address some of the main institutional and organizational injustices against women in India, and the COVID19 pandemic represents a critical turning point in this regard. An FFP is important not only to ensure that the gender imbalances inflicted by COVID19 do not become permanent, but also for the long-term economic and social development of the country, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the advancement of national security as well. only peace. But it remains to be seen whether India will adopt or even consider moving towards an FFP in the near future.