Half of the population has been crushed under male domination in a capitalist system. The lockdown stripped women of even the modest freedom achieved through labour, hard work, and struggle. The lockdown left women with access to neither healthcare nor any way to protect their bodily autonomy.
Days of the struggle of emptying themselves in order to overcome the problems of arranging for two meals for the family.
More than the epidemic, it was governmental fetters that shattered their hopes and dreams. The Pragatisheel Mahila Ekta Kendra attempted to find out the suffocation of this entire scene and how women faced it.
Women took part in the online and offline surveys from large parts of Uttarakhand and expressed their pain.
Women from various areas participated in the survey conducted amidst the fallout of the Epidemic Act. These areas included Haldwani, Lalkuan, and rural area Bindukhatta in the Nainital District, Pantnagar University’s ‘T’ Labour Colony, Jawahar Nagar, and Ramnagar, the rural area of Pirumdara, some labour colonies in the Haridwar district, and the labour colony in Shahbad Deri in Delhi.
Participants in the survey included women labourers, self-employed women, ASHA workers, midday meal workers, Anganwadi workers, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, sanitation workers, students, domestic workers, and women who stay at home.
Women labourers suffered the most.
Loss of Work but Increase in Workload
On the issue of lockdown and employment, 65 out of 300 labouring women reported that they had lost their job. They did not find any other work and nor did they receive any financial assistance from anywhere during the entire lockdown.
Self-employed women (those who do sewing work, run a parlour, make paper bags, sell cosmetics, or have small grocery shops and so on) also did not get any work during the lockdown.
Food workers, ASHA workers, Anganwadis, teachers, pharmacists, doctors, sanitation workers, etc., did not lose their jobs. However, the extra work at their workplace increased their load greatly.
Sanitation workers said that while earlier they worked for eight to nine hours on contract for 4,800 rupees, now the work was doubled.
They were merely given a PPE kit in the beginning for protection for COVID-19 but received no safety equipment after that.
Meagre Pay and Even that Was Withheld In May
ASHA workers described the burden of the responsibility placed on them during the lockdown. They were called ‘corona warriors’ in name but were not given any protection, benefits, nor any increase in their honorarium.
Midday meal workers said that although schools were closed, they were given the work of providing midday meals and cooking food in the schools that were made into quarantine centres, without any protective equipment. They were also given the work of cleaning and clearing out bushes.
They get a meagre sum of two thousand rupees in the name of an honorarium. But they did not even receive this honorarium in May.
Private school teachers said that schools remain closed and they did not receive any pay. They had no experience with online education which led to a lot of chaos in their lives, and they later received only half of their pay for these classes.
Pharmacists said that they only received sanitisers by way of protection from COVID-19 and nothing else.
Had to Feed Sugar Water to Children Instead of Milk
Women who stay at home said that during the lockdown their husbands lost their work, causing difficulties in ensuring their everyday needs as well.
A women labourer from Haldwani said, “We lost our jobs due to the lockdown, and didn’t have any money at home to buy food. We have three children. Two of them drink milk. Since we didn’t have any money, we couldn’t get milk for them. Many times we had to mix sugar in water and feed that to the children”.
Asifa, a woman who stays at home, said that their financial situation was so bad during the lockdown that they didn’t even have 300 rupees left to buy wheat, rice, and pulses using their ration card. So they didn’t get any ration at all.
While many women said that their workload at home had increased during lockdown, many said that it was normal because other members of the family helped out. Many women said that during the lockdown their husbands and children were at home. This increased their workload. Normally, their husbands would have gone to work, and the children would have gone to school.
Due to everyone staying at home during the lockdown, the work of cooking, cleaning, and washing utensils increased a lot. Some working women said that they would go to work after finishing all the household work early in the morning and find an increased workload at their workplace as well.
Abortion Cases Increased During Lockdown
The survey noticed an increase in crimes against women and domestic violence during this period.
According to the women, due to losing their livelihood during the lockdown, there was no money to meet household expenses, children were left hungry, and since they were not getting any jobs, everyone was at home without anything to do.
As a result, people began to go into depression, leading to fights and quarrels, and domestic violence. Troubled men began to vent their anger on the women out of frustration.
One teacher said that there were many media reports of women committing suicide and attempting to kill their children as well, which is a result of the immense tension they were going through.
Rabiya, an ASHA worker, said that there were many cases of unmarried women looking for abortions during the lockdown, which suggests sexual offenses taking place against women.
In addition, some women who did not want to have children became pregnant in the midst of the lockdown and were forced to have children.
Adversity Faced by Pregnant Women
Most women did not acknowledge that any such crimes were taking place because most of them stayed at home. The majority of them said that they could not access treatment during this time, and those who could, got incomplete treatment. They could not get any tests for 2 months. This was an incredibly terrible time for pregnant women.
A woman labourer from Haridwar said that in the name of Corona, sick and pregnant women were made to run from one hospital to another. Another woman from Haridwar who stays at home said, “I was pregnant, but suddenly I had a miscarriage. I went to the hospital but did not receive any treatment”.
ASHA workers said that even vaccinations were stalled for two months. In Kumaun, Haldwani, the biggest government hospital, known as the Sushila Tiwari hospital, was turned into a COVID centre, and as a result, all other patients had to remain at home in the absence of any kind of treatment.
The private hospitals they went to for emergencies looted the patients. The requirement of mobile phones and internet connections for online education and the task of an educated family member having to sit with children for their online classes derailed everything. Most children, who did not have access to all of these facilities, had their education disrupted.
This article was originally published in Hindi on WorkersUnity.com. It was translated to English by Damayanti Saha.