In order to understand why COVID-19 can set gender equality back decades, we need to understand the disproportionate impact it has on girls and women. According to UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented 1·52 billion children from attending school. Some of them will never return. Girls’ education is already being set back by the COVID-19 crisis, with over 188 countries implementing nationwide school closures that impact over 89% of the world’s student population. Turning to online solutions will negatively impact access for girls, especially those with disabilities, and in poor households.
“Although we kept hearing ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ during the lockdown and the continued restrictions on movement in different parts of the country in the past few months, we need to be cognizant of the fact that for hundreds and thousands of girls, home is not a safe space. While some might face domestic abuse at the hands of known adults, others might be forced to discontinue education while some more who would be coerced to get married. Needless to say, all of these are major issues which will negatively impact the futures of these girls forever, making it extremely difficult to rectify or undo any of this.”
Domestic violence has seen a sudden increase since the coronavirus pandemic prompted India to enforce lockdowns nationwide. The restricted movement due to the lockout has taken a direct toll on the victims of domestic violence who are now stuck in their homes with their abusers. Being confined at home with their abusers makes survivors more vulnerable as there is no way to escape, which means several women are either unable to too afraid to call the police for help.
“1 in 3 women in India suffer sexual and physical violence at home.”
(Source: National Family Health Survey-4, 2015-16)
Financial difficulties coupled with stress and alcohol consumption are all seen as triggers for domestic violence, and the quarantine measures being imposed around the world are pushing these triggers forward.
“It is the most heart-wrenching thing to hear adolescent girls share with us details of domestic abuse they have faced at the hands of someone they know well and used to trust. Sadly, this is far from shocking given the worrisome data on domestic violence faced by adolescent girls in India.”
Girls across the world including India also shoulder the burden of unpaid domestic work. According to Melinda Gates, women spend seven more years on average performing household . Women across the world already shoulder the burden of unpaid and low-paid care work, but caring responsibilities due to COVID-19 are falling even harder on women who are more likely to earn less, work part-time or be in more insecure work. With the lockdown in effect, this means that girls and women who bear the brunt of extra childcare and housework are losing their jobs in much greater numbers than men.
All of these indicate that if we don’t act now, women could be set back decades and it would take a few more to bounce back to normalcy.
What is VOICE 4 Girls doing to respond to the pandemic?
We have adapted our programs and implementing remote approaches to be in touch with our campers as well counsellors.
We have modified our content to suit online platforms and have been continuing to reach out to adolescent girls through our flagship Her VOICE program (Parichay and Disha). Our curricula continue to focus on empowering these girls with crucial life skills as well as knowledge pertaining to education, health, safety, and rights which helps them become empowered and take charge of their futures.