It is of no doubt that the pandemic has turned the life of every single person on this planet upside down. A woman, a man, a child, a senescent, a business firm, and not to forget the government. All the entities are dealing with their own battles and struggle to balance between their pre-pandemic and the post-pandemic world. When we will talk about the pandemic or the year 2020 in general to future generations, we shall refer to it as a time when we shut ourselves in our homes and eradicated all sorts of physical contacts, at least for a considerable period of time. All activities and social connectivity were restricted to the telephonic conversation, social media posts, video calls and other such facilities. More than that, we were legally not allowed to step out of our houses showcasing our beautiful faces, as the government had mandated us to cover them with a face mask.
If you dig deeper into the experience faced by men and women, you will realise that men will talk about this year as a year of drastic and substantial changes in the day to day lives whereas a lot of women will claim that this is how they had been living anyway. When we had come across this fact, we realised the eccentricity of this problem. Men and women are still far behind in achieving an equitable presence in public places. But keeping hopes in my heart and optimism on my pen tip, I wish for the old normal for women not being the new normal for women. I wish we all can now hold our sanitized hands and move towards a public space that is more reclaimed for both men and women.
This is not only me who is saying this but also the statistics. The India human development survey of 2012 is conducted by the University of Maryland and the National council of applied economic research. The survey found out that as many as 18 % of women in India do not visit a Kirana shop while further 19% do not visit it alone. Nearly one-third of the Indian households depend only on children or the men of the family to carry out any kind of grocery shopping. Furthermore, only a minimal of 11% of women in rural areas have ever attended a Gram Sabha and 18% have ever visited a metropolitan city. The numbers sound shocking, right? So basically, the lockdown and the home quarantine that we have been nagging about all this while is kind of similar to the daily life routine of a lot of women in our nation. The pandemic just gave us a practical real-life realization and experience of what these women go through every day.
A lot of people have been complaining of being forced to wear masks and cover their faces while in public places. Their arguments against wearing a mask include discomfort and limited interaction with the world. Well, I would like to bring to your esteemed notice that as many as 60% of Indian women have been going through this and still go through this discomfort in the name of a traditional practice where they are required to cover their faces under a ghoonghat or a purdah (meaning a veil). Something that we always saw but never noticed? Right?
It is of no cross-question that women faced cases of sexual harassment outside their houses in public places, offices, temples and where not. Moreover, our society attaches the cases of sexual harassment with a sense of pride the women enjoy. It is quite hurtful to understand that our societies still deliberate a person’s societal respect in relation to their sexual experiences, whether with consent or without. This is proven by a study conducted by Girija Borker, an economist in the World Bank. The study found out that despite having scored high marks, girls in Delhi University preferred to attend colleges in the lower band simply to avoid the chances of being victims of sexual harassment during their commute time. In fact, another study claims that 95% of women in Bhopal, Gwalior and Jodhpur feel uncomfortable in using public transport while 89% feel the same discomfort in the marketplace. Shockingly, 76% of women claim to feel unsafe on roads or footpaths. My hands tremble to write it that as many as 30% of women had reported having faced sexual harassment of some kind or the other in just the past year.
One might think that a person who is not safe outside might be safe at home. Well, not as easy as it looks. The pandemic has also seen a surprising surge in the cases of domestic violence reported by women across the country or even across the world. The pandemic forced isolation has left Indian women no choice but to stay at home inside the four walls with their exploiters.
This entire piece of deliberation, discussion and explanation is futile if we leave it right here- by stating only the problems and not the solution. For sure, the government is already working to make things better and public places more comfortable for women. To add to their list of tasks, I believe improving lighting in public places shall prove to be of great help. Moreover, if we go by the “women for women” principle, hiring more women in jobs associated with public places such as drivers, conductors, clerks etc. would help lift up the spirit. I believe, if we uplift the women of our society in the economic sense, they are capable enough to uplift themselves in the social sense. All we need to do is to create an environment more welcoming and more collaborative towards the feminine sector of our demography.
I would like to arrest my case, on the endnote that let’s hope for a world where the pandemic is seen not only as a period of distress and losses but also as a period of change, revolution and wholesomeness.