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NEW CHALLENGES TO GENDER JUSTICE IN A POST-COVID WORLD

Is the pandemic set to dismantle the fragile improvements done towards achieving gender Justice in the last decade?
Anurag Tiwary and Abhinav Narayan Jha

Historically, for people whose human rights are least protected they are most likely to experience the unique difficulties that arise as a consequence of a disaster – Natural or man-made. Social and economic hierarchies that existed before the pandemic will now be reproduced post this war. A crisis is known to only amplifies the problem. Women, girls, LGBTQ community carry a heavier burden in the post-COVID world. Several economic and social inequalities await as they battle this unprecedented crisis.

The present disruption, which has become the new normal, will allow for the suspension of democratic norms, will deepen inequalities, and increase fear among such vulnerable groups. Populist leaders have already recognized and seized such opportunities for political gains.

We need to understand as a society that there exist structural inequalities that cater to a certain power structure and leaves behind the rest. Covid-19 exacerbates existing gaps in such structures, heightens vulnerabilities, and feeds on the inequalities already faced by such communities.

Most importantly, Covid-19 has escalated the threat to women’s access to justice. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during the lockdown saw an unprecedented rise. “Formal and informal spaces which afforded women appropriate safeguards are quickly shrinking,” says Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. This is because of the stay at home orders. Women facing such GBV remain unnoticed because of the digital divide. Lockdown and economic hardships have also restricted access to courts. The fact remains that women are less likely than men to own a smartphone and are even less likely to access the internet from their phones than men. This digital divide does not allow them to have access to life-saving information. This crisis particularly affects those groups of women and trans-community who are forcibly displaced, deprived of liberty, and lack a legal identity. This seems like a socio-economic catastrophe. With little to no financial resources and no social networks, navigating the justice system in a “stay home, stay safe” world becomes impossible.

The pandemic has forced governments to decongest public spaces, shelters, and even prisons. The implications of such closures for women who are victims of domestic violence haven’t been thought through.

In a world that will be struck with extreme poverty and unemployment for years post-COVID, women and the LGBTQ community, who are already underrepresented in our systems will remain unemployed. They will have no political representation in our democratic process as well. The chaos brought by the pandemic has led to the diversion of resources from women-centric social security schemes to COVID related experiments and expenditures. Reproductive healthcare and childcare investments have been cut down across the world leading to disruption of services. This has increased the risk of maternal and child mortality and morbidity.

The most vulnerable group in the fight against the pandemic is the health workers. The majority of whom are women. They come from low-income families. Nurses, care providers, and cleanliness workers sustain our health care services. With overburdened work and caring responsibilities, they remain the most vulnerable group in our fight against COVID-19. The ‘care economy’ would cripple if not for their relentless services during such times. However, they remain uninsured and are facing increased social stigma.

Members of the LGBTQ community whose economic independence depend on the informal economy, face a new challenge with absolutely no income to sustain themselves. Access to work and livelihood remains a distant dream for them in such critical times.

Young members of the LGBTQ community, who have been locked up in their homes face a new challenge. Family rejection and consistent bullying can lead to a depressed mind and an increase in suicides. In conservative societies, where many in the community hide their true selves from their families are facing the risk of being ‘caught’. Unsupportive families have caused trauma, stress, and anxiety on such minds. Poor Mental health conditions make them more vulnerable during the lockdown.

Covid-19 has amplified the division in our societies in many ways. Poverty and discrimination are a vicious cycle. The question therefore is this – are we witnessing heightened gender disparities as collateral damage to Covid-19 and can we do nothing about it?

Support groups have increased during these tough times. Feminist Solidarity has become the need of the hour. A system needs to be put in place that harmonizes competing interests and maintains the fragile improvements done towards achieving Gender Justice in the last decade.

Anurag is a student of National Law University, Visakhapatnam and can be contacted at anuragtiwary66@gmail.com

Abhinav is a student of law from Amity University and can be contacted at narayanabhinav14@gmail.com

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