According to the World Health Organization, as of 13th April 2020, the number of individuals affected with COVID-19 has reached over 1.8 million confirmed cases with Pakistan’s tally crossing the 5700 mark, with the number of cases for this pandemic rising, exponentially. The Corona virus outbreak has affected approximately 213 countries and territories projecting a devastating impact on the global economy, education systems and the healthcare sectors, worldwide.
The virus, while projecting an evident risk to the masses, disproportionately disadvantages certain groups of people in our society as it adds a layer onto already existing inequalities, aggravating them further. Majority workers in the health care sector in Pakistan, and globally, are females and the pandemic puts them and their families at a greater risk, specifically in our country, where the health care staff is not provided with the required gear. The women in the informal sector of our economy are also greatly impacted as this precarious group of labor force is the most insecure and vulnerable to the current situation while unemployment levels increase, globally. These workers working on short-term contracts, home-based, etc. do not enjoy the laws set for minimum wage, sexual harassment, and safe working environment are therefore laid off without any form of social security.
Women working professionally, also suffer with increased burden as they cater to increased unpaid domestic needs while working from home, because of ‘social distancing and self-isolation. Moreover, as the global economy suffers and shuttered businesses tolerate setbacks, unemployment rates increase at a steep rate and the majority of the pressure currently, and in the future, will be faced by the female gender.
A dramatic swell in the rates of domestic violence has also been reported by the United Nations, with as much as 25 percent in some places. This increase puts more women in danger as the increased stress adds to the abuse while individuals, spend more time at home with their abusers. Similarly, as the healthcare system gets stressed due to limited resources, reproductive health of women is neglected and deprioritized, leaving women more vulnerable to the risk with “increased moralities, young pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease” according to a UN Policy Brief. Furthermore, the Trans community, already suffering from grave inequalities, is at a greater risk as charity and welfare programs prioritize the masses in these worsening conditions.
In 1948, the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” became the “Magna Carta” for the people world over and its first article clearly states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. The language employed embraces every individual across the globe, not restricted to a certain race, class or gender. No exceptions, according to this article can be based to the principles of equality. This fundamental right to equality translates under article 25 of the constitution of Pakistan that states “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” The constitution further condones any kind of discrimination based on sex. The exacerbated inequalities that certain gender groups suffer during this pandemic enforce the government to take measures for more than 50 percent of the population that is at risk. Policy makers should devise facilities for women, and even men that are vulnerable and living with their abuser to seek refuge in safe spaces while women’s reproductive health is prioritized. Furthermore, women policy makers need to be included in the decision-making process to anticipate and take into consideration appropriate gender sensitive policies, keeping in mind the most insecure groups. The government can also make implementations by including labor unions and other such groups working for the security of the labor force that is being laid off in a situation where alternate employment opportunities are close to nil. In a country like Pakistan, where gender-based discrimination is already quite high, protective actions need to be taken by the responsible authorities to create safe spheres for the vulnerable.
Written by: Fatima Nadim