As Bangladesh teeters on its hold of things with the pandemic, what do women employment and empowerment have in store for its future?
Bangladesh has made tremendous improvements in bridging the gender gap between the two largest sections of our community in recent years. However, these all are threatened as the post-Covid world aims to jeopardize any accomplishments made so far.
Needless to say, the staggering rate in emerging data reports that all kinds of violence against girls and women have escalated during this pandemic; essentially rendering Gender Violence as "The Shadow Pandemic".
Sooner or later the Covid-19 will leave Bangladesh, but the aftermath of the lethal virus holds bleak prospects for the women at large. Every aspect of their world, from domestic households to workplaces is and will be on the verge of toppling over.
Covid-19 will have an all-encompassing effect on various sectors of women's lives that include economies, health, unpaid care work, gender-based violence, and impacts on humanitarian and fragile settings on human rights.
To match the sheer complexity and scale of the virus, our country needs to adopt new policies to help women return to their workforce and continue working in safe environments. Actions that should be undertaken to address the issues women are and will be facing due to the pandemic.
In the context of the pandemic, violence against women saw a steep rise. Life has become an uphill battle as women are increasingly facing pressure in workplaces, domestic and cyber violence, and restricted movements. The veritable need of the hour is the adoption of women-centred policies, and solutions to bring about revolutionary change.
Emerging data from the UN Women suggests, globally 243 million women have faced sexual and/physical violence in the last 12 months.
In Bangladesh, the count runs high with an average of 4 women being raped each day amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
This, now more than ever, necessitates major constitutional policy reform to end Violence against Women (VAG).
Employment of evidence-based measures and additional resources to address violence against women and girls Covid-19 national response plans must be undertaken.
Services (helplines, the capacity of shelters, psychosocial support) to those who experience violence are to be strictly reinforced besides strengthening key services to prevent impunity and improve response quality.
The meticulous collection of sex-disaggregated data to visualize the impact of COVID-19 on women must be ensured and response infrastructure formed accordingly.
With the global gender pay gap at 16 percent to a staggering 35 percent in many countries, Covid-19 will have an aggravated influence on women already living on a marginal economy. Economic recovery measures to revamp women employment should include these:
Measures to extenuate the tax burden on women-led and conducted businesses are to be introduced. Targeted financial support with state-backed and subsidised loan access and exemption of tax, social security payments to worst-hit women-led enterprises, and feminine sector businesses should ensue.
Besides, expanding cash reach to women's hands can be realised with the use of many existing conditional money transfer programmes such as mobile banking to directly hand cash to women in need.
Many prevalent national social protection programs can be employed to ensure and target income for women representing groups affected by Covid-19 (healthcare, teaching, restaurants, housekeeping, and retail.
Extension of support to women in the informal economy especially those without access to banking should be granted through unemployment compensation.
Although women and girls have unique health needs, more often than not they do not have access to quality health care, medicines, and vaccines. To recover from the pandemic's health impacts, these steps should be taken with meticulous attention to underprivileged and marginalised rural women:
To provide precise and special attention to female frontline health workers, addressing the physical, psychosocial, work environment needs of female health workers including nurses, midwives, community health workers, and facility support staff is significant.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) appropriate to their sizes must be ensured to each worker to reduce exposure. Essential hygiene items such as sanitary pads, hand sanitizers, and soaps, etc. should be at their disposal accordingly.
Response planning is ought to be inclusive of female health workers' opinions.
To disseminate Covid-19 health awareness message access:
Preparation and dissemination of adequately curetted awareness messages to both rural and urban communities to educate women and girls alike about the spread, prevention, and containment of Covid-19 are to be done. The messages must be contextual to their problems, culturally appropriate, and intelligible to the mass.
Besides, for maintenance of standard health care services in sexual and reproductive health care:
Antenatal, postnatal, delivery services and emergency obstetric services are to be continued free of cost for high-risk populations such as pregnant mothers, violence survivors, and HIV-infected mothers.
Unpaid care and domestic work
The unpaid care and domestic work is largely done by women are indispensable to sustain the society, of immense economic value and require a drive to be supported with efficient and adequate policies. These policies should not be limited to but must include:
Both government and private sectors ought to introduce paid family and paid sick leave access with the same terms and conditions. Not only informal workers but also workers unable o telecommuting are to be provided with bonuses, subsidies, and vouchers for childcare services.
The state should adopt significant policies that look for the redistribution of care burden between women and men, and also between families and various public services.
Besides sustaining school feeding programs, arrangements that ensure adequate and affordable supply of water, sanitation, and hygiene services for vulnerable female groups are to be made.
Overall, an expansion of the reach of social assistance programs such as social pensions and cash transfers and suspending all conditions for the Covid-9 crisis' duration is what can help relieve the burden of unpaid care and domestic work.
Regardless of the field or sector, all these changes and reforms must be made through accelerated and concerted efforts of government, international and national civil society organizations, and UN agencies.
A pandemic is a global crisis unlike any other and crisis only births and exacerbates inequalities, time and again. The Covid-19 will have escalated the obstacles and prevalent inequalities that women face in a patriarchy-worshipping developing country like ours, should we emerge out of it alive. The Coronavirus is a challenge that will leave us with many more to deal with.
So, we must address the root problems that make us so vulnerable to the pandemic and bridge all gender inequalities. For this, we have to, include women and all women's organization at the core of Covid-19 response, delineate socio-economic plans keeping the focus on the lives and futures of girls and women, remodel the disparity in care work both paid and unpaid into a new all-inclusive care economy that works for everyone.
Here's to a woman empowered post-Covid-19 Bangladesh!