In February last year, I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when faint information about the covid outbreak in China reached our ears. I was having evening tea as I explained to a young girl the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. March arrived, and I arrived back in London on the first day of the month. Only a week later, the crisis reached full-blown proportions.
Everything changed in the wink of an eye. Our world had changed into something we had never imagined. Offices, schools, shops, leisure centres and restaurants all closed. It was like the holocaust in London, with empty streets and shops with shutters down. Spring was in the air, but the rustling breeze did not bring the usual joy and fervour in us. The birds sang a little, and foxes from the nearby forest walked the lonely streets.
Women, however continued to multi-task as always. Household chores increased by 28%. With patience and diligence, women worked from home and at the same time assisted in-home and online schooling. With little or no time for themselves, women began to feel tired, isolated and depressed. Mental health problems increased.
With spouses at home, a large percentage of women had to face abuse and control from their male spouses. This resulted from a loss of jobs, which led quite often to the use of alcohol and drugs. A culture of abuse was spreading fast and mental health cases surged alongside covid. The trees grew green as the months passed. But life was dull and grey and women felt demoralised.
At home for families with a large number of members, the flow of cash decreased and with it nutritious food and other commodities. Children were fed up being at home and parents often lost their calm.
As a result of clinics closing down and the lack of contraceptives, forced or unwanted pregnancies grew hugely, especially in under-developed countries. The future of those children born in such circumstances remains uncertain.
A year has passed by, but the world is still in limbo. It was a wonder to have a vaccine developed in eight months, which gave hope to the entire world. However, the plight of underdeveloped countries is morbid. Control and distribution of vaccines across the world are not even free or fair. There is no central authority that controls the distribution of vaccines, which reflects a lack of empathy from developed countries.
Things are now better in some parts of the world but not in many other regions. Affluent countries give stimulus packages, but other and less developed nations which could give smaller packages for the sustenance of the masses have no intention or plan to look into this grave necessity.
Let us hope that in the coming days' governance will empathise with the needy. Mothers can look forward to happy days, and children will not miss out on the good times in schools. Shrapnel will not tear apart the homes of smiling children, and we, humankind will empathise with those less privileged.
As spring breaks out in some parts of the world and, in some places, humans live at freezing levels, let us hope the Almighty will forgive us all. Let us pray for those whose lost ones will not return to share the good times in the days to come but at whose footsteps and through whose teachings the world will move forward.
Syeda Zakia Ahsan is a parenting trainer and charity worker based in London.