Women in cities during pandemic

Women wear many hats from office CEOs, to mothers and home makers. Life during the lockdown has been harsher to them than men. The exercise of unlock down has begun but the new normal in cities really needs to be different for them from now on

There has been spike in domestic violence cases being reported to women helpline numbers and civil society organizations working with women during the long lockdown. This was just the one facet of serious problem of gender based issues; there are many more and these need due attention.
If we look at our cities and their planning, we will find that women are generally ignored. A noted a Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen highlighted this in one of her articles in Harvard Design Magazine, a few years ago, saying, “Urban planning is not gender-neutral. While there has long been research on how urban systems fail to respond to women’s needs, it was only a decade ago that the subject surged. Since then, countless cities have been host to initiatives addressing a version of the “urban planning gender gap.” Though “gendering” still refers overwhelmingly to a female-male divide, today it is taking on an expanded range of meaning within the household and the city.”
If we think about the pandemic, urban services and gender issues, then women could become victims. A working woman in a metropolitan city would not leave a toddler in a crèche fearing COVID infection and it would result in devoting more time for family. As women take on greater care demands at home, their jobs will also be disproportionately affected by cuts and lay-offs. The COVID situation has increased ‘Unpaid care work’ with children out-of-school, heightened care needs of older persons and overwhelmed health services. This is a visible reality. If you have gone out in any city during this pandemic, you must have witnessed that there are less women on urban streets than usual. And, the women who are out on work are in majority health workers.
It is to be noted that a majority of our health care workers in cities and villages are nurses. They are vulnerable to infection because they are the ones who are in contact with patients and they are the ones who go from village to village distributing sanitary pads, food, and so on. So, it is really important to engage them in decision-making process and in laying guidelines for locking down or un-locking.
United Nations General Secretary has feared that with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic even the limited gains made in the past decades (in the area of gender equality) are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. Similarly, there are many state governments in India which have proposed certain changes in labour laws and it is going to affect the women workforce in multiple ways. Many suggestions have come from women organizations worldwide to avoid making life difficult for female workforce.
There is a need for urban planners and policymakers to relook at urban planning and governance too to make life easier for women. The first start could be redesigning our public transport systems. They should become safe, convenient, affordable and accessible. And, another important step could be engagement of women from different strata of society in decision making and this can start at local level for having a positive spiral impact in everyone’s life.

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