I Am A First Citizen

So many people I know say to me that the Covid-19 has been a great leveller. In the sense that it does not look for only the poor and the marginalised to latch on its dreaded tentacles, but even the moneyed class is caught in its web. Somehow, this generalisation does not sit well with a questioning mind. Covid-19 has made the divide sharper between the rich and the poor, men and women.

The primary factor for this divide – which may never erase – is the loss of jobs. People across sectors, income levels and classes have lost their jobs causing hardships they had probably never imagined before February when Corona Virus was a disease in a foreign country. We, the turmeric, ginger and garlic loving Indians never imagined that it would be a pandemic and put the country amongst the top countries afflicted by Covid19. Since these three ingredients are integral to the Indian kitchens, we believed that it would safeguard us to the disease. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

As Covid-19 spreads across the world, unbridled in its forward march, jobs which gave us our stability started going away. Though men and women are affected by these job losses, bouncing back will be tougher for women, than men. For across the world gender disparity continues to hold on to its steady fast grip   on    the  society and    its thinking.  If  before the  pandemic about 50  per  cent  of the workforce were women, as countries ease their lockdowns and embark on a path to moving forward, the “new normal” may see lesser women being employed in jobs. In India, the bounce back for women will be tougher because we have to cope with housework in the new normal.

In India a working woman’s productivity is directly linked to the domestic help. There is nothing more soothing and calming than seeing your domestic help standing at the door, waiting to be let in. I can vouch for this because I owe so much to my domestic help. Covid-19 has put a question mark on their arrival back to work.  

A friend who held at a top job in a media house narrated that she was presented two options, either to quit or take a huge pay cut and a lower position. She was given 24 hours to revert back but before the deadline she was told that she had been laid odd. here are hundreds like  her – men and women – who are grappling with the stress of the next pay check. Given these lay-offs when reemployment starts, the housework burdened and stressed women, will be the hardest hit.

Working women are often asked, “How do you manage your home and work?” This is never asked of men. Before Covid-19, we may have laughed off this query, but not anymore. Today, when a woman is asked this question, you make have to think    hard     because    a lot depends on your answer. This question will be integral to you getting a job and your upward mobility in that job in the future months. The rise of women is not about the fall of men. But this will emerge as the “big divide” when women will be interviewed for jobs in the future. As a reporter I am more out of home than in it. I have been asked this question a zillion times. In my single days no one asked me this question, but marriage and motherhood gave this question a new life. When I was asked this question by a male boss some years ago when I was in the first flushes of motherhood, I did not realise that my upward mobility in that company depended on my answer. Not having realised the intent behind the question I was flippant. Years later I realised that my outdoor assignments were far and inbetween because the man who sat in the boss’s chair in his air-conditioned room, had felt that I would not be able to travel due to motherhood. I quit and told myself that future jobs will be on my terms.

In the immediate future, there will be cut throat competition for the available jobs. With a shrinking job market the race for employment will see more women being unemployed or under employed. It will not be a friendly market for the women’s employment and gender inequality will be much higher than in the present day. This is also the time for women to get a full understanding on self-employment, for that will be the future. The future will see the birth of women’s collectives where groups of women work together for a common goal. This is also the time for women to start understanding to navigate the financial lanes and investments. The future  will  be  about rebuilding  identities.

The journey for a women will be tougher than men as the numbers of those who believe in gender equality will shrink further.

Loss of jobs often tends to lead to long periods of self-pity. The longer you take to snap out of self-pity and build on your self-worth the quicker it will be for you to find a new path. The future is for creating a new identity as learners, innovators and money earners. Your Plan A may be to hold on to your job. However in the event of the failure of Plan A, ensure that you have a Plan B in place. I remember a woman losing a high paid job. She wept for some time. One day her maid asked her if the two of them could start a home catering service. They did on a very modest scale. Today, they have a very successful business. In times of personal crisis we tend to lose sight of our goal and our perspectives get clouded. Always remember that you are a first citizen and will always be so if you believe in it. If you lose sight of your self-worth, the future battles may be your toughest yet.

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