So many people I know say to me that Covid-19 has been a great leveler. The sense that it does not look for only the poor and the marginalized to latch on to its dreaded tentacles, but even the moneyed class is caught in its web. Somehow, this generalization 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 be erased – 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 coronavirus 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 they would safeguard us from the disease. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
As COVID-19 spreads across the world, unbridled in its forward march, jobs that 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. Across the world, gender disparity continues to hold on to its steady fast grip on society and its thinking. If before the pandemic about 50 percent of the workforce were women, as countries ease their lockdowns and embark on a path to moving forward, the “new normal” may see fewer 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 domestic help. There is nothing more soothing 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 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. There are hundreds like her – men and women – who are grappling with the stress of the next paycheck. Given these layoffs 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 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 realize that my upward mobility in that company depended on my answer. Not having realized the intent behind the question I was flippant. Years later I realized that my outdoor assignments were far and in between 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 would be on my terms.
In the immediate future, there will be cutthroat 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 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 of 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 how to navigate the financial lanes and investments. The future will be about rebuilding identities.
The journey for women will be tougher than men as the number 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-paying 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 this on a very modest scale. Today, they have a very successful business. In times of personal crisis, we tend to lose sight of our goals, 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.