Despite the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc in the country, the biggest obstacle for women continues to be patriarchy. According to Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, women in Mysuru are reluctant or not being allowed to take COVID-19 tests due to the potential disruption of household chores.
Manjula, an ASHA worker from Mysuru told the media that this was especially true among rural women who are apprehensive about visiting the hospital. She added that they are given oximeters and medication for five days and asked to report to the hospital if their condition does not improve.
Rohini Sindhuri, Deputy Commissioner of Mysuru district, also raised this issue during a Facebook live and confirmed that young women are succumbing to the virus as they are not forthcoming about their symptoms. Other health officials said that many women are still dependent on their male family members to take them to the healthcare facilities leading to grave consequences.
The gaping gender divide
In a society where patriarchy is deeply entrenched, the pandemic has revealed how the burden of unpaid domestic labor and lack of agency continue to hinder women from accessing health rights.
Data from the app CoWIN introduced by the central government has shown that in many states, more men have been vaccinated compared to women. In many rural areas, the public healthcare centers where vaccinations are being conducted are quite far and women would need male family members to accompany them for the same which does not always happen. False rumors were also spread using WhatsApp and social media platforms that women should not take the COVID-19 vaccine during their menstrual cycle. This only added to the existing vaccine hesitancy especially in rural areas where women’s health already suffers from systemic biases.
The recent viral image of a middle-aged woman cooking in the kitchen while on oxygen support as part of COVID-19 treatment was emblematic of the attitude that many Indian families take to women’s health. It was supposed to ‘celebrate’ mothers as selfless caregivers but instead revealed just how deeply problematic these kinds of expectations can be.
From being disproportionately booted out of the workforce during layoffs to being burdened with an unequal share of household responsibilities, the pandemic has only magnified the gender divide at work and at the kitchen. The complete picture of its impact will only be revealed once we are in a post-COVID world, which seems like a distant dream under the current circumstances.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh and Sanhati Banerjee)