Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children in South Asia — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Raghbendra Jha (canberra, australia)
  • Inter Press Service

Another safety net in operation in India was free allocation of food for the poor. Even under normal conditions within household allocation of food in the region sometimes discriminate against women and (particularly female) children.3 Against this background the government of India extended free rations of basic grains for the poor until end November 2020.4 It is fortuitous that the winter (rabi) crop in India was abundant and the summer (kharif) crops is likely also to be good across the region. Thus, widespread hunger should not be an issue, at least in India.

There is evidence to suggest that in Bangladesh and Pakistan women are less likely to receive information about COVID-19 than men.5 This is particularly worrying because traditionally women have had primary responsibility for household hygiene and care for family members. In addition, women in Bangladesh and Pakistan are less likely to be covered by health insurance. This problem is likely to be less acute in India because of the PM-JAY health insurance scheme.6 Although women have a genetic advantage in immunity from COVID7 their emotional health may be adversely affected as compared to men for the above reasons.

It has been observed, however, that with the lockdown men and children are helping more with the housework than before. This should alleviate some pressures on women, although women continue to provide most of the services at home.

However, over the longer term there are some deep concerns. First, if the pandemic induced economic crisis becomes long drawn out there might be a substantial rise in poverty, particularly chronic poverty. The efforts of many decades of poverty reduction through economic growth and supportive measures may be wiped off. Government budgets are already under considerable stress because of various fiscal stimuli in the countries. The possibilities of enhanced economic aid are also remote since most developed countries are running huge budget deficits. If the increased poverty spells get protracted there will be serious consequences for households, particularly women and children in these households.

Also, the education of children in South Asia is facing considerable challenge in the COVID era. Sources note that even before the COVID crisis more than 95 million children were out of school in South Asia and it is likely that some more of the total of 430 million children in South Asia may face difficulties in continuing their education.8 Although the well known digital divide between rural and urban sectors has been bridged somewhat with rural India having more internet users than urban India speed and reliability of internet connections are still a concern. Whether existing internet platforms can provide enough opportunities for on line education of all children and adults is still an open question at best and more likely a serious challenge.

To conclude, while the short-term impacts of the corona crisis are still playing out, there is apprehension that a long drawn out crisis may exacerbate poverty, health and education challenges in South Asia. History suggests that women and children will be particularly vulnerable in such situations.


© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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