Introduction

Hidden Figures is an American biographical film based on the role of female Afro-American scientists in space missions to NASA in the second half of twentieth century. The film depicts the struggle of women in order to prove their worth even when they were no less in abilities than their male counter parts. The film is in layers of personal, professional, social and economic life of black women and their audacious attitude of never giving up even when their contributions were never recognized. The article borrows the title ‘Hidden Figures’ from the film in order represent the hardship, struggle and contribution of women in the pandemic caused by COVID19.

Pandemic of viruses is not new to the world nor the deprived position of women. However pandemic of viruses has occurred several times in history and Homo sapiens have victoriously defeated and controlled it, but the pandemic of suppression of women has been perennial since history till date. There were innumerable efforts and initiatives to correct the pandemic of suppression of women and many were declared to be successfully progressive but the pandemic caused by COVI19 reviled the curtains of hidden figures showing deeply unequal structures of our society.

Mind, Health and Fatigue: Overburden Women at Home

On 11th March 2020 COVID19 was declared pandemic by World Health Organisation, countries around the world stared full or partial lockdown to prevent the transmission. According to the estimate of Express a reputed journal of United Kingdom, almost one third of the world population was to remain at home.  All the institutions that requires mass gathering were locked and people were forced to stay and work from home. Since the traditional functional norm attribute women all the domestic roles a sudden accumulation of family members overburden women with the basic domestic activity. When women entered into men’s traditional role of bread earners of the family huge anticipation hovered that gender equality will be achieved but it did not happen and it has been proved by this pandemic when no matter how much you earn more or less than your man, when it comes to domestic work it is women who have to take up. Although women entered into traditional man’s world, men never did into women’s. A study conducted by University of Essex on loneness and mental health of the people during lockdown reveal that there has been increase in the number of people reporting for mental health from 7% to 18%, however the rise of women reporting mental health issue is even more higher from 11% to 27%. The assumed reason given for the larger increase of women mental health issue is because women have to deal both with domestic chore and children along with their work commitments. On 26th June Indian Expressed discussed McKinsey report which also had similar opinions that the number of educated and employed women is on the rise but their household responsibilities and involvements haven’t reduced and this lockdown as aggravated their situation.

The debate on gender equality is usually highlighted by the fact that men are physically stronger than women but if we see the work done by the two gender men work to earn living for family in certain period of time whereas women work whole day from all domestic chores to taking care of children and in many cases also earning for the family. Since women work more than men the entire notion of men being physically strong is developed because men can lift heavy things man women and this strength we most often see in the violence against women.

Silent Screams of Increasing Domestic Violence

In India lockdown was announced on 25th March 2020 and in the mid of April National Commission for Women published a data of the complaint received from women in which there was tremendous increase in the number of violence against women. In between March 23rd to 16th April amounting to 25 days 587 complaints were received from women all over the country through emails and WhatsApp in which 239 were of domestic violence. However total case of complaints before 25 days of lockdown was 396. Imagine these are just the cases by literate women having accesses to technology with courage to report but numbers are defiantly high. Along with India almost all the countries around the experienced increase in violence against women in this pandemic for instance France experienced 30%, Argentina 27%, Singapore 33% etc. The increase in the violence against women is so rapid that UN Women declared it as “shadow pandemic”.

Lockdown literally means stay at home but Sia Kukaewkasew a social worker from Myanmar states “they say stay home stay safe but what if home is the where she feels unsafe?” Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women has correctly highlighted that men were never used to spend time at home for long period of time it was women handling children’s need and doing domestic chores so now men has to either share or be part of this is making them irritated resulting in the violent outbreak. Domestic violence is the worst of any other kind as one has to serve and live with the abuser.

At the Edges of Exhaustion

A pregnant migrant woman laborer delivers the baby while walking home from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, she further walks 150 Kilometers after delivering the baby. This is just one instance but the numbers of migrant women worker are waking miles in lockdown with period crams are numerous. Although they are running towards home but they won’t be at rest in home as traditional domestic attributes will not leave majority of women from kitchen.

The year 2020 marked 200 years of birth anniversary of Florence Nightangle so World Health Organisation declared it as the years of Nurses and midwife, little did anyone expected that the year would literally revolve around them. There are almost 94% women in the nursing profession. COVID19 brought nurses in the frontline taking care of the patients with rapidly transferable virus. Doctors may come and go but these nurses are in constant contract with the patient. Due to the fear of COVID19 these nurses at many instances are facing discrimination in their social life.

Conclusion

Hidden figures are the existing figures we are not aware of. The overburden mother, wife and daughter and their deteriorating mental and physical health, the violence they are going through in silently loud screams, the fatigue nurses working tirelessly at the risk of their own lives, exhausted migrant women walking back to their homes with babies and period crams are the existing figures of miseries but are conveniently ignored to be hidden. But these women even when their sufferings and contribution being hidden are doing their job and not giving up. The term ‘frontline workers’ is very popular in this pandemic, it is attributed to those people working in front in order to defeat COVID19 and the women in this period are frontline sufferers and workers. There are of course no absolute figures of how many women are suffering and working but it is sure that after every house no women in resting. History has always betrayed women but this pandemic shouldn’t.

References

Coronavirus Crisis: No lockdown for domestic violence. Accessed on 14.06.2020. https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/coronavirus-crisis-no-lockdown-for-domestic-violence-829941.html

From where I stand: “Stay home and stay safe—but what if home is where she feels unsafe?”  Accessed on 14.06.2020 https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2020/04/from-where-i-stand-sia-kukaewkasem

Lockdown: Which countries are in lockdown? How many people? Accessed on 15.06.2020.  https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1260709/lockdown-which-countries-are-in-lockdown-how-many-people-coronavirus-cases

Study suggests women have more personal and professional obligations. Accessed on 15.06.2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/study-suggests-women-have-more-personal-and-professional-obligations-6332637/

Women more likely to suffer from lockdown loneliness: Study. Accessed on 16.06.2020.

https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/other/women-more-likely-to-suffer-from-lockdown-loneliness-study/ar-BB15w7Qa

 

With Lockdown, gender violence is “shadow pandemic”: UN Women. Accessed on 14.06.2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/with-lockdown-gender-violence-is-a-shadow-pandemic-un-women/article31282619.ece

Monica Lakandri   PhD. Scholar,  Department of Political Science. Sikkim University (Central), Gangtok


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