—by Lubna Jerar Naqvi
Media in Pakistan has been suffering from financial crisis for several years now. The number of people being laid off has been quite high and has only become more so after the pandemic. Apart from layoffs, salaries have been slashed drastically.
Women journalists are affected more by covid-19 across the world. A global survey conducted in the early part of 2020 by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) ‘7.4% of women against 6.5% of men’ had lost their jobs.
Worst hit are the women workers. All over the world more women as compared to men could lose their jobs. In the USA alone about 865,000 women were projected to lose jobs during Aug to September 2020.
According to a news item posted on the UN Women website‘women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19’. This year will see 96 million people fall into extreme poverty,‘47 million of whom are women and girls. This will bring the total number of women and girls living on USD 1.90 or less, to 435 million.’
According to an article in The Atlantic‘the British government’s figures, 40 percent of employed women work part-time, compared with only 13 percent of men. In heterosexual relationships, women are more likely to be the lower earners, meaning their jobs are considered a lower priority when disruptions come along. And this particular disruption could last months, rather than weeks. Some women’s lifetime earnings will never recover.’
Generally, women are victims of economic violence – defined as a threat to the wellbeing of the whole society as it hits women – and they will be the worst affected if the global economy worsens due to the pandemic. They will find it extremely difficult for them to recover post covid-19.
Mrs. S. Rizwan (name is changed) works as a copy editor in a renowned media house in Karachi. All through the pandemic she has continued to work, initially from home and now from the office. She is constantly stressed as many of her colleagues have be infected in the past, as well as job insecurity.
“In normal times I have tried to prove myself by working long hours,” Mrs. S Rizwan said, “but I was always under pressure as I would leave on time although I would always complete my tasks, even then I would be treated as a pariah by my colleagues predominately males.”
Things are not easy at home, as she contributes to the family income. Her share is a big more than her husband as her salary is higher than his. “I have to allow my husband to control the expenses because I know he feels bad that I get more money than him. I don’t want to make him feel worthless.”
Mrs. Rizwan is not the only women to feel this. Many women feel they have to compensate to make the males in their lives feel adequate by keeping a low profile.
This is a form of economic violence which women have to face a lot in life.
Tahira Abdullah, renowned human rights defender says, “The term ‘economic violence’ is a relatively new concept in Pakistan, but in reality, it has existed for centuries in the visible feminization of poverty. Most impacted are rural women – and women living with disabilities – but there is also an invisible form of economic violence: the threat of abandonment by male relatives – leading to economic deprivation – which silences even women/girls of urban wealthy and upper middle-class families, keeping them economically dependent, and preventing them from claiming their right to an education which leads to remunerated employment, along with other basic human rights. It is a high price that women and girls pay.”
Mirroring this, Dr Rakhshinda Perveen – social entrepreneur, activist and gender expert – says, “Women who earn visibly are not always considered important and not all earning, and well educated women have a say in may decisions in the household. Many a times women and girls tend to stay in an abusive relationship or environment due to financial dependency.
Economic Exploitation and Abuse of women and girls from different socio-cultural backgrounds is simultaneously least recognized and widely accepted/validated form of violence against women and girls (VAWG). This in turn leads to health and mental health issues as well.”
However, women tend to ignore their own issues as superfluous and maintain their focus on the family. Women usually spend less on their own needs including health because they rather put more funds for the benefit of the family.
Another woman journalist H (name held on request) based in Lahore, entered the field only a couple of years before the pandemic hit. She was infected earlier on and she had to be quarantined but when she returned to work no one sympathised with her. “I returned to work quite weak after being infected, and found working long hours difficult. If I sat down to relax in office, I would get taunts from my colleagues who made it seem I had been on vacation during my quarantine.”
Women like H work because they need to contribute to the family income. “I could not take more days off fearing salary deductions which I can’t afford as I support my parents.” H said. “My parents’ medicines have become expensive.”
H said she usually doesn’t go to the doctor when she is ill, unless it is serious. She says she would never have gone for a corona check-up if her company didn’t tell her to.
There are hundreds of thousands of women like H who would rather use the shrinking funds on their family even if this means cutting down on their own needs.
“Inflation hits the whole family, but women most of all, as they are expected to run the household efficiently, despite shrinking resources due to devalued currency alongside increasing rates of utility bills and food prices.” Tahir Abdullah said.“To cope with this, women typically deny themselves even their basic needs, in order to feed, clothe and educate their children and care for their elders in joint families.”
The situation is the same across society for working and stay at home women.
Dr Perveen thinks that women do not allocate the necessary amount of funds from the family budget on herself as “Women usually see their role as a caregiver. Self-care is yet to be recognized as a moral right by a vast majority of themselves.”
Commenting on whether women’s needs should be taken under consideration at the national level, especially when the national and provincial budgets are being planned, Dr Perveen says, “[The] gender lens is seldom applied. More attention is paid to ceremonial gestures. Pakistan needs gender-responsive budgeting with a transformative approach so that not only the condition but position of women and girls can be changed. This needs continuous and courageous challenges to the systemic patriarchy.”
To help improve the woman’s status on the economic financial ladder of the family certain measures can be employed. Abdullah said,
“While there are some highly projected short-term welfare-oriented government social safety nets, these measures are just temporary stop-gaps (aka ‘charity handouts’), hence the only long-term solution to address women’s poverty, is for the government to strictly enforce the Constitutional Article 25-A (Right to Education) for all girls and boys up to the age of 16, and subsequently to provide girls with technical vocational training in employment-oriented skills. Another important measure is for federal and provincial legislation (except Sindh, already enacted in 2013), to raise girls’ legal age at marriage from 16 to 18 (equalizing it with boys), and to strictly enforce the law countrywide.”
She further adds that,“Women-focused and girls-focused policies should be in place along with mainstreaming gender.Since it helps to understand better the attitude, needs and roles oftrans people, women and men in society, on the basis of social, economic, political and cultural factors.”