In April 2017, the UN General Secretary in his tweet, pointed towards the mounting evidence of domestic violence after COVID-19 all around the world. Such incidents have not only increased in developing countries, where the domestic violence laws are mostly ineffective but as well in developed societies, where otherwise strict laws are in place. In societies like Pakistan, where people are usually too shy to interfere in the domestic matters of strangers, considering it a personal matter, the incidents of domestic violence have rapidly increased after coronavirus due to various reasons. First, after the outbreak of pandemic, a number of employed males are working from home. Such compulsive stays at times cause friction with relations, especially with the wife. The second reason stems from societal expectations from a woman of being “perfect” in household chores, irrespective to which economic strata she belongs. This becomes more challenging, especially if there is no household help available. For working wives, the conditions are more complex—on one side, they are bound to fulfil their career responsibilities by being at home, while on the other, they are anxious about household chores. In such an environment, gender discrimination in societies like Pakistan escalates further because here women already face social inequality. Moreover, it is believed that a female’s prime responsibility is towards her home-related tasks, regardless of her professional profile.

The grievances of such women are countless and of multiple nature, which I realised while going through a Facebook group discussion of over 28,000 highly-educated women, based on domestic challenges they confronted after COVID-19. A majority expressed that they feel mental pressure and physical fatigue, because of household-related responsibilities in a joint family structure, where they have to fulfil the expectations of both—the husband and in-laws. In the same group, a woman shared her story and asked for suggestions from other members about how she should deal with her abusive husband. She mentioned that she faces this treatment by her partner and in-laws, despite her doing various household chores like cooking and taking care of the multiple demands of her husband.

Another challenge which Pakistani women face in this pandemic concerns education. Although many analysts do not consider this a gender-specific issue, rural schoolgirls, who are bound to stay at home, without any alternative academic strategy, are the worst sufferers. Before this medical emergency, they had an outlet in the form of attending schools, no matter if it was miles away; now they are confined at home and occupied exclusively with household tasks. The non-availability of online education at public schools has further aggravated their handicaps. In comparison with boys, who can at least go outside their homes to socialise, the girls have no choice but to be confined in the four walls of their homes. This remains a significant gap between a male and female, even when they are siblings. Important to note is that even those exclusive girls who are fortunate enough to have the facility of online education, are also expected to participate wholeheartedly in household chores regularly, eventually affecting their academic performance.

Apart from education, women’s health related challenges have also multiplied during the crisis, especially for those who are in pregnancy, as they are unable to receive regular medical check-ups, due to the emergency conditions at the hospitals and clinics. Providing regular attention to mothers-to-be has become a daunting task. The most vulnerable are underprivileged women, who are unable to access medical help because of financial hardships, due to financial meltdown. According to a recent United Nations report, 48.1 percent of women between the age of 15 to 49 years have no preference for medical facilities. The conditions for rural women are even more vulnerable, because of many additional factors like the non-availability of healthcare facilities, financial constraints and lack of awareness towards health issues.

Apart from education and health, another challenge for women is unemployment. During the COVID-19 spread, in every country, millions of people have been laid-off and Pakistan is no exception. The most affected are women, especially those who were associated with the informal sector and did not have job security. According to a United Nations report, in comparison with men, globally women are facing 25 percent more extreme poverty. It is expected that after the pandemic is over, this rate would further increase.

Finally, it is important to say that whether it is a pandemic or conflict-like situation, history has witnessed that women have been more affected than men. This is especially relevant for those societies, who already have gender-biased laws and attitudes. Unfortunately, even in such emergencies, those in charge do not consider gender-inclusiveness while formulating policies, which makes the already under-privileged female class worse than ever.