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Love in the time of Covid by Suchitra Dalvie

(with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous ‘Love in the time of Cholera’)

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause conditions ranging from the common cold to SARs (Severe acute respiratory syndrome). Covid-19 or Coronavirus disease 2019 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. As of now it is estimated that 425328 cases have been infected by covid19 and there have been 18944 deaths. The news of the covid19 outbreak first came from Wuhan in December and the speed and scale of spread was such that by 11 th March the W.H.O. had declared a global pandemic and many countries started to close borders. As of now many countries are imposing stay- at- home and social distancing protocols and some are more or less in a state of lockdown and many more will soon follow. For those who have a home, have savings that can allow stocking of food and essentials and have healthy able bodied family members, the lockdown is more of an inconvenience than a real calamity. But there are 150 million homeless people globally and 1.6 billion who lack adequate housing. We have close to one billion people living with some form of disability or chronic illness needing carers. There are also the 97 million urban poor and those in the informal work force who are barely living above the poverty line. In India as much as 90% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, working in roles like security guards, cleaners, rickshaw pullers, streets vendors, garbage collectors and domestic helps. Most do not have access to pensions, sick leave, paid leave or any kind of insurance. Many do not have bank accounts, relying on cash to meet their daily needs. For them the fear of dying of starvation is very real compared to the risk of dying from the covid19. The same fear is the reality for urban poor and daily wage workers across the globe. For the middle class population, the ability to stock food and having some savings and insurance may be a buffer to a large extent but for some women this lockdown means more than just extra dishwashing and cooking and keeping bored children entertained. It also means being in close proximity to a violent intimate partner with the possibility of a high risk of physical and sexual violence which may get worse during prolonged lockdown as such partners will take out all their anger and frustrations on these women and perhaps their children.

It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner. According to UNICEF, every 7 minutes somewhere in the world, an adolescent in killed by an act of violence.

It is estimated that as many as 35% of all women face sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence or rape every year. Globally, 74 million women living in low and middle- income countries have unintended pregnancies annually.  According to the latest UN global estimates, 303,000 women a year die in childbirth, or as a result of complications arising from pregnancy. This equates to about 830 women dying each day – roughly one every two minutes. Of course while it is worth taking a moment to pause and look at the sheer magnitude of numbers of women facing needless deaths and violence on a daily basis compared to covid19 and the insane contrast between how seriously one is taken over the other, the stark reality is that not only will none of these problems that women and girls face disappear due to the lockdown but will in fact be intensified. People are sharing so many messages of hope and patience and tolerance and love. There are likely to be some adorable love stories of roommates who finally declare their love, or partners who re-discover each other when the frantic noise and chaos of their daily grind has been slowed down or stopped. But we need to remember that love in the time of covid may not be the reality for all. For those who are vulnerable and at risk of violence and unwanted pregnancy, we need to ensure that services continue, that helplines are working and that they are not trapped and desperate and suffering. The risk of an unwanted pregnancy during lockdown periods is very real even for those who are having consensual sex since here may be issues of contraception access and use. There may be those who find out they are pregnant at the time of the lockdown and there will be those who may need to take a difficult decision for a wanted pregnancy due to a change in circumstances. Here are two global helplines that women could access: https://www.womenonweb.org/ https://womenhelp.org/

For those living in India here is a number offered by Hidden Pockets WhatsApp us at 8861713567

It is interesting to learn from history about the Black Death (1346-1353) which traveled from Asia to Europe and wiped out over half of Europe's population. The plague changed the course of Europe's history. With so many dead, labor became harder to find, bringing about better pay for workers and the end of Europe's system of serfdom. The lack of cheap labour may also have contributed to technological innovation. So it may well be that this global pandemic will also give us hope for a better future now that we have seen the ugly face of neo-liberal capitalism, the consequences of an underfunded public sector healthcare, the reliance on under- appreciated frontline healthcare workers, the potential of online education, and the feasibility of virtual offices. Let us make sure that we all ride this one out safe and healthy and hope that we will take this chance to emerge as one united global community. Let us commit ourselves to make life better for everyone on this planet, and not just for the rich and privileged. Let us hope that one day soon we will emerge from this crisis older and wiser and remember to treat our planet and all our people with love and gratitude. Let us hope that one day we will share these stories with the next generation and smile and reflect on how humans learnt love in the time of covid!

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