It seems impossible to imagine life after COVID-19 — but it will eventually come, and hopefully sooner rather later.
At present, the world is struggling to grapple with the physical challenges brought on by the spread of the virus and most countries are advising their citizens to #StayAtHome. Over the past few weeks, there has been much use of the term ‘self-isolation’ with many attempts to encourage people to make use of their time at home.
Some are complaining about the ways in which self-isolation is infringing upon their freedom. Some are touting self-isolation as an extended vacation from school or work, the chance to practice a new hobby or cultivate a creative spark. Some are just trying to navigate themselves through these chaotic events.
For many women across the globe, the pandemic has brought along with it a number of metaphysical challenges — leaving many women grappling with their mental health. Life in many South Asian households is already wrought with a number of complex issues, which will make this period of time particularly difficult for South Asian women being forced to stay at home.
Self-isolation, will therefore not be a universal experience.
Abuse behind closed doors
Whilst advice to ‘work from home’ has been a welcome relief for many, this may prove to be difficult for many South Asian women. Many South Asian men are still the primary household wage-earners, with many women being homemakers and stay at home mothers. For women in abusive relationships, restrictions on movement will mean that they are at a higher risk of physical/emotional abuse for lengthier periods of time. This includes married women who are employed and/or have unemployed husbands since their chance to escape abuse by spending time in public spaces or accessing support outside the home has been severely restricted. There has been a reported rise in domestic violence cases since lockdowns were globally enforced, with many women having to suffer in silence whilst being exposed to increased abuse.
This will also inevitably traumatise the children of abused mothers — who will be forced to witness abuse more frequently, since many schools, colleges and universities have shut.
South Asian women who have previously struggled to seek support because of communication barriers, cultural differences, and family pressures, will find it even more difficult to ask for help outside the home.
A shared experience of many young South Asian women, is growing up in strict, rigid households. For some women, these experiences are traumatic and continue to affect their daily lives. For this reason, many of these women live double lives; enduring toxic parenting indoors and escaping from it when outside of the home. Having toxic parents watch over everything you do is never easy, and no doubt young South Asian women will feel increasingly suffocated at home. Young women and girls in similar situations will find it harder to escape from the emotional manipulation used by their parents and other family members.
Many people feel that their lives have been interrupted as a consequence of social distancing. Women who are often dealing with loneliness will now have the company of their husbands and/or children, now that they are working/studying from home. South Asian women that do not have independence and rely on the company of their families, may welcome the increased interaction with loved ones.
Women that were usually alone for most of their time, may now feel temporarily secure in the company of others. This is not limited to the home, as the use of social media is proving to be an invaluable tool to connect with others — which means that many women used to feelings of loneliness, are becoming used to, and even comforted by this shared experience of self-isolation.
This is all nice for now, but there are several questions that need to be asked.
Where will this leave women who normally feel lonely, once these restrictions are lifted and we return to our work or school? Will this support be as visible and tangible than to women who are usually left feeling isolated because of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety?
Will there be more accessible support networks for women that are stuck in abusive relationships or in toxic families, that don’t rely on women having to physically reach out of their homes for help?
I know these questions are difficult to stomach, but we need to find more ways to support women isolating at home.
Although a return to normality doesn’t appear to be in sight, we must acknowledge that for many South Asian women — and women of colour — feelings of isolation, loneliness and a lack of freedom are their normality.
Let’s not forget that now and let’s not forget that when we return to our normality.
If you are experiencing any kind of abuse at home or struggling with mental health, please know that you are not alone. Do not be discouraged to ask for help.
- National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
- Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
- Southall Black Sisters
- The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network
- Muslim Women’s Network UK – 0800 999 5786
- Women’s Aid
- London Black Women’s Project
- If you are in danger, dial 999