Abstract: Among the many stories that emerged out of India during the pandemic, one was somewhat buried under the media discourse around the migrant crisis, lockdown regulations, and economic fallout. This was the story of striking accredited social health activist workers asking for fair wages, improved benefits, and better working conditions. The Covid-19 crisis highlighted the poor health infrastructure and the precarious, and often, stigmatized nature of frontline work, managed at the community level by paramedical workers, a significant proportion of whom are women. There has been considerable attention paid by feminist groups as well as health-related civil society organizations on the gender-based inequities that have emerged during the pandemic, particularly in relation to care work. This study explores how care work performed by the accredited social health activists was framed in the mainstream media, through an examination of articles in three selected English daily newspapers over one year of the pandemic. Drawing on theoretical work deriving from similar health crises in other regions of the world, we explore how the public health infrastructure depends on the invisible care-giving labor of women in official and unofficial capacities to respond to the situation. The systemic reliance on women’s unpaid or ill-paid labor at the grassroots level is belied by the fact that women’s concerns and contributions are rarely visible in issues of policy and public administration. Our study found that this invisibility extended to media coverage as well. Our analysis offers a “political economy of caregiving” that reiterates the need for women’s work to be recognized at all levels of functioning.
Keywords: care work; Covid-19; frontline workers; India; media framing; social health activists; women healthcare workers