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Assessing Covid-19’s Impact Through A Gendered Lens: It’s A Battle For Inclusivity

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Times of crises demand comprehensive, intensive and inclusive measures to fight the challenging situations, mitigate the impact and bridge the worsened extant gaps amidst various sections of society. The current COVID 2019 pandemic has thus seen the national and state governments doing their own efforts to battle the grave situation amidst lockdowns across the world.  

The economic stimulus package announced by the government named as PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojna included a free LPG cylinder for the next three months, a monetary transfer to women Jandhan account holders and doubled credit limit for Women SHGs. In this context, we will talk of the reasons for the need of gender focus in the face of pandemics and disasters. In the extant patriarchal and hierarchical system, it’s often women who are the most deprived ones.

Gendering Covid-19
In the extant patriarchal and hierarchical system, it’s often women who are the most deprived ones.

Thus, disasters exacerbate the already horrible socio-economic conditions for women and other sexual minorities like transgenders. Statistics, across the world’s largest disasters, like the 2004 tsunami, show that women have a much higher share in deaths than men in such times. Also, as per CEDAW, in the absence of social protection schemes and in situations where there is food insecurity, coupled with impunity for gender-based violence, women and girls are often exposed to sexual exploitation as they attempt to access food and other basic needs for family members and themselves.

In camps and temporary settlements, the lack of physical security, as well as the lack of safe and accessible infrastructures, including drinking water and sanitation, also result in increased levels of gender-based violence against women and girls. Domestic violence, early and/or forced marriage, human trafficking and forced prostitution are also more likely to occur during and following disasters.

On a similar note, Hasina, a transgendered qualified plumber, lived in her partner’s house in Tamil Nadu, India. She could not find a job and therefore begged for a living in order to save for her studies. However, after the 2004 tsunami, Hasina’s partner threw her out of their temporary shelter. She was forced to sleep out in the open and was gang-raped several times. Human trafficking and forced prostitution are also more likely to occur during and following disasters.

Why Is The Lockdown Hitting Women Harder?

Gendering Covid-19
India accounts for more than half of the world’s digital gender gap worldwide. Hence, warnings and government support often do not reach the bottom-most strata of society.

An article elaborately discusses how such lockdowns actually might increase the responsibilities of women at home. 13 million single mothers in India alone would face the biggest challenge in balancing work and child care. Moreover, the extraordinary circumstances often need the extraordinary diversion of resources, resulting in difficult situations for pregnant mothers, ailing women or those who go through labour in these times. Despite essential services being open, the whole supply chain remains shut down or disrupted. 

The digital divide is another big reason for much higher vulnerability among women. India accounts for more than half of the world’s digital gender gap worldwide. That’s why information, warnings and government support often does not reach the bottom-most strata of the society. For instance, rural women who are at the double intersection of gender and rural-urban divide, might not have easy real-time information during crises. Television, though, has reached rural households but patriarchal structures might deprive them of information access. They are usually dependent on men of the households for the same. Besides, the literacy gap also makes them more anxious and panicking in times of crises.

Women’s labour force participation has been always dismal for a long time now and when the economy gets huge blows during pandemics and disasters, it’s due to ‘practicalities’ that women need to stay home with more burden of unpaid care even post-pandemic job losses. Also, during droughts and recurrent floods, the scarce food distribution even within the household results in lesser food and nutritional security for women .Drought induced agricultural losses forced many, especially tribal women, to take up less remunerative activities such as subsistence farming or MGNREGA etc as per this article.

Thus, gender and sexual minorities need to be protected, supported and cushioned against the conspicuous and inconspicuous fallouts of frequently occurring disasters and epidemics. Disaster management practices and plans need to mobilise, train women leaders, especially young women from the communities for preparedness, immediate response and awareness programmes.

Anganwadis and ASHA workers need to be put to work for rural and urban poor women . Transgenders and homosexuals’ health rights, which are still obstructed, must be ensured through government schemes. Women SHGs under NRLM are fine examples of working for the economic upliftment of rural women. But this needs to be expanded to urban poor women, transgenders and queer community who fail to access public and private resources on their own.

For the inclusive growth goals and building the disaster-resilient communities, gender has to be incorporated in a comprehensive manner in the narrative. Otherwise, disasters will be unimaginably devastating for the current and upcoming generations.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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