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How COVID-19 Affected Migrant Labourers And Their Need For Social Security

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Covid-19, one of mankind’s worst-hit pandemics, has not only disrupted everyday life but has also redefined the ‘new normal’ and has pushed back future goals.

Many Sustainable Development Goals have been greatly affected mostly SDG 1- No poverty, SDG 2- Zero Hunger, SDG 3- Good health and well-being and most importantly SDG 8- Decent Work and Economic Growth.

It is most important as jobs have been worst hit and work directly and indirectly pertains to the other goals mentioned above. The rich have been able to sustain during tough times but, what about poor labourers and workers?

Migrant workers are the worst affected by this pandemic. They constitute a large part of the informal sector in India. Representational image.

Let us delve deeper into how SDG 8 has been affected through the work of labourers.

The ongoing recession caused by Covid-19 has been one of the worst economic downfalls since the mid-1990s. Over 76 million people have been infected by the virus worldwide and more than 1.6 million have died (as of now). The lockdown has affected supply chains globally. India’s most recent stimulus package introduced is one of the largest in the world, following the footsteps of the United States and other nations hit hard by the ongoing pandemic. The extended lockdown adds further downside risk to our 5% a year GDP fall in the quarter.

Migrant workers are the worst affected by this abyss. Migrant workers constitute a large part of the informal sector in India.

There are around 60 million interstate migrant population in India (mostly seasonal or short term). Businesses are being shut and companies are going bankrupt, leaving many unemployed- the majority of them being migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable. Without jobs, money, and public transportation being shut down, many of them are forced to walk back to their home towns with many dying during the journey.

Under PM Modi, PMJJBY, PMSBY, APY have been implemented pertaining to the poorer sections, supposedly providing insurance cover and affordable annual premiums.

There are also 2 major security plans (formal)- EPFO and ESIC which are similar to the schemes, mainly more towards the organised sector in India. It also covers international workers.

What Is The Problem?

Although there is BPL card, Aayushman card, MNREGA and various other schemes, the question is how many of these schemes are actually accessible to the deprived sections? It is a point of conjecture. There are a lot of instances in which the schemes are misused and provided to the people who don’t fall in the eligibility criteria. Workers are not able to gain tangible access to the money they are promised.

As of May 2020, almost 64% of workers were left with less than Rs 100. Given the lack of legal mandates, they have been left to fend for themselves during a crisis as serious as a pandemic. More can be found here. There are laws that are aimed at informal sectors, covering working conditions and problems of its workers but none of them directly deal with jobless migrant leaving cities.

What Can Be Done?

Steps need to be taken to ease the effect of the pandemic. Rations can be extended, housing and meals provided, advancing and enhancing pension payments, and most importantly, a better framework for social security in the country.

Social Security In India

Does it exist? Yes and No.

India has a very basic social security system (mostly scheme based). Only a small % of the rural population and middle classes have gained from this. There are laws that cover bilateral agreements to make sure none of the ex-pats pays double and other minor concessions but what about one of the most basic privileges i.e. social security? The Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, US and other countries have proper social security. Why can’t we?

The proletarian government should have a statute or law-based social security rather than a scheme based that covers every Indian, from migrant worker to business owner. More can be found here and here.

Terms used:

PMJJBY(Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana)

PMSBY(Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana)

APY(Atal Pension Yojana)

BPL(Below Poverty Line)

MNREGA(Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee)

EPFO(Employee Provident Fund Organization)

ESIC(Employees State Insurance)

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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