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Impact Of COVID-19 On The Lives Of Rural Women

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One of the greatest human tragedies of the contemporary era unleashed by the coronavirus has become a wakeup call and has provided several lessons in the conduct of all aspects of human personality, professional, societal, and institutional lives in all countries across the world. The rise of populism, authoritarian nationalism and the global crisis of the COVID19 pandemic has had a huge impact on women’s lives, work, livelihoods, and entitlements.

In particular, the current pandemic has accentuated already high and persistent gender inequality and disparities in rural areas in developing countries like India. Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi conducted a survey among 4500 women respondents-village makers in rural areas of 20 Indian states during the month of July and August 2020. The survey report was released on September 5, 2020, at a national webinar attended by several well-known experts and faculty, practitioners, experts and policymakers. Some key findings of the survey are discussed here.

Water, Sanitation and Fuel

The survey findings revealed an improvement in safe drinking water, toilet facility and use of cleaned fuel, but the expensive charges of LPG/PNG were still a detriment towards their access. One in every two women respondents used tap water for their drinking purposes; 80% of them had toilet facilities within the house, 75% of them had LPG/PNG connections but due to high charges only one-fourth could refill them.

Education and Health Facilities

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52% of women surveyed did not use sanitary products during menstruation due to price and lack of awareness.

Access to education and health facilities continue to remain problems in rural areas. Five out of ten respondents reported that girls’ college situated in a distant place viz more than 5 kilometres. Around 53% of the surveyed women who were married, revealed that their children could not attend school during a pandemic due to distance and another one-third could not attend online classes due as they could not afford a smartphone with an internet connection.

The problem of the public health care system was also revealed by half of the respondents as they availed the private health facilities using around 80% of their savings for their health care. Around 52% of the women did not use sanitary pads during menstruation as they said it is expensive or unaware of it.

Land and Agriculture

In rural areas, the land is the main resource and about 63% of the respondents had joint land ownership, and around 55% of them owned marginal land (up to 1 hectare). The major crops produced included staples like rice and wheat, as well as sugarcane. Around 54% of the respondents sold their produce to local traders, 33% directly to the consumers, and 23% to cooperatives and government agencies. Due to the pandemic, 42% of the respondents reported having received less than the market price, and 28% reported receiving delayed payments in return for the sale of their produce.

Livelihood and Time Use

Around three-fourth (74%) of the respondents were dependent on-farm activities for their livelihood, while 36% were involved in non-farm activities. Over half (56%) of the respondents could not find any work during the pandemic as their earlier work on both farms and beyond has been taken up by the return male migrants. This is also reflected in time use as women were spending additional time in unpaid domestic and care work.

Out of a total active time of about 10 hours in a normal day, they were spending 90% of their time in unpaid work such as cooking, other domestic and care work. This reveals that women’s workload in unpaid domestic and care activities in rural areas has increased during the pandemic, which is mainly due to their children not attending schools and lack of paid work for women.

Further, about 65% of the respondents had suffered a decrease in their wages and salaries during the pandemic, 44% experienced a reduction in the prices of their crops and 70% felt that the prices of essential commodities have increased during the pandemic. Almost half of the women surveyed (48%) reported that they owed debts, out of whom 35% had borrowed money from landlords, and another 30% from commercial institutions.

Social Evils

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43% of survey respondents reported seeing violence against women in their neighbourhoods.

For ages, many social evils have existed in India. While there has been an improvement in the conditions, but still 14% of respondents revealed the existence of untouchability in rural society, 21% experienced discrimination based on caste and 46% encountered wage discrimination based on gender.

Around 43% of respondents reported having witnessed violence against women in their neighbourhoods due to reasons of poor cooking, children crying, and not taking care of in-laws. In addition, 10% of the respondents told that there has been an increase in child marriages, 15% reported an increase in child labour, 38% reported an increase in verbal abuse and 13% reported an increase in farmer’s suicides during the pandemic.

Government Welfare Schemes

About 57% of the respondents belonged to BPL households and almost all respondents possessed Aadhaar card and Voter ID card. Government welfare packages reached to around 76% of the respondents received some form of relief packages, about 40% received cash transfers and (83%) received work in MGNREGA out of those applied for the work.

In general, in rural areas, people have been taking preventive measures during the pandemic and 52% of the respondents were using cloth masks. But the impact of the pandemic can be seen on respondents as over half of them were stressed about earning a livelihood and they themselves or their family members contracting coronavirus. Around 55% of them were eagerly looking for work and another 52% were in need of urgent medical assistance and ration.

Eminent experts suggested some important points, as Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai highlighted that every fourth youth in the country was currently unemployed due to reverse migration of men in rural areas, who are now competing with women for jobs and in this course, women are losing their work or employment. She also stressed that gender stereotypes are playing a big part and there is an underreporting of unpaid care work.

Madhu Joshi, Senior Advisor, Gender Equity and Governance, Centre for Catalyzing Change, New Delhi highlighted that women being isolated in a lockdown situation not only makes them vulnerable to domestic violence but also cut-off from social groups which empowers them with identity and power. Prof G. Sridevi, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Central University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad said that women and children belonging to lower strata of the society face the highest amount of sexual abuse and suffer from malnutrition.

Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, GISC, IMPRI and Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram pointed out that there is an urgent need for a data on ownership of resources by women. Usually, land ownership is in the name of the head of the household, which creates a lot of patriarchy and masculinity in society. She also mentioned that unpaid care work was a necessity, but it should not be the responsibility of only women. Unpaid care should also be recognised as productive work. Economists have defined only paid work as productive, and therefore, the unpaid work is not assigned any value.

A woman spends around 12-14 hours on non-paid work but she is not considered a worker. Unpaid work has to be reduced with technology. She also said that when we talk about women’s inequality, it is not considered a science but considered as activism. So, there is a need to conceptualize patriarchy, masculinity norms in the present context and welfare for women in future.

Others who attended the webinar are Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI; Dr Balwant Singh Mehta Research Director, IMPRI and Senior Fellow, IHD; Dr Simi Mehta, CEO, IMPRI; Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International; Prof Kailash Tharware, Professor and Head of Examinations, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE); Dr Ellina Samantroy Jena, Faculty and Coordinator, Centre for Gender and Labour, V.V. Giri National Labour Institute; Prof Sunil Ray Senior Fellow, ICAS, MP and Advisor, CDECS; Dr Upender Singh Director, CDECS. The panellists joined in awarding the certificates to the student researchers from all over the country who contributed towards making this primary research a success.

By Dr Simi Mehta and Dr Arjun Kumar, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI

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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.

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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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