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How Civil Society Organisations Across India Came Together To Support 50 Lakh Families

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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.

By Pallavi Deshpande

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged urban and rural India alike, governments, civil society and communities had to grapple with an overburdened healthcare system, lack of basic necessities such as food and medical support, loss of livelihoods, vaccine hesitancy, and more.

In response to this crisis, on 26 May, 2021, 56 civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the country met online on invitation from Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK), Samarthan, and Unnati.

Their objective was to discuss the COVID-19 situation and understand the emerging needs of CSOs and their response to the pandemic. The idea of launching a survey to gain a more accurate understanding of the situation was mooted. This was perceived as particularly relevant in light of the changes in the regulatory environment, particularly amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which adversely affected the funds and resources available to small and medium-sized organisations.

Coronavirus relief distribution
Representative Image.

The survey—Civil society support to COVID-19 affected families—was launched by a team at PRIA. A total of 583 responses were received from CSOs working in 26 states and 4 union territories, out of which 577 responses were considered for analysis.

The CSOs that participated in the survey are predominantly small and medium-sized organisations. More than two-thirds of the respondents work in one to five districts, with an annual budget of less than ₹1 crore. One-fifth of the respondents have an annual budget that is more than ₹1 crore and only a few respondents have an annual budget greater than ₹5 crore.

Let’s Talk Impact. How Did CSOs Support Communities?

CSOs have played an active role in mitigating the adverse effects faced by thousands of families due to the pandemic. Across survey respondents, 384 CSOs (or 66%) were able to reach out and provide support to 48,18,761 families. Nearly half of the respondents were able to support between 100 and 1,000 families. And 6% were able to reach out and provide support to more than 10,000 families.

Personal Hygiene Materials, Food and Medical Support

Nearly 91% of the respondents distributed personal hygiene items such as masks, sanitisers, sanitary pads, gloves and PPE kits to community members and frontline workers. Also, 78% distributed food—dry rations, cooked food, or both. And 73% provided various kinds of medical supplies—medicines, oxygen cylinders and concentrators and oximeters.

CSOs helped arrange COVID-19 tests, blood plasma and hospitalisation of patients, as needed. One-fifth of the respondents also helped organise quarantine centres, encouraged vaccination and helped conduct vaccination drives. Additionally, more than half of them offered psychosocial counselling and emotional support to distressed families and communities.

Approximately one-fifth of the respondents offered cash support to families in light of job losses and loss of income sources due to pandemic-related lockdowns and curfews.

bar graph indicating the types of support provided by civil society organisations-civil society organisations
Support provided by survey respondents (n=420) |Source: Civil society support to COVID-19 affected families.

CSOs Disseminated Crucial Information

Given that the CSOs that participated in the survey have extensive experience working on the ground, they were able to quickly identify and adapt to the needs of their communities.

Approximately 74% conducted door-to-door visits to disseminate relevant information to the communities. Also, 55% created customised information, education, and communication (IEC) materials by translating them into local languages. And 95% provided information about COVID-19 appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, washing hands, using sanitiser and social distancing.

More than 50% of the respondents disseminated information about access to medicines and medical support. They provided information about the availability of doctors, hospital beds, quarantine centres, oxygen cylinders and drugs such as Remdesivir. And 63% of them provided information about COVID-19 vaccines.

More than 50% of the CSOs provided information about documents required, such as an Aadhaar card, so that intended beneficiaries could access government schemes and benefits. Approximately 75% disseminated information about existing government schemes.

What Was The Impact Of The Second Wave?

1. Challenges Faced By Women

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a diverse set of challenges for women, severely impacting their economic, physical and mental well-being. These are some of the challenges captured by the survey:

  • Juggling household chores, caregiving responsibilities, and work.
  • Increased incidences of domestic violence and harassment.
  • Health challenges faced by the elderly.
  • Concerns about early marriage due to the economic and social impacts of the pandemic and related lockdowns.
  • Lack of access to adequate nutrition for adolescent girls.
  • Lack of access to essentials including rations and personal hygiene materials such as sanitary pads.

2. Challenges Faced By The Working Class

Survey respondents reported widespread job losses due to the pandemic, the rising cost of living and financial crises within families in the second wave of the pandemic.

Given the scale of the crisis, the presence of CSOs has been vital to ensuring that communities have access to basic necessities and resources. | Picture courtesy: ©Gates Archive/Saumya Khandelwal.

Large populations of migrant workers were forced back to their villages, while those migrants who chose to stay struggled to access welfare support. The elderly reported irregularities in receiving their pensions and other social security provisions. Further, CSOs reported having to attend to cases of depression, anger and stress due to loneliness and self-isolation.

3. Challenges Faced By Adolescents And Persons With Disabilities

Respondents indicated that there were sharp inequalities in accessing education and health services among adolescents. Adolescent sexual and reproductive health and access to nutrition and meals as a part of the mid-day meals programmes in schools have been adversely affected.

Access to education has been limited in areas with poor internet connectivity and for those without access to smartphones. Dropout rates among adolescents living in rural areas have particularly increased, making them more vulnerable to child labour and exploitation.

People with disabilities have largely been excluded from government relief measures in the face of the pandemic. They have faced widespread hunger, neglect and limited access to healthcare support.

Other issues include difficulty accessing pensions, securing rations, neglect from family members and society at large, securing vaccination slots and inability to access transportation facilities. Accessing information was particularly difficult for persons with visual impairment, hearing impairment or those who suffered from intellectual disabilities.

4. Challenges Faced By CSOs

  • Under-resourced, under-staffed, and under-protected:

Unfortunately, 93% of CSOs reported that the unavailability of financial resources was the biggest challenge they faced while responding to the second wave of COVID-19. This financial crunch curtailed their operations. Further, approximately 75% of the CSOs reported that their relief efforts were hindered by restricted mobility due to lockdowns and curfews.

Out of the 577 respondents, 205 reported instances of sickness faced by their staff because of contracting COVID-19, while 54 CSOs reported an occurrence of death among their staff. Also, 44% reported sickness of staff to be a significant problem. And 53% highlighted that the lack of human resources posed a challenge to the smooth functioning of their organisations.

More than half the CSOs reported that they faced an inadequate supply of safety gear for their staff.

Other challenges reported by CSOs include lack of support from the local government, mental stress faced by staff members and delays in reaching remote locations to carry out relief efforts.

bar graph indicating the organisational challenges faced by survey respondents-civil society organisatons
Organisational challenges faced by survey respondents (n=405) |Source: Civil society support to COVID-19 affected families.
  • Lack of donor support, access to resources and cooperation:

Unfortunately, 78% of the respondents reported lack of donor support or flexibility to be a major challenge. Also, 42% reported having to use their own resources to engage in relief and community support activities. Further, 40% were unable to raise any new resources to support ongoing relief work.

Only 7% managed to receive CSR funding for pandemic disaster alleviation during the second wave of COVID-19. Also,6% were able to mobilise community resources for their efforts. Lastly, only 6% of resources raised for relief purposes came from foreign donor contributions (individual and organisational donations) and assistance from the Indian diaspora.

pie chart showing how each survey respondent mobilised resources-civil society organisations
Mobilisation of new resources by survey respondents (n=400) |Source: Civil society support to COVID-19 affected families.

More than 50% of the CSOs also reported facing trouble procuring relief materials from the market due to the lockdown and curfews.

Critical to accessing markets and communities was coordination between CSOs and Panchayati Raj Institutions, municipalities and block and district administrations. However, nearly one-third of the CSOs reported a lack of cooperation from these bodies when conducting relief operations on the ground.

bar graph indicating the external challenges faced by the survey respondents-civil society organisations
External challenges faced by survey respondent CSOs (n=392) | Source: Civil society support to COVID-19 affected families.

The second wave of COVID-19 has wreaked devastation in rural and urban communities across India. Despite facing immense challenges of their own, CSOs across the country came together to respond to the needs of the communities in which they work.

Given the scale of the crisis, their presence has been vital to ensuring that communities have access to basic necessities and resources like personal hygiene supplies, rations, medical support and more. Going forward, this raises important strategic questions about how CSOs can be better supported by donors and the government.

This article was originally published on India Development Review.

About the author:

Pallavi Deshpande is an editorial analyst at IDR, where she supports the team with day-to-day publishing and editorial operations. Prior to this, she served as an AIF Clinton Fellow at Vision Aid, Visakhapatnam, where she worked on research, programme design and evaluation and content creation.

She has had experience working on research projects about issues such as disability rights and the intersection of education policy, gender and conflict. Pallavi holds a BA in Economics from Claremont McKenna College, California.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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