Voices from the Field: Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Their Collectives in India

Authored by: Rukmini Tankha

Categories: Global Public Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies
Sub-Categories: COVID-19, Economic Participation, Economic Recovery, Human Development, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health
Country: India
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2020
Citation: Tankha, Rukmini. "Voices from the Field: Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Their Collectives in India." Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy. May 2020.

Access the Resource:

Executive Summary

In India, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has created unprecedented challenges for rural households, women and the most marginalised groups, and women’s empowerment collectives (WECs). While a slew of measures have been announced as part of the national relief package, women and the most vulnerable such as daily-wage workers are facing obstacles in claiming these entitlements, either because of lack of proof of identification such as ration-cards or lack of ownership of bank accounts, through which cash transfers have been routed. Food insecurity is emerging as the most critical challenge, with evidence of reduction in the amount and frequency of food intake and lack of dietary diversity. Limited access to water and sanitation poses a serious challenge to tackling the virus, and instances of neglect of gender-specific health needs (other than COVID-19) are also being reported. There has been an overwhelming loss of livelihoods and income, with farm livelihoods being adversely affected by the inability to conduct harvest and market rabi (winter) crops, and nonfarm livelihoods coming to a standstill with disruptions in supply chains. Rumours on the origin and transmission of the virus are also negatively impacting livelihoods, and creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, resulting in discrimination and stigmatisation, especially of specific communities.

Though women’s leadership demonstrated in these times of crises offers valuable lessons on their capacities for resilience, women’s voices need to be formally included in local decision-making bodies for crisis management and women’s work needs to be recognised and compensated adequately, with necessary precautions taken to ensure their occupational safety and health. Further, a basic social protection floor of entitlements and services is needed to alleviate women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid work relating to care, household maintenance and subsistence, which has only increased with the pandemic. Partnerships, across actors, across sectors and departments, and with key constituents such as Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and civil society organisations offer immense potential for developing localised solutions for crisis response, which would need to be further customised to target the most vulnerable groups, and geared towards new trajectories for rejuvenating local economies.