Finding Hope: Putting women and adolescents at the centre of the post pandemic rebuilding

July 09, 2021 2:20 PM

As India emerges from the second wave of COVID-19 infection, here’s a brief analysis on how knowledge gathered during the pandemic’s initial wave in 2020 may assist the national recovery effort.

daily wage labourers25-40 lakh estimated number of workers had moved back to their hometowns from Gujarat between April and June. (Photo source: IE)

By Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, 

As India emerges from the second wave of COVID-19 infection, here’s a brief analysis on how knowledge gathered during the pandemic’s initial wave in 2020 may assist the national recovery effort.

Twenty-three-year-old Sonam*, who hails from rural Maharashtra in India, says that the COVID 19 pandemic and subsequent March 2020 lockdown changed her life.

“My father’s job was on hold,” she recalls. “Both my brother and my jobs were also on hold. Our employers had not paid us our salaries or given us any clarity about when we can resume work again.” Sonam and her family are daily wage labourers – among a huge part of India’s workforce who are employed in the unorganized sector – but this essential source of income was severely compromised. “There was a lot of mental stress as a result,” Sonam continues, “and to cope with the stress, Father started drinking alcohol again and often lost his temper whenever he was drunk, subjecting us to verbal and sometimes even physical abuse.”

Sonam’s story could come from anywhere in the world. For people like Sonam to thrive, it’s essential that all stakeholders put women and adolescents at the centre of efforts to rebuild health and social provisions. In order to better understand their needs, a multi-phased tele-survey was conducted by Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3) in India, as part of a global research program Finding Hope: Lived experiences of women, children and adolescents, in their own words, an online project by leading civil society groups brought together by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH)- a multi-constituency partnership hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) that engaged with more than 30,000 mainly women and young people from 43 countries worldwide.

The Finding Hope survey found that several schemes and support programs launched by the Government of India to support those who have lost livelihoods during the COVID-19 lockdown were reaching the vulnerable and that there was widespread awareness about them. The Government’s efforts to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19 – such as providing Dry Ration, making cash transfers available, and supplying free cooking cylinders – were particularly helpful to women and families.

The C3 survey also found, however, that women and adolescents across India were bearing a disproportionate burden of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19. The loss of livelihoods and income reduced the already limited control women had over their assets. Fear of accessing services, lost educational opportunities, experiences of gender-based violence, and mental health were among the issues highlighted by women and girls.

More than a year has passed since the initial COVID-19 lockdown began, and India is now emerging from a devastating second wave, which saw record levels of infection. A new variant strain is currently under investigation, which may be responsible for higher transmission and for causing greater infection among young people and children than was previously seen. Unlike 2020, in the second wave, the virus has affected infants, with some as young as one-and-a-half months old getting admitted to hospital. The healthcare infrastructure is under a lot of pressure and many states are putting in place plans to combat any future waves.

As evident from many global crises, women, adolescents and children, are usually among the hardest hit in times of such emergencies and crises.  It is imperative that we focus efforts to recover from COVID-19 and rebuild societies in its aftermath on women and adolescents, by addressing their needs, empowering them to have a greater say in their own futures, and taking their input into developing the policies that will benefit them.

One promising development, which came in December 2020, at the Lives in the Balance conference organized by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), saw the Government of India pledge US$ 2 billion to protect and promote the health and rights of women, children and adolescents as part of its national COVID-19 response and recovery commitment.  This was in response to PMNCH’s COVID-19 Call to Action campaign, which built on needs identified by women, children and adolescents themselves to recommend seven key interventions that will not only restore the damage done to them during the pandemic, but help shape a better world for them to live in moving forward. Recommendations included maintaining essential service delivery (including for contraception, safe abortion, safe motherhood, and mental health); addressing gender inequality; addressing adolescents’ education and vocational training; and addressing the gaping gendered digital divide.

As India recovers, gender-transformative and inclusive approaches are going to be crucial. India can play a significant role in the larger global conversation around investing in the wellbeing of women, children, and adolescents, and creating strategies on preparedness and response to future shocks, whether these take the form of another wave, another pandemic, or the consequence of climate change, or future natural or economic disasters. Resources and opportunities must be targeted towards women and adolescents – whether it be enhancing rural and urban employment options, skills-building initiatives, empowering grassroots-elected women representatives and frontline workers, equipping women and girls with digital literacy, or combatting gender-based violence through effective helpline systems and community-based solutions.

The columnist is Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change (3C); National Coordinator, White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) and representing The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH- WHO). Views expressed are the author’s own.

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