#Aftermath || The Power of Solidarity: Women in Kashmir in Pandemic Times

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The Power of Solidarity: Women in Kashmir in Pandemic Times

By Dr. Sehar Iqbal


Sehar Iqbal is a gender and development expert with 15 years of work across South and Central Asia. She has a strong academic background in interdisciplinary studies, specialising in Development Economics, International Relations and Sociology. Her research specialisations are gender mainstreaming, community- based program development and M&E.


 

In Kashmir any new day can bring a life changing event to your door. A killing can lead to protests and shut your college for months; a wrong turn on the road home can lead to pellet injury and a lifelong disability; an outing with friends can end with one of them arrested. With such unpredictability around every corner, the women of Kashmir have come to rely on two things- adaptability and solidarity. From social entrepreneurship that empowers women victims of conflict to donating wedding clothes to orphaned girls on their weddings- we’ve done it all. And mostly while being restricted to our homes. So the COVID 19 lockdown came as no surprise- after all we are global experts on lockdowns, frenzied buying and stockpiling food and fuel.

So how did the women of Kashmir react to the lockdown? When many people were looking inward, they looked outward- out of their homes and into their neighbourhoods. Families in need were identified, their addresses and phone numbers diligently recorded, women with independent incomes quietly send grocery kits to needy neighbours. But soon it became apparent that the problem was too big. Families dependent on daily wages, families of craftsmen, families headed by widows or the differently abled needed long- term help. Doctors fighting COVID 19 in designated clinics had little or nothing in the way of PPE. Rural areas with high incidence of COVID cases had dedicated doctors but no support equipment in hospitals.

We needed a bigger plan.

So we reached out to each other. WhatsApp groups were formed, representatives from NGOs were added for sectoral and area coordination. Neighbourhood volunteers carefully gathered account details of families in need from the lists made initially and recorded them in google spreadsheets. Cases were forwarded to NGOs on a daily basis and these organisations provided monthly food packets to their assigned geographical. Women-led NGOs like the Autism Welfare Trust and The Sajid Iqbal Foundation started massive donation drives in urban and rural areas respectively. And all this at 2G data speeds!

The food provision was going well but the shortage of PPE was worsening. We started getting calls from female medics who had been deputed to COVID clinics. “They have given us porous gowns in the name of PPE and we are working with pregnant women who are one of the highest risk categories. We need help.’ But this problem was more difficult to solve as there was a nationwide shortage of PPE and severe restrictions on inter-state movement. So we reverted to the age- old Kashmiri mainstay- household industries. Boutique owners in Srinagar who would normally craft bridal couture repurposed fabric stocks and started making face masks for medical staff. But in 12 days we realised we needed to ramp up capacity.

Seher woman pic 1

Pic 2: Masks being made at our all- woman Self- Help Group. Photo courtesy: The Sajid Iqbal Foundation

My organisation (the Sajid Iqbal Foundation) repurposed our two craft based self-help groups in Pulwama to make four ply masks (and cloth bags for ration deliveries). Rigorous social distancing was observed. The girls involved got paid regularly and the masks were washed, dried, packed and kept ready for distribution. We also placed mass orders for PPE suits with Jehangir, a local boy who had earlier been manufacturing protective clothing for pesticide spraying in orchards. The PPE suits he made for us there were excellent- non-woven and non-porous.

Seher PPE pic

Sample PPE Kit (excluding mask). Photo courtesy: The Sajid Iqbal Foundation

Women professionals (activists, lawyers, government officials, teachers, etc) started sponsoring us for batches of PPE to be sent to medical institutions in their own areas. Payments were digitally made and meticulously recorded. Thanks to these donations we were able to buy out the entire first two batches of 200 suits from the unit and distribute the same to 32 tertiary and secondary care government hospitals at provincial, district and sub district level. While delivering PPE we observed the severe shortage of breathing support equipment in sub district hospitals and accordingly dispatched oxygen cylinders, concentrators and mask sets worth 2. 2 lakh rupees to in-need hospitals. Here also, a Kashmiri woman officer, working in the State Industries department helped us to meet the manufacturer of all this equipment and organise deliveries right from the factory.  By cutting out the middleman our financial resources were able to stretch further and benefit more people.

Meanwhile the month of Ramzan came and a lot of individual donors (male and female) started getting in contact with women activists to sponsor food kits. We started adding individual donors to our Whatsapp groups. Every day a list of the names of family heads from disadvantaged families with a short description of their requirements was put out in the groups. Donors would adopt whom they could after which the case identifier would message the address and bank account details of the family head to the donor in charge privately. The donor would then transfer money directly to the account or send food kits to the family (if they lived in the same neighbourhood). NGOs continued to adopt cases as well and coordinate to meet multiple needs. For example if a family in need in my area of operation needed food items and had a family member who needed dialysis, I would take care of the food delivery and pass the details on to Athrout (A helping hand), another NGO that run a dialysis centre who would then arrange the patient’s pickup in an ambulance, treatment at the centre and medicines. For pressing needs like major surgeries for poor patients separate Whatsapp fundraisers were created, crowdsourcing large amounts from multiple donors.

All woman Facebook groups like Yakjut (United) also did an excellent job signposting government and private resources for pregnant women or women and girls seeking medical treatment as well as dos and don’ts during the lockdown period. They also organised mass donations of clothes for orphaned girls getting married during this period.

Seher camp pic

Migrant worker family being provided monthly food rations, Kokernag. Photo courtesy: The Sajid Iqbal Foundation

The women were active and the men weren’t far behind- they participated equally in Whatsapp groups, NGO coordination and as individual and collective donors. According to collective civil society estimates food and cash donations totalling a staggering Rs. 35 crores were raised through social media and Whatsapp (this figure does not include in -kind donations). At first glance this figure may seem high but (for emergency cases) as high as 49 lakh rupees were raised in a single day through crowdfunded donations by individual local residents.

The proof of these figures lies in the fact that not a single starvation related death was reported in the whole of Kashmir valley. Even migrant workers were provided food kits and medicines as required. Women and men in Kashmir had pulled off this remarkable feat by working together.

As COVID 19 devastates livelihoods and economies all over the world, each day we are reminded that there is a lot more to do. But through adaptability and social solidarity, women in Kashmir will rise to the challenge.

 

 

 

#Aftermath || For those who give ASHA, there is little in return

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For those who give ASHA, there is little in return

By Nandhini Shanmugham


Nandhini Shanmugham is a development communications consultant.

 


 

As the COVID-19 count in India continues to rise, efforts are being made to capitalize on all existing resources in the health-care system to contain the spread of coronavirus. These efforts include leveraging the services of around a million ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists).

With doctors and nurses tending to patients in hospitals, which are beginning to feel overwhelmed, it is health-care workers, like ASHAs, who now find themselves at the frontline battling the pandemic.

ASHAs entered India’s health-care system as a volunteer cadre in 2005 under the National Health Mission to essentially act as an interface between communities and the public health-care system. Recruited from marginalised communities, ASHAs have played a decisive, but often unrecognised, role in improving child and maternal health indicators and bridging the gap in healthcare delivery to marginalised communities.

From promoting good health practices and mobilising community towards local health planning, ASHAs now have additional responsibilities – house-to-house surveys, collecting travel history, contact tracing, creating awareness, ensuring that home quarantine is being followed and undertaking other healthcare and relief measures assigned to them. And they are doing so under very challenging circumstances.

In the initial days of the pandemic, many ASHAs were undertaking their COVID-19 responsibilities with little or no protection. In an in-depth interview done with 52 ASHAs across 16 states, the survey by BehanBox found that “workers were being overburdened with work, lack of protective gear and poor economic compensation.” It was only after repeated stories by the press, did the Government issue a directive in April asking States to provide all ASHAs with PPE kits. Some have received it, some haven’t.

Despite being volunteers from the community, ASHAs have, unfortunately, also borne the brunt of stigmatisation during the pandemic. Ill-informed residents lashed out on health-care workers and abuses and taunts were being hurled at them repeatedly.

In a webinar conducted by Women in Global Health, Surekha, general secretary of the Haryana ASHA workers union, said, “Attacks on ASHAs from Dalit communities in Haryana are high especially from the landed community strongmen as a means to assert their caste supremacy once again.”

Even within their homes, ASHA workers have had to deal with the guilt of going against their families’ wishes and continuing to serve. Worried about the risk of exposure, families are concerned for the safety and well-being of ASHAs. Is it really worth the risk? Given the increasing unemployment and volatility of the job market, healthcare workers are left with little choice but to stick on to a thankless job with poor wages.

Despite the monthly entitlement by the Central Government (Rs. 3,500-Rs. 4,500), on completing certain core activities, ASHAs in most states don’t receive a fixed honorarium. The only exceptions being the states of Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim which pay a fixed honorarium every month. In addition to the honorarium, ASHAs are eligible for incentive-based fee for facilitating certain healthcare services. The range of incentive among the list of activities can be as little as Re. 1(per pack of 6 sanitary napkins distributed to adolescent girls) to Rs. 300 (for institutional and antenatal care). And the payment is, almost always, delayed by months.

According to the report ‘Working Condition Of ASHAs’ (2009-10), ASHAs, who were meant to work for 2-3 hours a day, have been clocking in more than eight hours a day in the past few years. And while this has only increased during COVID-19, the same cannot be said about their payment.  Their risky and tireless efforts are being acknowledged through a measly incentive of INR 1,000 (to be paid from January – June). “Who wants to go out? But the virus of hunger is bigger than Coronavirus. My life’s value is 30 Rs per day but I have no option, my only urge is to get a little more money,” expressed Nirmala Mane, an ASHA worker from Satara in her interaction with writer Snehal Mutha.

The story is no different for another group of frontline workers – sanitation workers – whose efforts are unmistakeably crucial, but whose repeated pleas for better work conditions fail to garner attention and action. Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family welfare state that sanitation workers are to use N-95 face masks, gloves, coats, boots, and sanitisers in their job. Yet many continue to perform their jobs without any PPE.

Around 50% of urban sanitation workers are women. They collect municipal solid waste collection, sweep roads and clean school toilets. In a recent article on sanitation workers, Amnesty International India highlighted challenges women sanitation workers faced prior to the pandemic. This included disparity in wages, inadequate protective gear, poor access to toilets and non-payment of wages during maternity leave. In the current context, while existing challenges remain, women sanitation workers now have to put in extra work in new areas. In the absence of public transportation, this has meant long hours of walks; there have been instances of sexual harassment reported by some women sanitation workers near Madurai; and with schools shut, many are forced to leave their children unattended at home.

Sharing her thoughts on the gender disparity in wages, Uma, from the Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies, Madurai, said, “While all panchayats do not pay for the additional disinfectant work, the panchayats that pay do so differently for women, who are paid Rs. 250/- per day, as compared to men who are paid Rs. 500/- per day.”

The fight against COVID-19 is going to be a long and tough one. In the months to come, as we begin to ‘unlock’ more, and as measures to contain the virus gain momentum, the role of ASHAs and sanitation workers will become even more significant. But what will be more important is whether or not we change the way see and treat them.

A Government evaluation of the ASHA programme showed that most ASHAs had a monthly family income of between Rs. 1000 and Rs. 3000. 22% of ASHAs in Odissa, 18% in Assam and about 10% in Bihar and Rajasthan were the main breadwinners for their families. Given this economic context, it is no surprise that ASHAs have been calling for social security, a fixed monthly pay of Rs. 18,000 and other benefits. Action on the part of Governments has been slow. In Haryana, it took seven months of protests for ASHAs to be paid a salary of Rs. 4,000. Further south in Andhra Pradesh, it was a 10-year-long struggle that got ASHAs a monthly salary of Rs. 10,000.

If governments want this pool of corona warriors to continue serving communities, then the least it must do is ensure fair remuneration. How many more years of protesting and how many more pandemics is it going to take for their voices to be heard?

Nandhini, Front-line workers pic

Community health workers, like this group in the Upper Tons Valley in Uttarakhand, are battling the pandemic at the frontline without adequate protective gear. Photo courtesy: Kalap Trust

Health-care professionals and NGO representatives, who the author spoke to on condition of anonymity, expressed apprehension on any dramatic changes for ASHAs. Some said it won’t be a complete surprise if disgruntled ASHAs give up this work and look for better paid work. Or there is also the possibility that some states like Tamil Nadu, which had restricted the recruitment of ASHAs only in tribal areas, may consider recruiting more ASHAs to strengthen healthcare service and delivery.

“We are like worms in the eyes of our higher officials because we come from poor families and have studied only upto 10th grade,” said Pochamma from Andhra Pradesh. “Sometimes, ASHAs struggle to maintain records. They shout at us and call us incompetent. Just because we struggle with writing sometimes, does it make our work any less important?”

ASHA workers surveyed by BehenBox expressed their disappointment both with their work conditions and the manner in which they have been treated by the government. Many said they have considered quitting their work for a better paid job. It was also found that ASHAs have not been included in Ayushman Bharat, the national public health insurance scheme, nor state health insurance schemes, except in some states, despite the Government’s claims in a Lok Sabha reply that they were entitled to such social security benefits.

What is clear from all that is written about community health workers is that the disparity in treatment is systemic. Instead of symbolic policies, there needs to be committed action that will help ASHAs and sanitation workers. This can include special benefits, like maternity care, education scholarships for children and access to finance for improved livelihoods. Some state governments have assured doubling the basic pay for healthcare staff such as doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and ambulance drivers. ASHA workers did not find a mention in the list. Why?

Rather than seeing them as volunteers, ASHA workers feel that only when they become an integral part of the health-care system with proper rights and benefits will their exploitation stop. Could COVID-19 be the catalyst for this much needed change?

The pandemic does provide an opportunity to strengthen the support structures which, by the Government’s own evaluation, are weak in most States and were “set up as an afterthought rather than as a priority activity.” According to the ASHA guidelines, the role of NGOs lies in both institutional arrangements and in training. However, in most States, the role of the NGOs has been restricted to training functions. Much of the weaknesses of the ASHA programme can be traced to this weak support structure. The pandemic has already made it clear that India must make more investments in public health. And when that happens, strengthening support structures must definitely be given due consideration.

Change management workshops, across the board, may help in bringing out an attitudinal shift in the way community health-care workers are perceived. Sustained motivation through well-thought incentives will keep the morale of this workforce high.

If we are ready to acknowledge the visible improved health & hygiene indicators which ASHAs and sanitation workers have helped achieve, then why do we fail, as a society, in acknowledging their rights? While we see doctors stand up for their peers, and nurses do the same, who stands up for ASHAs? When support from within the fraternity is skewed, what hope can ASHAs have from the rest? Who will stand up for the sanitation workers who diligently, and at great risks, are keeping our environment sanitised?

Every crisis is an opportunity. And so is COVID-19. Can State Governments and Health officials use the pandemic as an opportunity to listen, reflect and respond to the pressing challenges our community health workers face? And can they do so with empathy and courtesy.

While evaluating the ASHA Programme, workers were asked to cite the top three reasons for becoming an ASHA. 80% of all ASHAs across the districts reported “serving the community” as the top reason. In a post-pandemic world, it’s left to see how we serve this remarkable and understated group of corona warriors.

#Aftermath || Including the Excluded

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“Including the Excluded” Must Be the Mantra of Post-COVID Rehabilitation

By Dr. Fatima Burnad


Dr. Fatima Burnad is the founder and Executive Director of the Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) has been working among the Dalit community in Tamilnadu, India for the past 37 years.She is leader in the social movement seeking greater economic opportunity and political influence for these largely landless and economically backward people and has been especially active in organizing Dalit women. SRED, under her leadership documents and fights against human rights abuses; from police brutality to the assassination of Dalit women; from social and economic exclusion to abject poverty.

 


 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women, especially marginalized women, disproportionately. The heaviest burden is on women, who have no work, and as a consequence, they have nothing to eat, and are unable to buy provisions, vegetables, and medicines. Moreover, gender-based violence and violence on children are also increasing, leading to extreme distress. The effects of this lockdown will be felt for a long time. It is important for us to look ahead and take care of the people who have felt the worst effects of the lockdown.

While medical care is important, taking care of people who have lost their livelihoods is equally important, and cannot be postponed. It is this second effort—to take care of women who are affected by the lockdown—that Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) is involved in currently.

SRED selected 110 women who are members of women’s collectives, who can work with the identify people from their community who are in extreme need of assistance. SRED has helped them overcome their distress for the time being, and is looking at supporting more people from disadvantaged communities: Irulars (tribal people), Dalits, sex workers, women street vendors, and Narikuravars (nomads), to name a few.

Policy measures from the governments have been slow and sporadic, and it is important for the relief measures to reach people quickly and efficiently.

The financial effect of COVID-19 will continue even beyond the lockdown, and efforts must be made to ensure that all free schemes not be withdrawn as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Most families have fallen into debt, and it will take a long time for them to come out of it. It is important that policy and lawmakers take this into account, and ensure that their financial situation is taken care of for a substantial period after the lockdown.

Post-COVID, it is time that policy makers take active steps to include those who are traditionally excluded from the benefits system—for example, sex workers, migrant labourers, and nomadic tribes.

COVID-19 has proven to be a test that exposes faults and cracks in the system. This is the best time for civil society and governments to take careful note, so that they can be fixed once we are out of emergency mode.

#Aftermath || Emergencies: A Time to Fix Systemic Problems

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Emergencies: A Time to Fix Systemic Problems

By Sheelu Francis


Sheelu Francis is the founder of Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective. She has 25 years of experience mobilizing women farmers in India. Her experience working with women farmers in India exemplifies the link between climate change and women’s rights. She is also an international spokesperson and strongly speaks before the world about international trade, debt and activities of transnational corporations on local development, food security and sovereignty.


 

The effect of COVID-19 on India has been vastly contrasting. While the health emergency is concentrated in the metropolitan cities, the livelihood emergency is acute in rural areas.

Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (TNWC) initiated a study of 620 people in 62 villages spread over 18 districts in Tamil Nadu, to understand the effect of COVID-19 on their lives.

The findings underline several other studies coming out of other areas: a high incidence of domestic violence (81%), increased male involvement in household chores (71%), a dominant feeling of government apathy (only 8% felt the government has given enough support), and acute hunger (25% of families), to name a few.

Not everything is broken, though. All villagers are happy about the closure of the state-owned liquor shops (TASMAC), death rates have come down, and the government was able to provide essential medicines to 75% of respondents.

A full list of the findings and recommendations are given below.

The findings point to systemic problems that need to be addressed by lawmakers. The lockdown has magnified existing problems, as well as solutions. Taking cognizance of our survey and experience on the ground, and TNWC has prepared a list of recommendations that will help us emerge a better society after the COVID-19 emergency.

Recommendations are structured around the following points:

  1. Leverage the public distribution system to deliver better quality, quantity of free produce and enhanced cash benefits to card holders.
  2. Enhance financial support by announcing moratoriums for loans and public service utilities such as electricity
  3. Ensure well-being of unskilled labourers through existing infrastructure such as MNREGA
  4. Completely ban alcohol and tobacco products
  5. Especially ensure that health and economic needs of women, senior citizens, and pregnant/lactating mothers are taken care of without interruption

When we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, we must reflect deeply on the lessons learned, and look for ways to fix systemic problems that have embedded themselves in our society.


Women’s Collective Survey Report Summary

April, 2020

Women’s Collective conducted a telephonic survey of 620 people in 62 villages spread over 18 districts of Tamil Nadu: Kanyakumari, Thirunelveli, Thenkasi, Tutucorin, Madurai, Theni, Dindugal, Nilgris, Salem, Thiruvannamalai, Ranipettai, Thirupattur, Thiruvarur, Dharmapuri, Chengalpet, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallore  and Chennai in Tamil Nadu on 23rd of April, 2020.

Summary list of findings:

  1. Seven percent of the respondents were not aware of Coronavirus
  2. 16% of the villages have positive cases of Coronavirus
  3. Only 8% feel that the government has given enough support.
  4. 31% of the villages have migrant workers.
  5. No respondent got 100 days’ work under MNREGA till April 23, as promised by government.
  6. All the villagers are happy about closure of TASMAC, the government-run liquor shops.
  7. 6.5% of the villages have illicit liquor sales.
  8. Only 75% of the people follow the lockdown instructions given by the government.
  9. In 71% of the families, men help in household work
  10. 81% of the families reported some form of domestic violence during lockdown.
  11. 25% of the families face acute hunger.
  12. In 98% of the villages, the death rate has drastically reduced compared to same period last year.
  13. 80% of the families have stopped visiting hospitals for ailments.
  14. 74% of patients with chronic illnesses (diabetics, people with high blood pressure, cancer, etc.) are getting regular medication from the government.

Recommendations:

  1. Good quality and enough quantity food grains must be supplied free of cost through the government Public Distribution System (PDS).
  2. Financial support of Rs.5000 per month must be given to PDS card holders.
  3. The market price of essential goods must be controlled.
  4. Mobility of farming and farming products must be allowed (accepted by the government)
  5. MGNREGA Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (100 days’ work) must be resumed (accepted by the government)
  6. The needs of unregistered unorganized workers must be met
  7. The needs of migrant workers must be met
  8. All microfinance institutions must be banned, with immediate effect.
  9. All agricultural products must be purchased by the government.
  10. TASMAC (liquor shops) must be permanently closed.
  11. Illicit liquor must be abolished
  12. The government must ban beedi and cigarette sales.
  13. Pension must be distributed by the post office at the pensioners’ doorstep, not in banks.
  14. EMI and SHG loans must be delayed and interest to be canceled.
  15. EB payment must be written off for at least two months.
  16. Rs. 500 provision packs must be given free for at least two months.
  17. Medicines must be distributed through VHN (Village Health Nurse) and PHC (Primary Health Centers)
  18. The needs of pregnant and lactating mothers must be met through VHNs
  19. School fees / Education loans must be cancelled for this year.
  20. Laborers working in private companies must be paid for the lockdown period.

 

 

#Aftermath || Gender Implications of COVID-19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions

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Gender Implications of COVID-19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions

By Dr. Vibhuti Patel


Dr. Vibhuti Patel is a distinguished academician, social thinker, researcher and speaker from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is known for her extensive research and expertise in the issues concerned with women in areas such as gender economics, development economics, social infrastructure, human rights, women’s studies.


 

On March 24th 2020, the Government of India announced a nationwide lockdown that demanded 1.3 billion Indians to stay home and strictly adhere to ‘social distancing’ for 21 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. This emergency measure has had dire implications for the vulnerable populations – 94% of the workforce in the informal sector, women headed households which are poorest of the poor, persons with disability, homeless, lonely elderly, socially stigmatised transgender community, sex workers, prisoners and inmates in overcrowded shelter homes. The lockdown has been followed by curtailment of public and personal transportation. As per the 2011 Census, 309 million women are migrants in India. The migrant workers, daily wage earners, unorganized sector workers including the self-employed women and men have been worst hit due to loss of wages, no money to pay rent of house and buy daily necessities, exposure to hunger, malnutrition and infection and the worst of all- police brutality as most of them tried to go to their native place as they had nothing to survive in the neo-liberal decision makers of the urban local self-government bodies that were concerned only about middle and upper strata of the economy living in gated communities.

The lockdown has also forced women to bear the burden of unpaid care work, both, in terms of housework, home-schooling of children and enhanced care burden of sick, children and elderly. Over the last two weeks, women’s rights groups, community based non-government organisations, networks on right to food and right to shelter,  citizens associations, self-help groups, trade unions have been busy providing provisions of all necessary services (food, shelter, water, healthcare, information) for the marginalised and socially excluded poor people most of whom do not have a bank account or Unique Identification Number (UID).

Civil society groups are extensively using social media demanding implementation of  urgent measures to provide comprehensive information about COVID-19 to mitigate panic and initiate public messaging against discrimination and take steps to address any violations of basic rights of citizens/ employees by employers, landlords, state administrators and police. Indian feminists are focussing on 9 key areas of interventions for state and non-state actors:

  1. Food security for informal sector daily wage workers, migrant population and women headed households where widows, single, deserted and divorced women are the bread earners.
  2. Health care for womene. timely access to necessary and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services during the crisis, such as emergency contraception and safe abortion. Maintain an adequate stock of menstrual hygiene products at healthcare and community facilities. Train medical staff and front-line social workers to recognize signs of domestic violence and provide appropriate resources and services
  3. Education through creation of educational radio programming appropriate for school-age children and expansion of free internet access to increase access to online educational platforms and material. The school/colleges and universities should enable students to participate in virtual learning and provide disability-accessible classroom sessions.
  4. Reduction of social inequality in care services by encouraging the equitable sharing of domestic tasks in explicit terms and through allowances for time off and compensation for all workers. The state must ensure increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for unhoused people. It should implement protocol and train authorities on recognizing and engaging vulnerable populations, particularly where new laws are being enforced. Consultations of the government bodies with civil society organizations are a MUST for implementing the legislation and policy and for guaranteeing equal access to information, public health education and resources in multiple languages.
  5. Water and sanitation departments of the local self-government bodies must cease all disconnections and waive all reconnection fees to provide everyone with clean, potable water.
  6. Feminists are demanding reduction of economic inequality through engendered public economics policies and gender responsive participatory budgeting, Protection services to deal with violence against women, domestic violence/intimate partner violence in the context of the lockout as well as mass exodus of migrant workers.
  7. Along with human rights organisations, feminists are demanding adoption of human rights-oriented protocols with regards to people in prisons, administrative migration centres, quarantine centres, refugee camps, and people with disabilities in institutions and psychiatric facilities who are at higher risk of contagion due to the confinement conditions.
  8. Feminists have been strongly advocating against the communalisation of COVID-19 crisis to whip up Islamophobia and stigmatisation of poor migrants.
  9. Ensuring availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety, security, welfare and inclusion in decision making (with regards to combating COVID-19) of the front-line workers – doctors, nurses, sanitary staff, volunteers of NGOs who are risking their lives, is the topmost priority as well as the challenge for citizens and the state. 

#Aftermath || COVID-19 The New Normal

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COVID-19 The New Normal: Militarization and Women’s New Agenda in India

By Dr. Asha Hans


Dr. Asha Hans is ex- Co-Chair, Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy; former Professor of Political Science, and Founder Director, School of Women’s Studies, Utkal University, India. A leading campaigner of women’s rights, she has participated in the formulation of many conventions in the United Nations.


The COVID-19 crisis started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has since then impacted millions globally including people of India. In these months we have observed the breakdown of the existing systems and structures. It seems to many of us that it is the end of civilization as we know it, but there is also a recognition that it is providing us an opportunity to reflect on the future we want.

The existing ‘normal’ that surfaced in COVID-19 despite a crisis are the inequalities, the persistent masculinity, and the unrelenting patriarchal system that continues to survive. The ‘normal’ is also the continuing dependence on a discordant and inhumane national security system, which has unwarranted power and control over its citizens. The security system continues to stay alive despite the global pandemic, without facing challenges except peace educators and activists. We, the peace advocates, feel that the pandemic is giving us a new opportunity to create a world dedicated to the well-being of all people on this planet. This would mean, equality for migrants, domestic workers, Dalits, people with disabilities and various others. Many of those trying to bring these issues to the forefront of the human rights discourse are women writers and advocates who feel that the disproportionate impact on women merits change.

When I say that the ‘new normal’ is the continuing inequality and the robust masculinity I draw this argument from the vocabulary of COVID-19. It is the language being used which is overwhelmingly hostile as the pandemic has brought in new words that are being increasingly linked to violence and rising fascism. Primarily the word being used is ‘lockdown’ providing a new image of security, where if you agree to a policed closure of a geographical field you are agreeing to a ‘new normal’ depiction of safety1. The recent flow of domestic migrant labourers in India from their workplace to their home, mostly situated in a rural locale, and the women within their homes facing extreme domestic violence highlight the mythical assumption that lockdowns create security.

Security we believe has to fulfill basic needs and prevent violence. These two ideas of what we consider as the universal aims of security include the thousands of men, women, and children walking home. The State in the last few months has not fulfilled these requirements, for instance food insecurity has been the basic reason for migrants walking the long march home. Movement of thousands of returnees was prompted by the employer not paying their wages and the landlord of the house demanding rents. With no wages, no shelter, and no money it is not surprising that thousands took to the road during a lockdown. The police attempted to stop them using physical force and sexual abuse, there was no transport, and hundreds of government directives with none catering to them did not break their resolution or their spirit. The other myth broken is related to the specific security of women, as domestic violence during the lockdown increased, and supporting structures broke down 2. We need to recognize that women are not a homogenous group and that some women such as those with disabilities or LGBTIQ face more and varied forms of violence. Protecting women from domestic violence is neither on the agenda of the State or society during the lockdown and as the system of security collapses, many women are targeted to extreme violence. The house policed by the patriarchal system becomes a prison imposed by the family and not contested by the society or State. In an analogy of the State and militarization that applies to women is the remark of a Kashmiri friend who said for them it was ‘from a lockup to a lockdown’.

There is an intense nature of the corona risk affecting women which goes beyond domestic violence to a broader world of aggression. COVID-19 has created a fear psychosis with a language borrowed from militarist lexis. An illustration of the usual expression used by the government has been, “Join the War against COVID-19: Register as a volunteer to fight against the spread of the coronavirus. It is an apt example as it creates an image in our minds of States before a war-making a call to its citizens to join the armed forces. The stronger vocabulary used by the media is their response to the coronavirus as waging a ‘war’, ‘battle’,  ‘India’s war against COVID-19’3. Even people are depicted as ‘curfew violators’ facing extreme violence by the police. The use of violence is a value that encroaches on citizen’s spaces and promotes the use of force to resolve essentially civilian issues. The militarized state measures are counter-intuitive to women’s security, and in any response to change the situation it is the feminist approach which must be considered as important to end violence against women. Though women front-line workers, nurses and others involved in taking care of the corona virus have been designated as “Corona Warriors” being instrumental in the ‘war’ against the coronavirus4. Unfortunately, these warriors have been both underpaid by the State and now unprotected without the shields necessary when going into war zones.

The State narrative in India has always been that armaments are essential to security and in this paradigm peace dialogue is the outlier. There is thus no public discourse on violence used by the State when protecting its citizens. It is not only structures but attitudes that can be militarized and military culture including patriarchal, instill in society the concept of power as a force. Regimes use hyper-nationalism to keep themselves in power. This construction of the nation-state in a patriarchal set up is built on male privilege and the issue of male-female equality does not rise.  When such vocabulary is used it militarizes the public mindset, and violence becomes the public normal.

Women across the world, including India, have been suffused with militarist doctrines, developed to use maximum force against the enemy, and continues to be used even whilst the virus is attempting to enter into the physical body of its people a disease which weapons could not kill. Violence, especially gendered, is a daily occurrence heightened by the presence of armed or police forces. Created by a patriarchal system establishing inequalities, threatening survival, and creating insecurities, the removal of these barriers become imperative to the realization of a safe system for women.

The pandemic is a moment that is epidemiological but also political both linked to security and needs to be recognized in the context of comprehensive human security. During COVID-19 there should have been a critique of dangers posed by India’s high budget on armaments at the expense of a good public health system, an important basic need for women who have low access to health services especially sexual and reproductive health care, but it did not take place. What also did not get accentuated, in the public debate on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus is most importantly any linking to look-alike imagery of what would happen if biological warfare by a State or bio-terrorism that could take place in the future. It should have made us realize that biowarfare, for which tests are on, does not stop at borders and impacts the enemy as well as the State that uses it. As a response to the crisis, the expanded stockpiling of vaccines and antibiotics, containment laboratories and research into new drugs and bio-detectors have created, it seems, scaling up a system of bio-warfare. Besides this factor, is the demonstration of armed power. The ‘fly-bys’ used by the Indian Air Force, to shower flowers, was a nationalist demonstration of power disregarding the hunger and pain of the migrants, including women and children, walking on the road. A nationalist demonstration of power became more important than fulfilling the basic needs of vulnerable people. Instead of these two processes to protect people from the virus, what were the required responses, starting in the initial days of the emergency situation, as corona stepped into the country should have been building more public hospitals, clinics, and upgrading health care services? The spread of the virus can even now be slowed down through surveillance and massive campaigns against it and not force.

In an already inflicted system, unnecessary sufferings are imposed on the poor. It is time to recognize that this system of violence will become entrenched so it must be challenged as the well being of the human family depends on its removal. Seen from the experience of women, revealed is the security deficit of the system during COVID-19. The alternative to this system is a human security system to replace the militarized security framework. It is a system derived to protect people and not the interest of the state. This security paradigm with four essential conditions, a life-sustaining environment; the meeting of essential physical needs; respect for the identity and dignity of persons of groups; and protection from avoidable harm and expectation of remedy for unavoidable harm 5. Health in a COVID-19 situation can be analyzed not as a medical but as a human security problem as it takes advantage of poverty, inequality, and hunger

What then is the ‘new normal’ emerging from COVID-19? We have to recognize that warlike situations exist on three of India’s international borders (with China, Pakistan and Nepal). This with the corona situation shows the lapses in policy that allowed a war-like situation as sustained dialogue has not been part on Indian policy. Feminist writers on women and militarism have contributed to the solution to the corona situation. Enloe suggests that we must “mobilize society today to provide effective, inclusive, fair, and sustainable public health, we need to learn the lessons that feminist historians of wars have offered us. To do that, we need to resist the seductive allure of rose-tinted militarization. Reardon looks forward and says that,”While the realization of the common destiny of humanity may well be a given to peace educators, even we ourselves, still do not have adequate conceptual and pedagogical repertoires to confront pandemics as a given of a common human future”.

It is time to start the pedagogic imagining and structuring a future world that will lead to new opportunities. We must work in collaborative ways and rethink the way we think of ending militarization. The questions before us are: what is normal and just and how do we protect our fundamental rights when men’s and women’s rights are trampled on? In this context questions peace educators and activists should be asking what the appropriate language should be used to create a new alternative? How do we work in collaborative ways? We also need to ask: How do we stop this militaristic adapted violence from becoming the ‘new normal’ in our lives? Are we prepared to re-imagine new worlds where security is not dependent on force but recognition of an interdependent world of peace?

To create this world would mean recognition of women’s equal status and their solidarity in the face of masculine force. To recognize that a sharing of resources during the pandemic would lead to another new step that we have refused to take; aiming to reduce this gap would mean achieving people’s well being. We have to develop a new language, and our imaginations to find new pathways to peace, a new alternative to create a ‘new normal’ for a world hurting with militarization. The vocabulary of a world of peace which would make it easier to bear the toughness of COVID-19.

Endnotes

  1. On 25th March 2020 the Government of India announced a complete lockdown
  2.  Deccan Herald April 13, 2020.
  3. The Hindu 8, May 2020
  4. India Today 11 April, 2020
  5. Reardon Betty and Asha Hans, 2019, The Gender Imperative: State Security vs Human Security, Routledge London, and New York. 2nd ed. : 2.

#Aftermath || An Index of Posts

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We would like to thank Pozhil SG and Meera Rajagopalan, for their invaluable editorial assistance in finalising the blogposts for publication.

Dr. Bhavana Nissima, The Birth and Purpose of “Aftermath”

Dr. Asha Hans, COVID-19 The New Normal: Militarization and Women’s New Agenda in India

Dr.  Vibhuti Patel, Gender Implications of COVID19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions

Sheelu Francis, Emergencies: A Time to Fix Systemic Problems

Dr. Fatima Burnad, “Including the Excluded” Must Be Mantra of Post-COVID Rehabilitation

Nandhini Shanmugham, For those who give ASHA, there is little in return

Dr. Sehar Iqbal, The Power of Solidarity: Women in Kashmir in Pandemic Times

Dr. Ruchi Shree, Women and Water: Challenges ahead amid COVID-19

Dr. Asha Hans, Impact of COVID -19 Lockdown on Women with Disabilities in India

Swetha Shankar, Dealing With Domestic Violence During A Pandemic

Divya Chandrababu and Durga Nandini, Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Hard-Won Rights of Women in Media

Sairee Chahal, Sustaining gender ratio in the workplace

Dr. S. Shakthi, The Lawless World of Women’s Work

Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar, Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment

Dr. Girija Godbole, Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic

Dr. Ritu Dewan, The COVID-19 Camouflage

Suneeta Dhar, Invest in women, now!

#Aftermath || The Birth and Purpose of “Aftermath”

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THE BIRTH AND PURPOSE OF BLOG SYMPOSIUM “AFTERMATH”

by Dr. Bhavana Nissima


Dr. Bhavna Nissima holds a PhD in Communication from the University of New Mexico, U.S.A. and has taught several communication-related subjects in the United States and India for more than a decade. She is an NLP Trainer (IPANLP) and Master Practitioner (SNLP), having coached and trained with a multitude of International Trainers. She is also the Mental Space Psychology Ambassador in India and has founded the Indian Mental Space Academy.


 

Pandemic is a deceptive word. Like Lockdown or Economy or Rehabilitation or even this word –  Problem. This is what nominalisations do—words that behave as nouns but have no clear tangible existence in the world. They become reflecting surfaces for mental projections on what they could possibly mean.

And in this complex social reflection of minds, which we call as social discourse, there exists a pattern of deletion. A pattern that repeatedly deletes the experiences, needs and triumphs of some members of the society. For example – gendered deletions.

I awoke to this rerun of gendered deletions in the Pandemic discourse when I came across a news report that the Government of India had not included Sanitary Napkins in its first list of essential items. And I asked myself—what else is being deleted in the chaos and what else will continue to be deleted beyond the lockdown?

And the next question was— what can I do about it?

I reached out to Dr Swarna Rajagopalan of Prajnya with a list of possible areas where women maybe impacted during and after the Pandemic. Dr Swarna not only listened to my concerns, she also got a team together to ideate on how we could take action. And one of the key members of this team was Nandhini Shanmugam who has mindfully curated and shaped this symposium.

As we dialogued, we realized there were many areas women were likely to be impacted due to Covid19 Pandemic. The very act of chunking down to the specifics—exactly in what area and in what way, women may be impacted, resourcefully or unresourcefully — collapsed the nominalisation. The complexity that is blunted out in reductive and generalized terms like Economy or Pandemic came alive – feeling, meaning, struggling, like creepers now emerging from under the bushes to the warmth of sunlight and air.

There were so many issues, some of which were getting highlighted like health needs and domestic violence.  And several that were not in the forefront like land issues, water, relief and rehabilitation, women in the workplace, women in specific communities, women in NGOs, and the future of women in a Post-Pandemic World.

One of Prajnya’s core strengths has been in generating awareness about an issue, fostering communication and dialogue around it. In fact, one of the meanings of the name Prajnya is Awareness. Almost naturally, the next step was how do we raise awareness about this in our communities.

This is how this Blog Symposium Aftermath was born.

We wondered who could dive deep into each aspect that we had uncovered and provide high quality and reliable insights. An ambitious list was drawn up of thought leaders, activists, and champions who had worked in each of these areas for a considerable period. And we reached out to them. Many responded kindly and generously.

This blog symposium has gained its flesh and blood through its contributors. We hope we have created a repository of high-quality articles that you can use as reference for further work or perhaps as a space for reflection and pause.

You could choose to start here with Dr. Vibhuti Patel’s overarching essay on Gender Implications of COVID-19 Pandemic and Challenges for Community Interventions. Or this profound study on the COVID-19 The New Normal: Militarization and Women’s New Agenda in India by Dr. Asha Hans. Or this sharp critique, The Covid-19 Camouflage, on the widening structural divide during Covid-19 Lockdown by Dr. Ritu Dewan.

Or maybe choose to read through Women and Water: Challenges ahead amid COVID-19 by Dr. Ruchi Shree and Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic by Dr. Girija Godbole.

Perhaps you will dwell on the Impact of COVID -19 Lockdown on Women with Disabilities in India by Dr. Asha Hans and on Dealing with domestic violence during a pandemic by Swetha Shankar.

May we invite you to pause on this article, Invest in women, now! by Suneeta Dhar? And on how the Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Hard-Won Rights of Women in Media by Divya Chandrababu and Durga Nandini.

Perhaps you can rest here and celebrate with Sairee Chahal as she explores the upsides of the pandemic times for Sustaining gender ratio in the workplace. And how women in Kashmir turned around the Lockdown period through adaptation and community in this article, The Power of Solidarity: Women in Kashmir in Pandemic Times, by Dr. Sehar Iqbal.

And then perhaps continue to ponder on The Lawless World of Women’s Work by Dr. S. Shakthi and “Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment by Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar. And the   by Sheelu Francis of Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective and “Including the Excluded” Must Be Mantra of Post-COVID Rehabilitation by Dr. Fatima Burnad.

We hope that you will read and further amplify the issues raised and ideas presented in this Blog Symposium—share in your networks, maybe write/speak/converse on the topics, maybe add in your lived experiences and help this repository multiply through the ecosystem.

No More Deletions.

No More Second List.

We ask that when you share on social media to please use the hashtag #Aftermath #Gender so we can easily stream the knowledge assets.

On behalf of Prajnya, I thank all our contributors for bringing their experience and expertise through these articles. And we are grateful to all voices that couldn’t be present in the current repository but exist somewhere in this world.

We make community and we change our world together.