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


Blog Symp post banner final

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.


  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.



Resource: A Gendered Human Rights Analysis of Ebola and Zika


Sara E. Davies and Belinda Bennett, A Gendered Human Rights Analysis of Ebola and Zika: Locating Gender in Global Health Emergencies, International Affairs 92:5 (2016): 1041-1060.

Excerpt: ‘An effective global response to public health emergencies must engage with the rights and needs of affected women. The Ebola and Zika outbreaks provide tragic, important lessons that should not be forgotten as, it is to be hoped, these countries move towards containing the crisis. Access to essential health services during complex emergencies is determined not solely by the provision of care, but also by the status of human rights and equity in that society. The provision of health care and treatment requires understanding the conditions that determine gender-equitable health care.‘ (p.1060)


Resource: Push Aside the Panic: Thinking Bigger than Just a Health Response to COVID-19


Alfred Makavore, Push Aside the Panic: Thinking Bigger than Just a Health Response to COVID-19CARE Failing Forward (audio podcast), 26 March 2020, https://careinternational.podbean.com/e/push-aside-the-panic-thinking-bigger-than-just-a-health-response-to-covid-19/.

Overview: ‘Alfred Makavore, a key responder in CARE’s Ebola response in Sierra Leone in 2014-2015, share’s lessons about how to improve our COVID-19 response. “At first, we thought it was just a clinical problem, and we treated it like that.” Alfred encourages teams to think beyond a clinical response, to understand what communities are facing, and to build trust. “We have to push aside the panic.” Engaging governments, setting up local coordination, and trusting field teams to make decisions are some of his key recommendations.

Putting a period to hygiene problems


When Arunachalam Muruganantham hit a wall in his research on creating a sanitary napkin for poor women, he decided to do what most men typically wouldn’t dream of. He wore one himself — for a whole week. Fashioning his own menstruating uterus by filling a bladder with goat’s blood, Muruganantham went about his life while wearing women’s underwear, occasionally squeezing the contraption to test out his latest iteration. It resulted in endless derision and almost destroyed his family. But no one is laughing at him anymore, as the sanitary napkin-making machine he went on to create is transforming the lives of rural women across India. Right now, 88% of women in India resort to using dirty rags, newspapers, dried leaves, and even ashes during their period. Read the full story at http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679008/an-indian-inventor-disrupts-the-period-industry

(And thanks to www.dailygood.org for this)