Prajnya Gender Talks, June 2022 || Pandemic, Policy and Patriarchy: Process of Gender De-equalisation by Prof. Ritu Dewan


June 2022

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the Speaker

Dr Ritu Dewan is the Vice President of the Indian Society of Labour Economics, Vice President of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics, Visiting Professor at the Institute of Human Development, Co-Founder-Co-convenor of the Feminist Policy Collective, Trustee of The India Forum, Director of The Leaflet, President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (2014-17). She was the first-ever woman Director of the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai, and the founder-member of the first Centre for Gender Economics in Asia.

Locating Pandemic Policy

Dr Dewan dives into the first part of her presentation “Locating Pandemic Policy” to highlight the degree to which previously existing inequalities were exacerbated during the pandemic due to the state’s conscious callousness. 

The pandemic began at a time when growth was already decreasing significantly in the country, especially at the low capacity utilisation levels. The development indicators of MSMEs had gone through demonetisation and the introduction of a convoluted GST, which was both anti-people and anti-women. At a time when MSMEs were battling to stay alive, they had to deal with rigid and highly bureaucratic procedures. India’s famous income inequality had been modestly improving before the pandemic. During the pandemic, this trend reversed: for the first time in 42 years, the percentage of people below the BPL increased. 

India’s work participation rates are one of the lowest in South Asia, but post-pandemic they became one of the lowest in the world, both for rural and urban areas, of which marginalities and vulnerable sections were of course worst affected. The gender wage gap increased for the first time and India witnessed the lowest minimum wage ever. There were also of course fewer salaried jobs due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. Reserve Bank reports have shed light on how people could not afford basic resources after demonetisation and even more so after the pandemic.

GDP was recorded to have fallen by 23% during the pandemic but if the informal sector were to be included, it fell by 50%. People around the country closed their PF accounts and the greatest driver of growth – household savings – also took a huge hit.  Every single global indicator fell during COVID, with even the health spending shockingly declining. India registered lower ranks of the hunger index and the democracy index. It also had the highest proportion of stunted children, as evidenced by both international and NFHS reports. Even at this time of global disaster, religion and caste were reinforced strongly, with women with these markers one of the biggest segments affected. Dr Dewan predicts that the damage on these marginalities is irreversible unless huge structural and systemic change is undertaken.

Gendered Impacts on Livelihood

Dr Dewan consciously uses the term “livelihoods” since “work” doesn’t cover unpaid work. Demonetisation hit the construction industry terribly affecting construction workers both before and after the pandemic. Handlooms, which had provided one of the largest revenues to the government for decades, were shut down during the pandemic – on Handloom Day.

Job losses were high all across but gender played a role here too, with 3/4th of men but 4/5th of women losing their jobs (it is to be noted that there is no macro data available so these conclusions are dependent on micro studies). Domestic workers are considered “regularly salaried,” and part of the only increasing area of employment for women since 2012 across India; but 85% of the domestic workers in India lost their jobs during the pandemic. They had to sell their clothes, jewellery, and utensils, and finally became indebted through consumption loans from informal banking, which will act as severe liabilities to future work due to predictable low repayment rates.

The monthly wage, which had already been the lowest in South Asia. fell even more, particularly during the brutal lockdowns. People did not receive wages even for work they had already done or if they did, they got paid in old notes which they had to sell at half-price. In Gujarat and Bihar, women worked 10 hours a day for 15 INR and sex workers charged 7-10 INR for each encounter. Sex workers have always been socially distanced but since physical distancing became the norm, their work suffered. NGOs and individual volunteers could not fill the vacuum left by state callousness at migration camps. The relief work they performed was willfully denied to transgender people by other religious relief groups. Migrants were without shelter and merely wanted to be with their families during the crisis, thus deciding to go back home despite all odds. But this natural human tendency was criticised by elites and the government. The migrants were to depend on MGNREGA for work and many begged for any work even if it was underpaid; only 23% of the demand was met and although MGNREGA had committed to 100 days of work for each labourer, it delivered on a measly 25 days. 

MSMEs are the biggest contributor to employment in the country. The country is touted to have a large women participation rate in MSMEs but we must note that women constitute a significant percentage only at the micro level, with only 5% of medium and 2% of small enterprises led by women. Despite the harrowing circumstances of the pandemic, the state provided no allowances or leniency to MSMEs. It did not reduce the GST or postpone taxes or arrear payments. Demand fell and the value-supply chain was disrupted. The conflict with China occurred and all Chinese imports – particularly the cheap ones – were banned. Since these were a mainstay for MSMEs, they went through a production shock. A credit link scheme had been announced in the previous budget but 85% of the MSMEs could not access it due to deterrant regulations and rules. On the other hand, many startups deemed themselves as MSMEs and accessed the credit. Thus, Dr Dewan states that data shouldn’t be taken at face value but examined for hidden meaning.  

The desperation levels of poverty rates hit the roof. People in extreme poverty live on 12-14 INR a day, and these is absolutely no data about gendered differences of this kind of poverty. Since frontlike workers like nurses and medical workers tend to primarily be women, 72% of the medical workers who died during the pandemic were women. Anganwadi workers were not paid and nurses were appointed on contractual level, without PF or pension. Jan Dhan accounts were created but remained in zero balance since people had no money to put in them. Sex wokers and sexual minorities had neither ration cards or shelters.

Gender-Specific Impacts: Women, Sexual Minorities, Sex Workers

The pandemic brought on a transition to digital education, causing massive dropouts from schools. However, even prior to the pandemic, the dropout rate for girls was at 40% which increased even further since only 11% of school-going girls own mobile phones due to social restraints. At a time when the state should have done all that was possible to make education reach even the farthest sections of society, it decided to stop scholarships for SC and ST students; this was in fact one of its first actions when the pandemic started. 

Consumption of staples like rice and wheat fell by 50% and dhal by 63%. The state also stopped school children’s midday meals. There is no financial transparency about what it did with the money that would have been pumped into these meals. ICDS was closed and immunisation stopped. These are fundamental needs especially at this time of hysteria. There was an increase in infant and child mortality rates, and due to natal services being limited from physical distancing, an increase in maternal mortality rates as well. 

Unsafe abortions rose to an all-time high of 60 million just between 2019-2020 and unplanned pregnancies to 26 million. One of the collateral results and biggest fallouts from any form of displacement, especially disaster, is the rise of child marriages. 30-40K child marriages occurred in Maharashtra (and we must keep in mind that child marriage is not just marriage but a transfer of labour from one house to another).

Domestic violence rose by such a large extent that it began to be referred to as the shadow pandemic. But even at this time, the government did not spend Nirbhaya funds; in fact three-fourth of the funds were transferred from the Ministry of Women and Children’s Development to the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

The increase in violence against women was unprecedented at a record 171%. This is not a surprise what with the state’s refusal to criticise violence and lynching, and the increasing internalisation of violence. Convicted prisoners began to be released to prevent overcrowding during the pandemic. But the first to be released were convicted rapists such as from the Hathra case. On the other hand, political prisoners are still in prison. 

When we speak about unpaid work, we need to particularly focus on women and single male migrants. Due to the Work From Home culture that arose, the number of hours women worked at home increased. The state increased cooking fuel and cylinder prices (the somewhat beneficial Ujwala scheme was stopped), adding to the burden on women from lower-middle class households. 

How can one conclude pain, Dr Dewan asks. So, in lieu of a conclusion, she talks about the Ordinance of Farm Acts, which clamped down on agriculturists, the only sector to have shown an increase in growth at 3%. This led to the most prolonged and historical agitation in the history of the world. 

Labour codes were modified, removing definitions of work, worker, and workplace; and taking away social security and the right to unionise. The circus of Atmanirbhar took away foreign-direct investments and public assets were sold at hugely discounted rates. In contrast, the reduction in corporate taxes were extended to 2025, where they pay a reduced 15% tax instead of 30%. 

The GST share of states was withheld from states that don’t adhere to the centre. With the state having to spend on COVID management, funding was taken out of development initiatives, causing development indicators to decline further. 

To sum up, all those who were not a part of the patriarchal slot were taken out of the relief equation. The state has become an anti-enabler and anti-equaliser, and is rooted in patriarchal structures and rigidities.

#Beijing25 || Viewpoint: Sofia, COVID-19 IMPACT ON GENDER EQUALITY


By Sofia G

Corona is a pandemic disease which is being affected all over the world. Every corner of the world is suffering from corona. It is a communicable disease which can be spread through touching, breathing or sneezing. Currently many people are being affected by this,some people tend to die due to this disease. Today’s update is many people are getting cured through proper sanitisation and through proper health facilities. This pandemic has led to many issues, of which one of the issues can be discussed as the impact on Gender equality. People try to differentiate the genders while giving treatment.

Lockdowns are being announced to prevent the spread of corona whereas many womens are being trapped at home with abusers. Many men try to abuse their own family members like their own children. Even though there are many advantages in this lockdown like spending time with their family, playing indoor games, children tend to share their own feelings to their parents and so on. Many families are being united in this process of lockdown.

In this Pandemic Scientists are trying to find the vaccine and it is very important that the medical research should not be Gender blind. Clinical traits must include Gender-balanced representation of women to examine how the vaccine might affect women and men differently. Even though women are given opportunities and are being recognised as Engineers, collectors and Doctors, they are not identified or well represented among Senior Doctors, Engineers or Collectors. Only a few are recognised under compulsion.

Gender stereotypes and socioeconomic inequalities continue to impact on use of preventative and curative health services.The Gender differentiation can be stopped through various methods. There are some sections under which abused women can report it and the abuser is being punished for it.
Helplines are also available to save women for example: 1091,WAVE(Women against violence europe).

The increase of the representation of women in health governance,Decision-making and certain occupations could help to ensure that women are also having the opportunities to shape their importance.

To conclude my point Gender equality can be stopped and make women feel comfortable. Still there are some ways to sort out the uncomfortableness or safety of women all over the world. Therefore, this small changes are being expected to push social norms towards greater gender equality in providing some facilities where the women are safe all over the world.

Resource: Women’s Care Burden Has to be Recognised


Yara Tarabulsi and Lina Abou-Habib, Women’s Care Burden Has to be Recognised, Corona and Care, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 29 April 2020,

Excerpt: ‘Women working outside the home, women engaged in home-based work, and women who only work at home as carers or what is commonly referred to as “housewives” have all been affected by the pandemic – albeit in slightly different ways.  This is particularly exacerbated in situations where children have also been confined with their parents and have moved to online schooling. The ways in which teleworking and online schooling have been enforced, at least in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, have been completely oblivious of the unequal relations of power within households, especially where there is a dearth of physical space and material resources.  Poor internet connectivity and limited computer and technical hardware, for instance, have meant that choices must be made in terms of who will have priority to use the internet.  That choice rarely favours women and girls.

Resource: Justice for Women amidst COVID-19


Jeni Klugman, Justice for Women amidst COVID-19, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, May 2020,

Executive summary: ‘This report documents major challenges to women’s access to justice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and puts forth recommendations to accelerate action and push back against threats to progress.

Authored by GIWPS Managing Director Dr. Jeni Klugman, the report is jointly published by UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank, and The Pathfinders for Justice, with support by the Elders.

Curtailed access to justice institutions, rising intimate partner violence, growing injustice for women workers—including those on the frontlines of the crisis—and discriminatory laws are some of the major risks to women’s lives and livelihoods associated with COVID-19.

The crisis particularly affects vulnerable groups of women, including those who are forcibly displaced, deprived of liberty or lack a legal identity, and the impact is compounded by the digital divide according to the report.

There is also serious concern that gains made on gender equality will be rolled back during the pandemic, including through delays in reversing discriminatory laws, the enactment of new laws, and the implementation of existing legislation.

The report includes ten-point recommendations to ensure a healthy justice system, including:

  • Institute urgent judicial proceedings, especially for serious crimes including domestic violence, using technology.
  • Replace full legal trials with interim judicial orders to promote the safety and well-being of women and children. Examples include, protection orders, restraining orders, orders for child maintenance and/or custody, injunctions against evicting widows and children from the matrimonial home, and injunctions against the marriage of a child.
  • Protect women deprived of their liberty and on a case-by-case basis release womenwho are pregnant, imprisoned with children, pre-trial detainees, elderly women, those with underlying health conditions, those detained for low-risk offenses, and those with less than 12 months left to serve on their sentence.
  • Ensure access to legal aid and enable poor people to seek justice that would be otherwise out of reach. Such services should be advertised extensively—in public but also on TV, social media, and via public service announcements—so that women know about them. This also suggests a strong role for civil society organizations (CSOs), which are often better networks of information for women in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Support community-based paralegal organizations that can provide legal advice, alternative dispute resolution channels, and facilitate the dissemination of information more broadly in partnership with women in the media and local radio stations.
  • Invest in data and monitoring and evidence-based policies: Justice leaders need timely access to relevant data and evidence on the justice impacts of COVID-19 and responses to the crisis, as well as evidence on the best ways to address those impacts. Across the board, it is important to collect sex-disaggregated data to understand the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on women, especially at national and sub-national levels.

Resource: The Pandemic Has Revealed the Weakness of Strongmen


Helen Lewis, The Pandemic Has Revealed the Weakness of Strongmen, The Atlantic, 6 May 2020,

Excerpt: ‘…it’s tempting to reach the conclusion that women must be better at dealing with this crisis because of their gender… This line of reasoning, however, is flawed—and potentially dangerous to women’s progress in politics. It’s not that women leaders are doing better. It’s just that strongmen are doing worse… So let’s not flip the old sexist script. After centuries of dogma that men are naturally better suited to leadership, the opposite is not suddenly true. Women leaders aren’t the cause of better government. They are a symptom of it.

Reflections on Resilience: LOCKDOWN INSIGHTS FROM THE HINTERLAND, by Pradeep Poddar, Kumod Kumar Das and Eklavya Prasad



Pradeep Poddar, Kumod Kumar Das and Eklavya Prasad, Megh Pyne Abhiyan

How are the communities you work with coping with the lockdown? What are their main concerns now? Are you able to be in contact with them and what are you hearing?

We reached out to the communities we work with and inputs have come from diverse social groups residing in the following locations:

  • Kairi village, Domat panchayat, Gaunaha block, Pashchim Champaran district
  • Naya Tola Bhishambharpur, Bhagwanpur panchayat, Nautan block, Pashchim Champaran district
  • Sahorwa, Ghongepur panchayat, Mahishi block, Saharsa district
  • Badi Madarpur, Madarpur panchayat, Gogri block, Khagaria district
  • Govindpur, Madarpur panchayat, Gogri block, Khagaria district
  • Jan Muhammad, Madarpur panchayat, Gogri block, Khagaria district
  • Suryahi, Ramnagar panchayat, Phulpara block, Madhubani

Kairi village

  • Migration is one of the key sources of sustained livelihood and that is just not across the country but also across the border. Lockdown has affected the following workforce:
    • Those who are stuck in the village and are unable to travel for work; those who had migrated are presently stuck in their respective locations of work, without any source of livelihood; those who had migrated returned home just prior to the lockdown. This has led to enhanced expenditure at the household level with limited or no inflow of money.
  • People are taking up work at lower wages in desperation to earn something.
  • Accessing forest area for firewood has been curtailed leading to a household crisis.
  • Psycho-social impact because coronavirus is being interpreted as a dangerous epidemic, transmittable disease and causing widespread destruction.
  • We have been able to contact them telephonically, though could not reach to all our contacts.

Nayatola Bhishambharpur

  • Worried about the family members who are stranded in different parts of the country.
  • Household-level conflicts.
  • Unavailability of local livelihood opportunities.
  • Unable to purchase the basics, for instance, vegetables, lentils, soap, washing powder due to limited financial resources.
  • This was the appropriate time for repair of houses in the flood-prone areas, however, due to limited finances, this work has not been undertaken, which is impacting both the houseowner and the skilled and semi-skilled/unskilled workers.
  • In a few places, women are being offered Rs. 100 per day, whereas men receive
  • Psycho-social impact – people consider coronavirus to be an illness, which is communicated by infected person through talking to others; it is a foreign disease; an illness that causes death and is a transmittable disease; it first impacts the throat and then chokes it; conflict between in-laws and daughters-in-law, as the latter are holding the in-laws responsible for sending their husbands to Gujarat and Punjab to earn, and they are stuck due to the pandemic.


  • Approximately 150 men are stuck in Punjab, leading to a collective stress in the village, which is mostly inhabited by women, children and elders. There are only 10-15 men in the village.
  • Problem in running households and accessing food; at times, villagers eat only salt and roti.
  • Villagers have not been able to access ration provided by the government.
  • Psycho-social impact – extreme stressful conditions due to lack of money and absence of male members in the family; coronavirus is a foreign originated disease, hence, there is no cure for this virus; women are solely responsible for generating financial resources which is anyhow limited and they also have to manage the household; for a half-day of labour, women are paid anything between Rs. 50 and Rs. 60.

Badi Madarpur, Govindpur and Jan Muhammad villages

  • Daily casual/informal/unorganized workers (rikshaw owners/ pullers, handcart owners, autorickshaw owners/drivers, ice-cream sellers, tea and pan sellers, roadside small shop owners) are unable to earn because of the lockdown.
  • Women have to cook in large proportions, leading to additional work at the household level.
  • More food is being consumed as family members are staying at home for longer duration.
  • Education has been affected.
  • Basic food is being consumed at the household level, without lentils and vegetables.
  • Marketing has become difficult due to the lockdown.
  • Tension in households whose male members are stuck in different states across the country.
  • There is no inflow of money from members who have migrated elsewhere.
  • Households, which have their ration cards and Aadhaar linked to their bank accounts, have received money, but for households that haven’t, people fear that they will not receive the Rs. 1000/family allocated by the state government.
  • Arwa chaawal is being provided, through the Public Distribution System (PDS), whereas the people in the region are accustomed to eating mota chaawal.
  • PDS functioning is still not transparent.
  • Relationships are getting affected due to the fear of spreading of the virus.
  • Limited or no local employment opportunities.


  • How to survive this pandemic?
  • Fear is prevalent in the village.
  • There are no local livelihood opportunities learding to large scale unemployment, hence the future seems to be bleak.
  • Total change in eating habits. Children have started eating more, whereas adults have curtailed their food and are seen eating just once a day.
  • Fear is restricting people to venture out of the village.

What are some lessons from your regular work that would be relevant to this situation?

  1. Drinking water supply through bottled water has completely stopped due to the lockdown, hence MPA’s previous work on matka filters will not only provide a way to access safe drinking water, but will also generate livelihood opportunities for the potters.
  2. Keeping the social distancing in mind, revival and repair of dug wells can be taken up, which will generate employment opportunities in the villages and develop access to arsenic-free water.
  3. Decentralized drinking water testing at the panchayat level can also be taken up by involving volunteers.

What could have been planned differently given the knowledge we already have about communities, their needs and capacities? 

  1. Demystifying the coronavirus.
  2. Decentralized aggressive public awareness about coronavirus and government schemes (specifically for the present times).
  3. Decentralized monitoring mechanism.
  4. Focus on inaccessible areas and disaster-prone areas.
  5. Prepare people for the future.

Reflections on Resilience: COVID-19: An Opportunity to learn effective Disaster Governance, by Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett


Copy of DRR booklet cover


Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett, Avoidable Deaths Network and University of Leicester

You are the founder of the Avoidable Deaths Network. Would you say this pandemic was an avoidable disaster? How?

The WHO announced the novel coronavirus (alias COVID-19) a pandemic on 11 March 2020. It became a disaster due to the number of deaths, coupled with national and international lockdowns, and the economic fallout thereof. A pandemic is the “worldwide spread of a new disease”, according to the WHO. Before COVID-19, the world has experienced other pandemics in the 20th and 21st Centuries, including the influenza (H1N1) of 2009, the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 and the Spanish Flu of 1918-19.  Although pandemics are a rarity (as such, their probability is low risk with high impact), their occurrences are entirely unavoidable in the 21st Century. This is due to the movement of people resulting from globalisation (also known as people flows by Richard Freeman), which accelerates human-to-human transmission of viruses or pathogens, coupled with weak health systems and complex interface of humans with nature – among other things. The major impact of the pandemic is human fatalities. The pandemics of the 20th and 21st Centuries have jointly killed more than 30 million people. According to Worldometer, more than 133,359 lives have already been lost due to COVID-19. I believe that the excess deaths from pandemics are avoidable through timely and effective health care, public health interventions, and joined up disaster risk governance.

What are some lessons from your regular work that would be relevant to this situation?

Pandemic and epidemic disasters thrive where institutional cracks and vulnerabilities exist. They thrive in environments that are non-democratic and do not support early warnings. The Chinese Doctor, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital tried to warn fellow medics about the novel coronavirus. Instead, he was reprimanded by security police and forced to sign a letter that accused him of ‘making false comments’. Doctor Li contracted COVID-19 and died on 30 January 2020. Reporting culture, safety culture, and transparency (among other things) are cornerstones to save lives and promote disaster preparedness. National and international organisations must invest in promoting cultures that believe in saving lives at any cost, heeding to the voices and early warnings from health workforces, and most importantly investing in developing the capacities of health systems.

Currently, national governments (including India and Bangladesh where I work) allocate less than 3% of their budgets for the health sector. The COVID-19 pandemic must act us a wake-up call for India and other low-and middle-income (including high-income) countries to invest in risk communication, health and health systems – among other things. As evident in the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, China and the UK, the health workforce bears the burden of mortality and morbidity disproportionality. It is paramount that the lives of health workforces are saved at any cost so that the health services can continue to function with minimal disruption. Each country should work on emergency capacity for production of personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid international competition.

I work within the United Nations’ disaster risk reduction (DRR) framework, which is currently advocated through the ‘Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’. The DRR framework will be invaluable for the management and mitigation of pandemics. The operational components of DRR are: disaster risk management and disaster risk governance. Currently, COVID-19 is managed through health care provisions, public health interventions, national lockdowns, contact tracing, individual and mass testing, social distancing, isolation, and quarantines – among other measures. Both disaster risk management and disaster risk governance are currently lacking. Studying the pandemic also through the lens of disaster risk management will enable policymakers and practitioners to conduct pro-active and reflective management, rather than reactionary management. Disaster risk management of pandemics and/or epidemics will also promote the mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery cycle throughout the year, rather than reacting during an outbreak.

Disaster risk governance for epidemics or pandemics will promote coordination, communication, cooperation and collaboration between local, national, regional and international actors and organisations. Disaster risk governance will also highlight that the impact of pandemics is differentially experienced; one in which, pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as underlying health conditions, organisational vulnerabilities, and socio-economic differences (e.g. caste, class, gender, age, race, religion and locations) can potentially exacerbate the impact of pandemics. Therefore, the differential impact of the viruses can underpin disaster risk governance to mobilise finite resources to save lives, promote inter-agency collaboration in governing hazard management in everyday life, and in doing so, share the burden of deaths and disease at a minimal cost.

What could have been planned differently given the knowledge we already have about communities, their needs and capacities? In other words, if the government had consulted you, what would you have asked them to think about?

If the Government of India had consulted me, I would have advised pre-planning for the national lockdown, which would have included: identifying multiple scenarios and outcomes (intended, unintended and desirable) underpinned by the DRR’s ‘all-of-society approach’. I would have advised them to plan and then assess the plan in terms of its effect on each segment of society with preferably multiple stakeholders. This also means planning early for consultation to avoid reactionary management. The central government was able to assess the impact of the lockdown on the formal sector, but failed to assess the full impact on the informal sector. As such, the global community has watched the harrowing journey of the migrant workers walking home, hungry and dehydrated. There were many deaths amongst migrant workers en route to their villages. These are indirect deaths, and were avoidable.

Currently, many migrant workers are stranded on their way home – uncared and forgotten in their makeshift shelters with minimum or no provision of basic amenities. The Avoidable Deaths Network is in the process of documenting avoidable indirect deaths of migrant workers and other people from the impact of the national lockdown in India. These indirect deaths were and are avoidable through effective disaster governance. This is an opportunity for the central and state governments to learn and rectify their mistakes now and for future disasters.

Now moving forward, it is commendable that the national and state governments in India have made some food items available to the rural households for free through the public distribution system. Being born and brought up in a rural village of North Bengal, the well-being of rural households is always close to my heart. I would like to advise that both central and state governments conceive social protection and social safety net schemes for the rural populace as soon as possible. These schemes must continue for at least two years so that households can recover from the shock and stress of the pandemic disaster. Without recovery interventions, it will be impossible to address the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 3 (good health and well-being).

It is never too late, as the adage goes. I would recommend that the central government, in collaboration with state governments, leverages the pre-existing state, district and village level disaster management committees for the governance of COVID-19. In one of the UNDRR’s webinars on ‘Disaster Expert Shares Lessons from China on How to Contain the Spread of COVID-19’, the WHO’s representative in China, Dr. Gauden Galea recognised that the: “overall lesson[s] from the experience to date includes improving the awareness and ability of the public and communication in disaster prevention and mitigation and risk communication”. The existing disaster management committee in the Indian states can play a pivotal role in raising awareness on COVID-19, communicate public health messages in vernacular languages, and implement public health interventions to contain the virus for the ‘last mile’. According to the Global Disaster Preparedness Center, Community Early Warning Systems (CEWS) are often referred to as the “last mile” in an end-to-end early warning system (ESW). “Reaching the last mile” means reaching out to the most vulnerable to disasters so that they can protect themselves and their livelihoods, receive information, understand it and be able to act on the information. Reaching the last mile will be a cornerstone for the COVID-19 response and recovery in India. I believe that the Indian states which have robust disaster management and EWSs will be in a better position to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of Odisha is one to keep an eye on for their response and recovery implementation plans. I have been studying the disaster management practise of Odisha since 1999. The Government of Odisha has successfully reduced disaster deaths from 10,000 in 1999 to 41 in 2019. My Avoidable Deaths Network-India Hub is located in Odisha and we are closely observing the plans and interventions of the state government for reducing the number of deaths from COVID-19.

Last, but not the least, innovation is urgently wanting in order to promote physical or social distancing in high resource and space-constrained urban slums of Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities in India. Quarantine and social distancing have been found to be effective in the UK, Italy and China in containing the spread of the virus. Urgent attention is wanting on this from the central and state governments to invest in evidence-based research, public-private partnerships, and low-budget innovations that are scalable.

What do you think will be the long-term gender impact of this crisis on communities?

We have evidence from SARS, the influenza, Ebola and HIV viruses that men and women are affected differently by these viruses. According to the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team in Hubei province, the fatality rate for males was 2.8% and for females it was 1.7%. 2,232 men, as of 7 April 2020, have died of COVID-19 in New York City compared to 1,309 women, according to the City’s Health Department. According to the BBC, in Italy, 72% of those who died were men. This evidence suggests that more men died (or are still dying) than women in the pandemic. This indicates that it is important that the country-level data has gender breakdowns because it can tell us who is most at risk. Gender-disaggregated data is vital for disaster risk governance because such data has implications for policy and practice. In this context, gender-disaggregated data will have implications for flu vaccinations for men and women, and likewise medical needs for men because they are most at risk for biological reasons. As such, this information needs to be communicated to the public to avoid deaths and the disease amongst the male population. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare must record not only gender-disaggregated data, but also fatality data of rural and urban population and by age – currently, these variables are lacking in the COVID-19 India Death Data.

Reflections on Resilience: “How Do You Lock Down a Farm Full of Cumin Seeds?” by Mihir Bhatt




Mihir Bhatt, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute

How are the communities you work with coping with the lockdown? What are the communities you work with? What are their main concerns now? Are you/ All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) able to be in contact with them and what are you hearing?

For the first time, AIDMI is not directly working with the communities. Instead, AIDMI decided to work with a relatively under represented group. And that group is the local institutions and organizations. AIDMI also decided not to do outreach or rush to respond. But to wait and address a specific need, in fact a demand. This was a departure from previous trend of responses, a much-needed departure, for AIDMI and the humanitarian sector.

As a result, AIDMI is currently working with two local authorities to help add pandemic response into city disaster management strategy. What can a city do to address global crisis that directly affects its citizens? AIDMI is helping farmers’ association come to terms with what is called lockdown. How do you lock down a farm full of cumin seeds? And how do you pack away the farm labour that has come to work and live on your farm for the past two decades? Similarly, AIDMI is addressing a set of demands from local school board with poor digital technology or capability, a district operation of UN officials to find out what are the migrant workers demanding in terms of food and shelter, an inter-agency group struggling to come to terms with very limited civil society space in decision making, and so on.

Institutions and organizations are realizing that deglobalising is the direction—what Elaben has called “hundred miles’ communities” in her book titled Anubandh. She finds localization overdue.  She finds deglobulisation urgent.

AIDMI is in touch with the COVID-19 affected communities (and who can say who is and who is not affected by the virus in a culture like ours?) via these institutions and organizations. And what is coming out is the call for a far more imaginative approach to the lockdown idea. To sum up several voices from the communities, let me say that, “Why did we lockdown? Our cities and cultures are not made to be locked down. They are in fact unlockable. We see the struggle of locking a family in. Because what is in? And what is out? We live most of our lives in between.” This is a summation of voices that are reaching AIDMI.

Distancing per se is not a very Indian way of living. We crowd. In our bedrooms, in neighbour’s veranda, at the pan ki dukaan, in our offices and factories, on bus stations and mall. Even to offer our innermost thoughts to our God, any God, we crowd. In such a cultural context, the paradox of social distancing multiplies. We end up distancing health givers from health support needing citizens, distancing majority from minorities, distancing work from workers, distancing food from farmers, and so on. This is another theme that is coming out from the voices we hear of the local community organizations and institutions.

This is not to say that social distancing as a measure to stop infection is not needed. There are many ways of distancing and we rushed to the one that was in front of us. We rushed to implement the example of lockdown that was in front of us. It is good to learn that after this lockdown, many and new versions of lockdowns and social distancing are being planned.

What are some lessons from your regular work that would be relevant to this situation?

AIDMI has no “regular” work. That is AIDMI has never repeated what it has done. Be it the nature of response or learning or extent of effort scale or type. Mostly because one or many other humanitarian agencies pick up the idea or approach or experience or the experiment of AIDMI. Upscale it. Widen the scale. Sometimes far better than AIDMI!  Meanwhile, AIDMI moves on to the next frontier of knowledge or action.

Having said that it is striking to see that what was true in 1998 in AIDMI’s work and ideas is still valid in this most unusual pandemic.

For example, keeping the victim at the centre of almost all decisions.  AIDMI may be invited to support a UN agency develop its regional knowledge strategy for COVID-19 or AIDMI may be invited by a district group of teachers to help form a list of key COVID-19 actions for the lockdown school: as soon as the citizen or the school student is put at the centre of the COVID-19 discussion, many unnecessary aspects such as ineffective operating procedures fall behind.

For example, let me add, overlooking the structures in favour of the humanitarian system was a valid way to work back in 1998 for AIDMI and is valid in 2020. Most of our structures, humanitarian or other, are designed with good intentions but in the backdrop of the strong preference for control. Top-down, round the clock, ever expanding control of the citizens. Enabling structures are not common. While the humanitarian system is still emerging, part-formal, part-informal, nimble, in government as well as civil society domains. The system offers more openings to entry or exit, rapidly spread, and is more cost-effective in terms of time and money. As a result, AIDMI addressed the demand for guidance from a “cash transfer” network by placing the cash relief actions to address the humanitarian system as it is. And as a result, ways were planned to reach cash to the poor migrant labourers who had no access to their Jan Dhan bank account in the middle of lockdown.

For example, as a planner in 1998, I found it useful to plan the humanitarian actions so that when the need came, I could change the plan. If there was no plan, there was nothing much to change! And in 2020 in dealing with the institutions and organizations that are locally embedded, whether it be a new foundation in Kashmir or a tsunami vintage local economic enterprise, AIDMI finds that being adaptive about the project plan or program plan is very useful.  Pandemic context and content both change so rapidly and in many ways that the best thing a good plan can do is to be ready to be adaptive.

These are some of what I may call ” timeless” items on AIDMI’s humanitarian action in COVID-19 pandemic. And having said so, let me rush to add that these items are evolving! Because the time within which COVID-19 pandemic is located is evolving in ever so dumbfounding a fashion.

What could have been planned differently given the knowledge we already have about communities, their needs and capacities? In other words, if the government had consulted you, what would you have asked them to think about?

Hindsight is mischievously misleading. Hindsight gives one a false sense of expertise! So let us avoid thinking what could have been done differently.  Let us look ahead. What can be done differently? What could be done differently by the authorities as we move ahead?

One, “flatten the curve” seems to have overtaken our thinking.  Yes, the curve of the spread of the virus must be flattened and authorities have made very difficult efforts to do so. And some success is on our way. But we, as humanitarian actors, must be prepared for a very slow tapering of the graph or even a sharp straight upswing from time to time. Pandemic experts can tell us more about the other possibilities as we move ahead.

Two, as we move ahead spending will slow down even more at all levels of our economy and therefore we need to make relief and recovery money available at the lowest level of our economy.  Tsunami recovery has shown that when the public expenditure is made at the lowest levels of the economy where large number of poor people make a living the recovery is faster and robust and relatively long lasting.

Three, as we move ahead we should not overlook the sight of opportunities in this terrible pandemic.  One such opportunity is to give the majority of the poor migrant labourers and small business widespread access to digital technology and further permanent access to digital economy.  Here is our chance to decentralize the digital economy.  Here is our chance to democratize the digital economy.  Here is our chance to reduce the digital divide between the rich and the poor.

Fourth, as we move ahead we must rebuild trust that has suffered severe loss and damage. To an extent, it is normal for a pandemic to do so. But the loss and damage should not last too long.  Let me explain. It is very important that trust between the virus-affected and those unaffected by the virus be made robust.  Trust between the formal sector and informal sector must be re-established.  Trust between the migrant workers and their “host” cities needs rethinking.  These are three immediate areas for trust-building.  There are long term areas of trust-building that are important which includes trust in collaborative federalism, that is trust among the states and the centre; trust between majority community and minority communities; trust in our federal financial institutions; and so on.

The above are some of the important actions that we may not take up in a full-fledged way in the rush of addressing some of the more visible and obvious aspects of pandemic management such as investing in the expansion of health infrastructure and support package for air travel and tourism sectors.

What do you think will be the long-term gender impact of this crisis on your communities? On gender relations? On coping? On recovery?
How do we prepare for recovery so that it is also gender-transformational? What are priority areas in your view? What would be your wish-list projects?

COVID-19 will leave a long-term impact on women as women, women as workers and women as victims. This pandemic also offers us an opportunity to make gender relations better, strengthen women’s coping capabilities, and make recovery transformative. This is what AIDMI finds in its efforts to support a range of local organizations working with community affected by or in danger of COVID-19.

In fact, AIDMI hopes that this pandemic brings together women across India to rethink health as our most precious wealth of Indian economy.  Women help us take the turn towards full and final recognition of health as a pre-condition for economic prosperity.  So far, three key action areas have come up in AIDMI’s work for and with local institutions and organizations responding to COVID-19 pandemic.

Direct and operational focus on women, in fact youth among the women is a very critical group of citizens to work with. Especially among the low income and poor families.  It is these young women, many educated and many not, who will be the health makers as well as wealth makers. May it be as school teachers or health workers or home-based manufacturers in neglected areas of our cities and underserved villages. How promptly these young women made masks for their families! How creatively these young women managed the lockdown induced stress at home! More investment is needed here.

Another critical group of citizens to far better engage with is women in agriculture.  These women may be farm labour, owners of family farm, on farm produce processors, or casual labour plucking fruits or tending farm irrigation. This group has suffered the silent loss and damage to their own health and nutrition.  This group has absorbed loss of income and savings so far invisible to the economy and in many cases their own families. And it is this group, as we find in AIDMI’s work with female farmers in nine districts of Gujarat, who offers the willingness and ability to revive our food supplies to cities and towns. Sustained investment is needed in this group.

A critical group that AIDMI has missed working with so far, in its efforts to support local authorities and organizations addressing COVID-19, is the group of women in science and environment.  So much of this pandemic we are able to manage so far because of the scientific and environmental measures.  But what will make these measures even more effective and long lasting is more women at many levels of scientific and environmental endeavours addressing this pandemic. Direct investment is needed in making women’s active role in science and environment a reality.

There are other groups of women, and men, who are crucial to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on gender relations, recovery, and coping capabilities. We can start with the above three groups.

Reflections on Resilience: What We Have Learnt



April 27, 2020

India has been locked down for a month as I write this. All day, every day, those of us who are lucky enough to have homes and access to the news monitor the virus’ toll on our lives and communities. If we have water, we wash our hands and everything else, obsessively. If we can afford food, we wonder about where to source this or that essential item. If we have leisure, we prepare elaborate and fancy recipes based on Internet videos, take courses on new topics and pursue long-forgotten hobbies. Still, life feels more precarious than ever before for even the middle class and elite, everywhere.

This precarity is familiar to most humans. Most people, on an average, just get by. If nothing terrible happens, the middle class can comfortably manage essentials and the occasional treat. Most of us know this comfort is an illusion and we carry with us the anxiety that something will happen, at any time, if we should blink. We live vigilantly. And if we have been fortunate enough to relax that vigil, this pandemic has been a time to remind us that nothing is permanent—in good ways and in bad.

In the face of impermanence, what we can seek is resilience. Traditionally, we anchor our resilience in faith or acceptance. But having done so, we rely on government to build structures and processes that enable our everyday resilience. Those who work in disaster-affected areas and those of us who write about their work have long recognized that this is a delusion: disasters in fact reflect a failure of governance. That is, disasters happen because governments have not built the capacity to withstand natural catastrophes. The accelerating rate at which climate catastrophes happen underscore the relationship between bad government policy, failed governance and the experience of disasters.

Civil society organisations have worked, independently or in partnership with government, to fill this governance gap. Working with communities during and beyond disasters, they have come to understand people’s needs and to innovate ways to help them make the changes that will make them resilient. What they have learned in the aftermath of disasters—floods, earthquakes, tsunamis—is useful for coping with and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, where preventive measures have also triggered a secondary humanitarian crisis with long-term consequences.

In 2016, Prajnya’s first Saakshi Fellow Linda Racioppi and Swarna Rajagopalan published a volume of essays by experienced practitioners and academics, “Women and Disasters in South Asia: Survival, Security and Development” (Routledge). Prajnya invited Indian contributors to the volume to share their insights with us in the context of this pandemic.

  • Mihir Bhatt is director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), a community-based action planning, action research and policy support organization, working towards bridging the gap between policy, practice and research related to disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation as laid out in National Disaster Management Plan of Government of India of 2016. Mihir Bhatt has published widely on issues of vulnerability and disasters, and has been part of key evaluations of disaster response in Asia. He is a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative since 2007 and was a member of the panel that selects the Humanitarian Coordinators for the United Nations. He advises Climate Development Knowledge Network’s work on climate compatible development in nine states of India. He chairs Duryog Nivaran, a South Asian network on alternative thinking on disaster risk reduction.
  • Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett is an Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Leicester’s School of Business. She is the founding president of the Avoidable Deaths Network (ADN). The ADN is a global network dedicated to reducing disaster deaths. The ADN has launched a Repository of COVID-19 Information on ADN’s resource page. The Repository Page is available to the public, and provides web links and reports only from reliable sources (e. UNDRR, WHO, UNFPA, John Hopkins University). Dr Ray-Bennett is the author of the book: Avoidable Deaths: A Systems Approach to Disaster Risk Management (2018, Springer Nature).
  • Eklavya Prasad is a leader in water management. Through his organisation, Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA), he has successfully solved the problem of water scarcity that prevailed in North Bihar, despite the abundance of water resources. His contribution to this collection is a collaboration with Pradeep Poddar and Kumod Kumar Das. Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA) began as a campaign and an informal functional network in 2005, in a part of rural North Bihar, to identify existing practices for accessing drinking water during floods and to juxtapose it with innovative, appropriate, self-engineered and self-administrated techniques. MPA has evolved over the years. It has broadened its approach from temporary rainwater harvesting during floods to working on people-centric groundwater management system. In addition, it has been promoting flood resilient habitat, with components such as drinking water, ecologically sustainable sanitation technology, housing and local adaptations by people. Presently, MPA’s focus has expanded across the water-distress regions in the East Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, covering both rural and urban (in Dhanbad, Jharkhand) spaces.
  • Prema Gopalan is the Founder and Executive Director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, a learning and development organization that has empowered over 100,000 women in the last 20 years. SSP stimulates enabling business environments for both rural women and global companies in “Base of the Pyramid” markets. Its bouquet of incubation and business development services aligns networks of women entrepreneurs, village institutions, and corporations to launch profitable enterprises that are governed by a triple bottom line: financial, environmental, social.

In mid-April, I sent each of them a set of questions about the experiences of the people they work with during the pandemic and lockdown, relevant lessons from their previous work and gender concerns they anticipate. This was intended as a quick Q&A mainly to draw attention to the treasure-house of Disaster Risk Reduction experience we are not drawing on enough now. But each of them turned their attention seriously to the task and what we have is a rich collection of reflections on resilience—where it is absent, how it is being sustained and what it will take—that they have thoughtfully written.

What exacerbates this crisis is that we are not able to predict how long it will continue and while some of our remedies must begin immediately—such as providing food, shelter and primary health care—our ability to plan for the medium-to-long term is limited by the indefinite time-frame. In such circumstances, we postpone gender questions indefinitely as well, and never address them.

The attention drawn to increased domestic violence has kept the spotlight on women’s safety. But “gender” is not just women and girls, and women and girls are not just bodies. We are humans with needs and aspirations. In the plans we now draw up, for both relief and reconstruction, we must remember to draw on the resilience-building lessons we have already learnt. Through listening to all sections, opening up training and decision-making to be inclusive and extending credit and skilling opportunities to whoever might seek them, we might emerge from this disaster, with some hope of transforming gender relations and historically unequal social structures.

We at Prajnya are proud to have played a small curatorial role in bringing the experience and wisdom of our friends and colleagues to you.

Thanks to Nandhini Shanmugham for editing this collection and as always, to Eklavya Prasad for allowing me to use one of his beautiful photographs to adorn the project.

Swarna Rajagopalan

Read the contributions here:

How Do You Lock Down a Farm Full of Cumin Seeds?” Reflections On Rebuilding Life, Livelihoods and Community, by Mihir Bhatt

COVID-19: An Opportunity to Learn Effective Disaster Governance, by Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett

Fear, Panic, Hope: Lockdown Insights from The Hinterland, By Pradeep Poddar, Kumod Kumar Das and Eklavya Prasad

Rising Up to “Flatten The Curve”: Resilient Women, Resilient Communities, by Prema Gopalan

Access the collection as a .pdf file here.

Resource: COVID-19: Emerging Gender Data and Why it Matters


UN Women, COVID-19: Emerging Gender Data and Why it Matters,

[This is a regularly-updated page]

Overview: ‘UN Women has been closely following the political and economic response to COVID-19 and how it is impacting women and girls. We are working with partners to bridge the gender data gap and deliver a more accurate picture of the gender dimension to the response so that it can be more effective for women and girls. As more gender data is produced and disaggregated, we will make it available here.