Women’s self-help groups have empowered women across rural villages in India to become self-reliant by building their skills and providing access to financial assistance, enabling them to increase their income. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, there is a predicament of bleak income opportunities due to a lack of transport and marketing facilities to sell their produce and non-availability of credit. It has forced millions of migrants to move back to their villages from big cities due to the lack of income opportunities. With the movement of people to rural areas, there is a need to ensure proper health care, spread awareness about COVID-19 and maintain a supply of essential commodities for the people. Women’s self-help groups (SHGs) in rural areas are combating COVID-19 in India.
SHGs are informal groups of people that come together to address problems by mutually supporting and helping each other. They have been able to uplift and empower individuals by facilitating health care, education, rehabilitation, credit and campaigning. In India, there are 67 million women members of six million SHGs. The SHGs fall under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, a policy that the World Bank has aided. Here are five ways women’s self-help groups are combating COVID-19 in India.
5 Ways Women’s Self-Help Groups Are Combating COVID-19 in India
- Making PPE Kits and Face Masks: The women’s self-help groups in Mahabubnagar district, Telangana, were facing a slowdown in work due to the 40-day lockdown in India in March and April 2020. To revive their earning capabilities, they received the responsibility of stitching facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE). To date, they have stitched over 550,000 masks. Similarly, many other SHGs across the country have engaged themselves in stitching PPE kits to meet the shortfall. Female members in Odisha who previously stitched school uniforms are using their skills to produce face masks. Meanwhile, in Assam, women received training to stitch facemasks using a traditional Assamese cotton towel.
- Producing Sanitizers and Disinfectants: In Jorhat, Assam, Rural Women Technology Park under CSIR-North East Institute of Science and Technology collaborated with female members of SHGs to produce hand sanitizers and liquid disinfectants for their families and poor people in nearby villages to control the spread of the infection. At a time of scarce job opportunities, women’s self-help groups across districts in India are training women to produce sanitizers and disinfectants using raw materials such as Dettol, ethanol, glycerin and essential oils.
- Delivering Essential Commodities: Women’s self-help groups have taken various initiatives to ensure the delivery of essential commodities to abide by the mandated social distancing norms. Their service includes doorstep delivery of food kits, fresh vegetables, dry rations and cooking oil as well as personal hygiene products like washing soaps and sanitary napkins. Many states have used the concept of ‘floating supermarkets’ and ‘vegetables of wheels,’ and provided women with electric vehicles. Members also support children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. Women’s self-help groups are also supporting frontline health workers in the delivery of essential child, adolescent and maternal health and nutrition-related entitlements.
- Feeding Poverty-Stricken People Through Community Kitchens: In Kerala, the SHGs in collaboration with the local government prepared food for the poverty-stricken families in community kitchens. The beneficiaries of these small packages of food were the migrant workers, daily wage workers and people under home quarantine. Meanwhile, in Tripura, SHGs that engaged in the catering business earlier received contracts to support the community kitchens. Additionally, women’s self-help groups in Arunachal Pradesh provided food throughout the day to the police personnel. Women’s SHGs across the country have taken various initiatives to feed those in need with the support of their local government.
- Spreading Information About COVID-19: Along with the spread of COVID-19, there was also a spread of misinformation concerning it across rural areas. SHGs prepared posters to create awareness about COVID-19 and the precautionary measures that people should take during the pandemic.
Women’s self-help groups have taken up various responsibilities such as spreading awareness about COVID-19, preparing sanitizers and stitching facemasks, running community kitchens as well as delivering essential food supplies. At the time of the COVID-19 crisis, women in the rural areas of India have participated meaningfully to ameliorate the predicament.
– Anandita Bardia