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How Investing in Transportation Can Aid India’s Poor India is home to several incredibly populous cities. It has the second-largest population in the world, and roughly 34% live in urban areas. Furthermore, about 17% of its population lives in the slums surrounding major urban areas. These cities rely on the labor from the working poor living on the outskirts, and for many of the workers commuting into the city, transportation can be a challenge. In fact, many impoverished workers’ only option is to commute on foot.

There is a lack of reliable transportation in India. This causes a variety of problems such as health risks, time consumption and is not viable for many who are disabled.

Commuting to India’s Populous Cities

India’s large cities are filled with clustered streets and congested traffic. Still, about 37% of the urban population commutes by foot every day. For those who cannot afford a car, or another form of transportation, finding work can be a challenge. In this sense, the city is not inclusive to disadvantaged groups as they cannot feasibly get around for work or any other reason. This type of system makes it increasingly difficult for the poor to make their way out of poverty as constantly commuting by foot limits opportunities as well as causes problems.

Additionally, in most areas throughout the cities, there are no clear lanes for those not using motor vehicles. For transportation in India, all modes of travel share lanes which causes great disorder and danger for commuters on foot.

Poverty and Transportation

Roughly one-quarter of India’s urban population lives below the poverty line. These are the people who are in need of new ways to commute around the city. Several Indian cities have tried to implement a metro or rail system to alleviate traffic issues in their main corridors. However, this solution still does not reach those in need because oftentimes the route does not include the more impoverished areas, and further, the rates are too expensive for most to afford.

However, this is not always the case. The Delhi Metro is the country’s largest metro system and has also been the most successful, carrying around 2.8 million people every day. The Indian government has also been working to revamp the bus system, looking to add up to 504km of new lines for the new Rapid Bus Transit System between 2009 and the now. This process has been greatly aided by allowing private companies to have access to these routes in exchange for providing the resources necessary for this huge project. It is estimated that this initiative will increase ridership from 120 million to 150 million per day.

These changes to transportation in India will be crucial in reaching lower-income areas so that they may commute more easily to work. Transporting people from the outskirts of the city into the center gives them better access to sanitation, healthcare, food and work. There is much potential in a project like this to integrate as many people as possible into the flourishing of a city. Currently, those without reliable transportation are excluded from many of the necessities for rising out of poverty. Hopefully, with these new projects, that can change.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Education and Indian ChildrenOver 100,000 schools and just as many teachers deliver education in even the most traditionally unreachable, rural parts of India because of one foundation. Ekal Vidyalaya, a nonprofit originally inspired by social research and activism, recognizes the paramount goal of establishing educational access for every child in rural India and approaches it directly. Inspired and built in the 1980s, Ekal Vidyalaya conducts multinational fundraising, transforms nontraditional school models into working solutions and impacts the lives of nearly 2.8 million students through its efforts. Bringing education and Indian children without teachers and schools together is a fundamental pillar of the Ekal mission, which transcends borders in an impassioned quest to substantively create change.

Ekal Vidyalaya: Mission and History

Ekal Vidyalaya’s mission is to raise up schools and rural communities with “basic education, digital literacy, skill development, health awareness and rural entrepreneurship” in unison with farming maximization efforts that are taught. These wide-ranging, self-identified aspects of the organization’s mission reflect some of the initial issues that Ekal Vidyalaya, even before it was known as such, identified. Dr. Rakesh Kumar Popli and Dr. Rajneesh Arora, among others who were analytically evaluating regions in India in order to determine areas of concern, partnered with other leading scientists and activists of the time in order to raise awareness towards educational discrepancies and other health and social issues. Over time, education and Indian children became focal points of an effort that became known as Ekal Vidyalaya and refining steps brought the ancillary and primary systems of aid into reality.

Ekal Vidyalaya’s Methodology and Goals

In order to make progress on its significant goals, Ekal Vidyalaya relies on donations, volunteerism and community outreach. The name itself is a direct reference to the impact structure: one-teacher schools are essentially called Ekal Vidyalayas and they are the way that the nonprofit integrates itself into towns and villages in order to raise literacy and improve conditions. Once the school is established and working well, the organization then adds health services and skill development to bring economic opportunities for the villagers.

COVID-19 Considerations

Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic is a continuous battle for the organization, particularly for its grassroots-based donation effort. Despite this, Ekal has been able to leverage its structure to transition training centers into mask making centers and provide over a reported 2.3 million people with food supplies using volunteers and other community organizations. Early October saw a global Ekal conference wholly online, where goals for the next five years were outlined. Various elements of the organization, from youth divisions to board members, committed to increasing not only education efforts but practical village-to-village communication and economic growth. Bringing together education and Indian children remains a core pillar of the estimated budget, and technological revolutions in the forms of roaming mobile centers and tablets prove Ekal’s commitment to continued adaptability. As challenges present themselves, Ekal Vidyalaya strives to preserve its mission and still improve upon it, which will be a necessary factor for change in the years still to come.

– Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

Fluorosis in IndiaFluoride is a vital compound for the growth and development of the human body. Not only does it promote the strengthening of tooth enamel, helping to protect teeth from cavities, but it is also thought to aid in the development of the bones. However, when consumed in any more than minute quantities, the same compound can lead to a myriad of health issues ranging from the browning of the teeth to severe developmental issues leading to the deformation of the skeleton. Fluorosis in India is an issue raising concerns for the health of the country’s people.

India’s Water Supply

These health problems are among those faced by people who rely on India’s heavily fluoridated groundwater, or roughly 80% of the nation’s 1.35 billion people. Water is often sourced directly from the ground by wells, hand pumps or water plants with little to no filtration, leaving dangerous levels of naturally occurring fluoride to be consumed. In fact, fluoride levels have been recorded as high as 15 parts per million, far above the World Health Organization’s maximum recommendation of 1.5 parts per million.

Fluorosis and Other Health Problems

Today, skeletal fluorosis, or the build-up of fluoride in the bones, remains the leading side effect of excessive fluoride consumption and can occur in concentrations as small as 1 part per million. Effects of the disease range from joint pain and stiffness, to the calcification of the ligaments and permanent skeletal deformation. Of India’s 32 states, 17 have been identified as areas of endemic fluorosis, leaving 25 million people impacted and 66 million at risk.

Fluorosis in India is most concerning in children, as excess fluoride can have permanent harmful effects on developing bones, leaving some children bedridden and unable to walk. Additionally, local doctors are often unaware of the disease and do not have the means to treat it, leaving families to spend hundreds of dollars on ‘witch doctors’ offering magical cures.

Organizational Efforts

In response to the prevalence of fluorosis in India, rural villages and urban areas have been the subject of a variety of efforts by local governments and humanitarian organizations alike to purify groundwater and treat those affected.

Since the 1990s, UNICEF, alongside the Satya Sai Organization, has been working to implement defluoridation into the regular process of water collection. The organizations donated a total of 24,000 self-sustaining defluoridation units to five provinces across India and implemented rainwater collection systems in 50 schools throughout the country, providing students with safe drinking water. Likewise, defluoridation units were delivered directly to households, giving families easy access to safe water.

SARITA’s Efforts for Defluoridation

Similarly, the Society Affiliated to Research and Improvement of Tribal Areas (SARITA), has been working since 2005 to provide households with effective defluoridation units in some of the most rural and underserved areas of the country. Alongside community activities to raise awareness about the often unheard of condition, SARITA provided defluoridation filters at little to no cost to villages across 12 states.

The organization was unique in its outreach methods as it deliberately sought to serve the most ostracized members of society, such as the ‘untouchables’ or the lowest and most collectively shamed demographic in India’s social caste system. As SARITA puts it, it is “unusual for government programs to start assistance in isolated hamlets”, meaning the wellbeing of this demographic is rarely of concern in government assistance efforts.

Fluoride Mitigation Support Centre

Doctors and health centers across the nation are also making efforts towards the treatment and cure of fluorosis in India. Although a cure has yet to become widely available, the Fluoride Mitigation Support Centre worked with a group of 20 children in 2013 in an attempt to reverse advanced skeletal fluorosis through calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin D supplements. Over the course of a year, “dramatic changes were observed in the children”, with one previously bedridden child able to walk again.

The positive effects of widely available defluoridation and fluorosis treatment are quite evident. Increased government support for these existing efforts is needed to put an end to fluorosis in India.

– Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr

Future for Indian WomenIn 1997, a Kerala state project, recognizing the significance of channeling a significant, often underutilized demographic, began Kudumbashree, a widespread and comprehensive program that seeks to vastly reduce poverty and empower women at the same time. In a state of about 35 million people, Kudumbashree set out on a path to establish local, self-functioning levels of organization that could bring women together, provide access to resources regardless of education, economic status or caste and connect a willing workforce to new and old professional options, opening the future for Indian women across entire regions. In Malayalam, the local language of Kerala, Kudumbashree comprises two unique words, that when combined, translate to “prosperity of the family.” The structure, scale and significance of an enterprise like this is widespread and compelling, not just for one state in India but for an entire country and global community.

Kudumbashree: History and Goals

Kudumbashree is more than just one specific government program; rather, it is also a particular umbrella for cooperating efforts that fall under the jurisdiction of a unifying task force proposition known as the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM). Kudumbashree and SPEM are interchangeable and the second has largely evolved into the first. By one definition, Kudumbashree is a charitable society; by another, it is a facilitator for work. All these descriptions are because of the fundamental and indispensable goal of a budding institution that secures a future for Indian women and their families. Though it may be ambitious and certainly easier said than done, Kudumbashree unabashedly seeks to “eradicate absolute poverty from the State over a period of 10 years.” Even if this goal has not been met yet, a significant amount of resources, community structures and cooperative dynamics have been put into place that brings Kerala closer to success every year.

Programs, Practices and Plans

A little less than half a century ago, Kerala’s poverty levels were at 59.74%. As of 2011 to 2012, that percentage dropped to 11.3%, less than half the national average. A wide range of factors led to this drastic and fortuitous decline and focused public attention and effort have been key among them.

Kudumbashree utilizes the role of the public in a particularly localized, community-centered way, as evidenced by the principal three-tier system the program uses. The three levels in the framework, in order of smallest to largest in terms of local duties, are “Neighborhood Groups,” “Area Development Societies,” and “Community Development Societies.” These hierarchies build upon each other and provide for different prioritizations of tasks.

For instance, Neighborhood Groups are small units with typically less than 30 women members. They meet frequently and are essential in the disbursement of microloans, which the members often save and distribute among themselves. At district-spanning Community Development Societies, more administrative concerns are paramount, such as directing state-financed aid or liaising with governmental bodies. A future for Indian women among Kudumbashree means support and access, not only from the local bodies but from fellow female members of their community.

The Future for Kerala’s Women

At over four and a half million Neighborhood Group members, Kudumbashree spans villages, towns and cities, but more importantly, with every notable award and new business enterprise, it raises greater national awareness. With agribusiness ventures alone, Kudumbashree boasts 778 units serving communities and expanding constantly. The future for Indian women is diverse and full of opportunity, and thanks to initiatives like Kudumbashree, the future is locally-led and integrally focused on the capacities of all people, regardless of gender.

– Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

How the Caste System Affects People in IndiaIndia has its own form of racism. We refer to it as “Casteism.” India’s caste system was formed based on socio-economic factors or ideological factors. In 1500 BC, Aryans arrived in India and disregarded local groups. They formed three groups, namely warriors, priests and farmers. Warriors and priests fought for the leadership role. Out of which priests emerged victorious to supreme their power over India. In the end, farmers, craftsmen, warriors and locals were led by Brahamans or priests. Like many societies, a son will inherit his father’s job in India. This inheritance continued for a long time and it ended up as a community, jaati or a caste in the Indian system. Brahamans encouraged socialism only within their respective groups that created inequality in this diversified country. A caste looking down on the other is a common occurrence and it is publicly accepted. People who clean drainage are aligned to the “Scheduled Caste” and they are termed as “untouchables.” Those who live in forests as tribes are aligned to “Scheduled Tribes.”

The caste system is a significant social system in India. One’s caste affects their options regarding marriage, employment, education, economies, mobility, housing and politics, among others.

How the Caste System Affects Citizens

  • Marriages: Most Indian marriages are arranged by parents. Several factors were considered by them for finding the ideal spouse. Out of which, one’s caste is a significant factor. People do not want their son or their daughter to marry a person from another caste. Just like the word “untouchables” suggests, a Brahmin would never marry a person from an SC or ST caste.
  • Education: Public universities have caste-based reservations for students coming from underprivileged backgrounds. A person from this background can secure a seat in a top tier college with par or below par academic scores based on reservation. However, impoverished Brahmans are disadvantaged with this reservation system. For example, a Brahman has to score 100% on certain exams to get into a top tier university. While the lower caste applicant can even bypass the exam for getting a seat in the university.
  • Jobs: A significant amount of public sector jobs are allocated based on caste reservation. Impoverished communities from Brahman backgrounds get affected significantly because of this reservation.

It is just as Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar said, “Caste will stand in your way for political and economical reforms within India.” According to him, eradicating such a strong foundation is extremely difficult yet doable. However, the path to reform has many roadblocks in it.

How Can the Government Solve this Caste Issue?

The government has come to the conclusion that segregating people across castes and aligning them to a particular caste by offering special quotas will solve the caste problem. In fact, the Indian government provides incentives to people of lower caste to make them feel better about their poor inheritance. However, the caste system still lurks in the minds of Indian citizens.
According to Ambedkar, the annihilation of the caste system can be done by supporting these actions:

  1. Intercaste Marriage: Cross caste marriage can possibly eradicate the upper and lower caste mentality. Around 5% of marriages in India are between different castes. Around a quarter of the population on matrimonial sites are open to intercaste marriages at the moment.
  2. Intercaste Dining: Addressing caste-related issues at large public events can contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts. Several dining events were organized by local state governments to incorporate people from all around the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political agenda includes caste elimination from the country. India has improved to some extent in this 21st century on several fronts. However, there is still lots of room to grow. The Indian government has an effective plan of bringing people together from all walks of life. Yet, certain inherent ideological contradictions will stand in the way while solving this issue. Regardless, that should not deter our hope in escaping the shackles of casteism.

– Narasinga Moorthy
Photo: Flickr

Why the US Should Help Fight Corruption in IndiaFor years, India has struggled with high rates of extreme poverty, as well as mass amounts of corruption within its economy and government. This has created a cause and effect cycle of poverty: creating easy access for corruption while corruption in government preventing a significant change in poverty. As a result, there has been very little change in the socioeconomic standing of many Indians, and foreign aid may seem like a futile attempt to rectify an impossible situation. However, foreign aid is critical to fighting poverty and corruption in India. And investments from the United States will have a promising profound effect on both countries.

Corruption and Poverty in India

In 2019, one in two Indians reported taking or paying a bribe, which was a 10% decrease from previous years. These bribes took all forms and appeared in many aspects of everyday life for Indians, from property registration, the police force, a tax department to municipal corporations. Furthermore, corruption can be found within the highest levels of government, and in legislation in particular. More than half of India’s public officials have received bribes, or acted upon another form of corruption, creating significant inconsistencies and ineffectiveness from the bureaucracy. Most recently, in 2019, the Corruption Perception Index gave India a score of 41 out of 100, suggesting corruption still has a significant presence throughout the country.

While the corruption within the government and economy is an issue on its own, its repercussions go far beyond an internally broken system. India has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty in the world, with one-third of its population considered poor by standards that they live on approximately $3.20 per day. Despite decreasing rates, about 50 million people still live in extreme poverty in India. With so many people resorting to living on the streets or in slums, the poor living conditions lead to disease outbreaks, high infant mortality rates and, ultimately, corruption.

The Connection Between Corruption and Poverty

Corruption and poverty in India work off of each other. Poverty creates desperate situations, leaving people with very few economic alternatives to make ends meet, whether it be food or housing, among other essential needs. Consequently, these vulnerable groups become easily exposed to exploitation. However, corruption not only thrives off of poverty, but it also worsens the situation. Internal government officials, among other community members, tend to pass money around for ranks, rather than focusing on creating effective legislation to change the poverty crisis.

As a result, the government struggles to end the continual cycle of corruption and poverty in India, and cracking down on corruption can have massive repercussions for its citizens. For example, in 2016, in an effort to reduce corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discontinued the 500 and 1,000 rupees. This action began to fix stockpiling, a technique that the upper-class used to avoid paying taxes. The discontinuation voided cash hoarded overnight. And, as a result, many low-income workers had their salaries cut in half, especially those in the transportation industry.

In order to access the new forms of money, many had to go to the ATM or banks to acquire it, despite many ATMs being broken or overcrowded. Without the rich carrying around cash to pay people, such as drivers, in addition to unequal access to ATMs, there was no pay for people working already low-paying jobs. During that year, 97% of Indians didn’t make enough annual salary to qualify to pay income tax, a price of around 250,000 rupees, or $3,650.

The Importance and Benefits of American Foreign Aid

For many Americans, corruption and poverty in India may seem like the exact reason why the United States should not be investing its money in foreign aid, especially to India. However, the solution is contrary to what many may believe. Multiple studies have shown that corruption with foreign aid is an insignificant problem, compared to the solutions it provides, such as access to clean water and vaccinations. Besides the humanitarian solutions, investment in India has significant returns for the United States. With a continually growing economy, India is set to become the third-largest consumer market by 2025. In turn, this will have a significant, positive impact on the United States’ economy. Continuing to invest in India means that more and more people will not only be in the market but will be able to afford American exports, therefore improving the corruption and poverty rates of India, as well as increasing American jobs and the economy as a whole.

—Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

Mobile BankingMobile banking is a clear step toward financial literacy and freedom. It allows users to access and manage accounts without needing physical access to a bank. It is a huge asset and accepted norm in countries like the United States, where it is used by over three-quarters of the population. By 2021, there will be an estimated 7 billion mobile banking users. But in countries where much of the population doesn’t have access to financial institutions, mobile banks presents an option that allows users to gain the financial freedom they wouldn’t otherwise have. Traditionally, without access to banks, there is no access to bank accounts. This makes it not only difficult to save and protect money but also nearly impossible to access loans. Below are three countries where going mobile improves financial inclusion.

Kenya

In 2011, around 80% of the Kenyan population didn’t have a bank account. This was revolutionized by the introduction of mobile banking, resulting in an incredible increase in financial accounts up to 75% in 2014. The percentage of Kenyan’s with a mobile account has since jumped to around 80% in 2019, with that number still growing. Though mobile banking is taking hold in many African countries, Kenya leads the charge of mobile adaption. This success is evident through the country’s recent economic growth, averaging 5.7% in 2019, one of the fastest-growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile banking has been succeeded so rapidly and fruitfully in Kenya due to its incredibly low cost and user ease. After the infrastructure is created, all that’s needed is an old flip phone and a banking SIM card. These products are relatively easy and inexpensive to get, even in countries with fewer resources. Mobile banking has allowed Kenyan’s to save money, send and receive it with ease, apply for loans, and has led to financial inclusion. Kenya acts as a clear leader in developmental growth through mobile banking.

India

In 2017, India had the second largest unbanked population, second only to China, with 190 million of its citizens left without access. In the same year, around 48% of India’s banks were inactive, only adding to the inaccessibility. Despite such a large number of citizens left without a bank account, over 50% of these individuals do have a mobile phone. With the proper infrastructure, mobile banking could revolutionize the way Indians send, receive and save their money. For low-income populations in India, most financial transactions occur in cash, a method that is not conducive to economic growth for poor families. With more universal access to banking, low-income populations could receive their income through direct deposit and pay their bills directly from their account, using their phone. This system promotes saving and also allows tracking of financial habits, producing an easier system for low-income individuals to amass credit and become eligible for loans. As the internet becomes increasingly accessible in India, mobile banking is expected to rise, and with it, financial inclusion.

Indonesia

In opposition to the other nations discussed, Indonesia has a much lower prevalence of mobile banking, but just as it has in Kenya and India, going mobile could revolutionize financial inclusion in Indonesia. Only about 20% of Indonesian’s currently have a bank account, but almost 40% of the population have mobile subscriptions, suggesting mobile banking has huge potential in the country. In 2020, an unexpected source has begun to jumpstart the exponential growth of mobile banking in Indonesia. In the wake of COVID-19, many physical banks are closed, and even those who previously had access are unable to interact with their finances. One bank, namely Bank Rayat Indonesia has even seen a 10% month to month increase in mobile banking, an unprecedented growth. Indonesia presents as a nearly perfect candidate for a “mobile revolution” given its high mobile penetration, low banking rate, and the recent inability of traditional banks to function. Despite the many challenges and tragedies COVID-19 has caused, it could be the driving force for a mobile revolution in Indonesia

— Jazmin Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Indian women
The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting women across the globe, setting back progress for global gender equality. Confined inside homes, women are shouldering more of the housework and childcare than their husbands, fathers and brothers. In India, a country where women are expected to fulfill homemaking roles, the gender disparities in housework between men and women are only growing more apparent, especially as more women exit the workforce. For Indian women, domestic unpaid labor consumes hours of their days and limits them to a life of financial dependence on their partners or a life of poverty. In India, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. With the unemployment rate being as high as 18% for Indian women, compared to 7% for men in India, it’s inevitable that women make up a large percentage of this impoverished population.

Women’s Unpaid Role in India

While men in India complete less than an hour of unpaid labor each day, Indian women spend six hours of their day on unpaid labor. In comparison, men around the world typically spend around two hours a day on unpaid labor, while women spend four and a half hours.

Although the time and energy women put into cleaning and caring for children and the elderly are essential roles in economies, housework isn’t widely recognized as a form of labor. As part of their domestic responsibilities, Indian women must also retrieve water from wells, a chore that spans several hours and multiple trips in one day. Often lacking the aid of technology, Indian women must cook, clean and do laundry by hand.

Because women in India bear the burden of housework, they can’t maintain stable jobs outside their homes. This requires them to rely on their partners. This is in part due to the traditional patriarchal system India upholds. From a young age, Indian women are trained to fulfill roles inside the home. As a result, Indian women are excluded from the workforce, and young girls are pulled from schools to work inside the home, jeopardizing their education.

This reality has only grown over the years, as more and more women have exited the workforce. Over the past decade, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 34% in 2004 to 25% in 2018, compared to the nearly 80% of men who work.

Why Female Employment Is Declining

The decline in female employment directly impacts Indian women’s risk of falling into poverty, as they are unable to financially support themselves. But up to 64% of women said they had to be responsible for housework as there were no other family members who would perform these responsibilities.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it’s increasingly difficult to secure a position in the Indian job market, and work positions designated for women are slim. On top of this, upon completing the same job as men, women earn 34% less in wages than their male coworkers. For women who manage to secure a job, their time is stretched thin as they complete both paid work and unpaid work. As a result, they are less likely to spend time on education, cultural and leisure activities.

There are exorbitant economic losses, though, when women are not welcomed into the workforce. According to an Oxfam report on female unpaid labor, the value of global unpaid labor performed by women amounts to at least $10.8 trillion annually, or, as the study suggests, “three times the size of the world’s tech industry.” By putting into context the monetary value of unpaid labor in society, the true economic loss of excluding Indian women from the workforce is undeniable.

In a step toward creating a more inclusive workforce environment for Indian women, the country passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017. The amendment increased the number of weeks for paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. But this act hasn’t led to a significant change in female workforce employment. Instead, the act could continue to negatively impact female employment. Newly responsible for covering the cost of additional paid maternity leave, companies may be less inclined to hire female workers.

Combined with the recent growth in female education and declining fertility rates, India’s economy is primed for welcoming women into the workforce. But the country must strike a balance between paid and unpaid labor, a gendered expectation rooted in Indian tradition.

Closing the Gender Gap: One Indian Woman’s Petition

One Indian woman is especially determined to redefine gender roles in India. Juggling unpaid labor at home along with her involvement in a charity for reproductive justice, Subarna Ghosh realized she was shouldering the majority of housework —particularly since the pandemic forced her family to stay home.

In July 2020, Ghosh decided to draft a petition on Change.org and describe her experience as a working woman in India expected to perform the majority of the housework. “Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” she wrote.

Directing her efforts at India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghosh concluded her petition by calling on Modi to encourage Indian men to equally fulfill their share of housework. The petition has received over 75,000 signatures, mostly from women who stand in solidarity with Ghosh and relate to her experience.

Ghosh’s petition reflects the persistent struggle for female equality in India, as one woman’s experience echoes the experience of thousands. Only when women in India are given the same opportunities as men will they be able to earn their own financial independence.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

Kerala's Response to COVID-19The South Indian coastal state of Kerala has a population of over 35 million people and a large expatriate population. The state reported its first COVID-19 case in January 2020. Kerala’s response to COVID-19 included quickly implemented response measures drawn from its recent experiences with other crises and emergencies, such as the NIPAH virus outbreak in 2018 and the Kerala floods that caused massive damage and mass evacuations.

Early contact tracing and quarantining of people infected with the virus, along with continued testing for community transmission, has helped control overcrowding in hospitals. As the numbers continue to rise, Kerala’s government has put measures in place to mitigate the economic and social crises that may arise from the pandemic. In addition, Kerala’s response focuses on providing key resources for its people and protecting vulnerable groups. The relevance of these initiatives becomes more pronounced as the pandemic carries on.

Using Technology to Spread Awareness

Kudumbashree is a poverty eradication and women’s empowerment program. In response to the pandemic, the organization has created three groups on WhatsApp, a popular messaging platform, to educate members and spread awareness about COVID-19. Its campaigns, such as Break the Chain, emphasize the importance of washing hands. Kudumbashree’s motivation campaign focuses on encouraging wholesome, healthy choices and activities for citizens to engage in during lockdowns.

Community Kitchens and Shelter

Another key part of Kerala’s response to COVID-19 are kitchens organized by panchayats, or village councils. These kitchens offered free meals to those affected by the pandemic. Kudumbashree also organized free shelter and meals for migrant workers from other states, as well as those in quarantine or isolation. In addition, budget hotels have offered low-cost meals, which are packed and distributed at canteens or kitchens and delivered to homes. Free childcare centers for young children, called anganwadis, ensure free groceries and meals are delivered to the homes of children enrolled in their programs.

Psychosocial and Employment Support

During the pandemic, Direct Intervention System For Health Awareness (DISHA), a 24/7-telehealth helpline, has contributed to Kerala’s response to COVID-19. The organization has reported receiving several thousand calls from citizens each day, many about mental health concerns. DISHA refers these callers to the District Mental Health Program (DMHP), which consists of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses in each district of Kerala. DMHP supports citizens under psychological stresses that arise from the pandemic, including substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, DMHP checks on quarantined citizens  to ensure their mental well-being. The helpline, mental health services and medication provided by DMHP are free of cost.

To help citizens find work, the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS) guarantees 100 days of employment for people above the age of 18. Usually, women over the age of 40 are the main demographic that makes use of the program. With the onset of the pandemic and resulting unemployment, however, the NREGS program has reported high enrollment even among youth.

Reverse Quarantine for Senior Citizens

More than 17% of people living in Kerala are senior citizens. Intending to protect this population, the state government implemented reverse quarantine, a strict stay-at-home requirement to keep those above 65 away from people who may be infected. Also, the government moved vulnerable senior citizens residing in highly affected areas to institutional quarantine centers to ensure better care. Additional measures for Kerala’s older adults include regular check-ins for senior citizens who live alone.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise worldwide, Kerala’s response to COVID-19 may ensure safety, care and recovery, both in citizens’ personal health and in the economy. This is especially true for the state’s more vulnerable citizens. If these methods succeed, Kerala may provide a model for other communities around the world.

Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr