Through an inclusive response

Visalakshi, 28, worked as a maid and managed to earn 15,000 rupees a month working in five to six houses. She lives with her mother and two young daughters in Chennai. Even as the sole breadwinner, she was able to lead a decent life.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Everything was not the same afterwards. There were days when the family of four struggled to get one meal a day.

It’s been almost two years now and young Visalakshi is still struggling to get things back on track. Millions of women like Visalakshi have seen their lives and livelihoods threatened by COVID-19 as they face fewer job prospects and increased care responsibilities. With many women working in the informal sector, these challenges have been exacerbated.

Women are the guardians of household food security in many communities. Especially as men become more involved in off-farm work or move to urban centers for work, women take on a greater share of agricultural production beyond their roles as primary household food producers as well. than collectors of firewood and water.

The closures have also led to an increase in domestic work and unpaid care work for women. Besides caring for, preparing food and maintaining the house, women are primarily responsible for caring for family members who fall ill.

Paid or formal work is always more difficult with round-the-clock household chores. Women often reduce the amount they eat or eat last to ensure that the rest of the family is fed during a food crisis. This is when most Indian communities already have a tradition that men eat first and the best food.

Emerging evidence from this pandemic and experience from previous humanitarian emergencies shows that it is women who disproportionately bear the socio-economic hardships of the household. However, when it comes to entitlements, women are less likely to receive benefits, despite having lost their livelihoods and income due to the closures.

Many women who are informal workers have been excluded from social protection measures such as cash transfers in response to the pandemic due to their social status. If women have less access to safety nets, overall economic gender equality may regress due to the pandemic and associated response efforts.

In addition to prioritizing cash transfers as relief during the ongoing pandemic, it is becoming inevitable to also increase allocations for cash transfers targeted at women. Without sufficient resources, goals cannot be turned into action. In addition, policy makers need to ensure an equitable distribution of cash transfers.

The Indian government, for example, leveraged an existing financial inclusion program – the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana – to roll out an emergency cash transfer program. But he only delivered the emergency money to accounts registered for women.

The fact that 100% of funds go directly to women may address some of the inequities within the household, although the program is still inaccessible to more than half of poor women.

According to an analysis of the 2018 Financial Inclusion Insights survey, around 53% of poor women in India will be excluded from emergency cash assistance.

The government should revise its existing targeting criteria to include various marginal and vulnerable groups affected by disasters, with an emphasis on targeting individuals rather than households, especially women and girls. Governments can work with civil societies to identify the most marginalized category and provide last mile support.

During emergencies, it is evident that women typically face loss of income, are subject to domestic violence and are in dire need of basic necessities. There is also an increase in informal borrowing, with women borrowing from informal sources at high interest rates.

All these uncertainties have led to the re-emergence of a demand for a basic income for women during disasters. While a universal basic income will require careful consideration of its feasibility, design and implementation, an emergency basic income or an unconditional cash transfer tied to the duration of any emergency could exclusively contribute to reinforce the financial uncertainties faced by female-headed households.

These emergency cash transfers should also be complemented by investments in public infrastructure, basic services such as health and food security and should work hand in hand with existing social safety nets to ensure lasting impacts.

Cash transfers at the household level should be reported as a family benefit, with both spouses as recipients. Whenever possible, we must ensure that women will receive the transfer. One way to reach women is to simply mandate it.

Over the past decades, the disaster assistance strategies of humanitarian aid agencies such as World Vision India have focused on women and children to help them meet their basic needs and rebuild their livelihoods. subsistence. As in other emergency contexts, cash and vouchers have proven to be a reliable and proven method of support, ensuring that vulnerable women meet their families’ basic needs while avoiding harmful coping strategies.

We still have a lot to learn about the most effective ways to ensure that women benefit equally from social protection schemes. We must constantly remind ourselves that by choosing to invest in women, we can dramatically improve the lives of all members of a community.

Policy responses should also aim to build women’s capacity to cope with future shocks. These measures applied to the current pandemic can be incorporated into disaster management policies and programs in the future. It is also important to invest in women’s leadership and to empower women to participate and contribute to the design of policy measures to deal with future crises.

Women’s rights and empowerment must be a key part of pandemic response and long-term resilience. It reminds us to “leave no one behind” as we seek to rebuild our economies.

As essential contributors to their households and communities, women must play a key role in any disaster management response and recovery programme. DTE

Opinions expressed are personal