Very rarely do we get a chance to directly serve the humanity and that too when caught unawares. SARS-CoV-2 (@ Covid-19) has not just been a life-time experience but an era-time experience for the entire world. It has made us realize that we all are vulnerable and the vulnerability of women, children, elderly and animals is of even higher level. One’s administrative acumen/ caliber is also tested during these testing times. How fast and accurately we respond to the needs of those who have high hopes on us is the “mantra”. Our Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India is also trying its best to support and strengthen the bedrock of our society – women and children.
The lockdown imposed due to Covid-19 pandemic crisis has made everyone grounded and realize that basic needs should be taken care of by ourselves as far as possible – like sweeping, mopping, cleansing and cooking and that our house helps/ maids too must have got long deserved rest and time to spend with their respective families. We all must have become more sensitive, sympathetic and full of gratitude towards our house helps, yet many of them have suffered during this time if their employers have not paid them for over two months now. World has to learn to appreciate and honour the “Symbiotic relationships” in life.
Whereas, on one hand, both parents could spend time with their kids at home (as schools were also closed) after so long and family bonding got strengthened and children could get an opportunity to have meals cooked by parents at a stretch, yet on the other hand, there are families who did not have anything to be fed for days together and have no reach to “online schooling” whatsoever.
We cannot close our eyes to the fact that when unwilling partners are forced to be locked down together, emotional upheavals like frustration, anger, clashes, tussles are bound to happen. It is expected and normal too. What is problematic is the situation when one is not able to control and channelize the negative thoughts and does not respect the other lesser mortals and comes out aggressively impounding upon the physically vulnerables. In turn, the children at home, observe this behavior and implicitly learn to be alright with the idea and in times to come, too turn out to be inhumane in character, in the same way.
There are so many things to be enjoyed together – learning a new language or a musical instrument, watching movies, listening to radio, helping kids in their studies and better grooming, reading books, undertaking online courses, yet there are many wretched souls who draw sadistic pleasure from inciting violence on their better halves and children.
Ministry of Women and Child Development has been trying to do its bit during these unprecedented times to help out the women and children. No doubt, women have always been multi-taskers, managing both home and workplace well. But with the new normal of “Work From Home”, care responsibilities of these nation-builders have increased manifold with disproportionate amount of burden.
If cases of domestic violence and undesired pregnancy increase during this lock down period, then our system has to be ready to deal with them swiftly and effectively.
681 One Stop Centres (OSCs) @ Sakhi Centres, Women Helpline in 32 States/ UTs – 181, ERSS (Emergency Response Support System) – 112 are functional, providing a range of integrated services of Police facilitation, medical and legal aid, psycho-social counseling and temporary shelter. During this lock down, all this has assisted over 36,000 women so far.
Ujjawala, Swadhar Homes, Child Care Institutions have been running continuously with basic materials to fight Covid like soap, sanitisers and masks.
Women menstrual hygiene needs to be emphasized and around 6318 Jan Aushadhi Kendras are providing 40 women-centric products including subsidized “Suvidha” sanitary napkins at affordable price of Rs.1 per pad to women across the country. One Stop Centres are coordinating with them for this.
Take Home Ration (THR) has been distributed at the doorsteps of pregnant women and children by the backbone of our Ministry of Women and Child Development- i.e. the Anganwadi Workers and the Anganwadi Helpers. Undettered by the risk involved, they have been playing a crucial role in containing the spread of Covid-19. Many kudos and grand salute to all our very own Covid-warriors.
A number of Webinars and Video Conferences have been conducted on Safety, Well-being of women and menstrual hygiene for female migrants labourers. We also emphasise the fact that many more such Webinars should be conducted with the male participants and students to sensitise them in the right way as men need to be trained too for building a more diverse and inclusive environment and to handhold participants about “conflict resolution”.
Many helpline numbers have been made active during lock down at the request of Ministry of WCD by various institutions viz. NCW (7217735372), NIMHANS, Bangalore (080-46110007), IHBAS, Delhi (011-22574820/ 9869396824), NALSA’s Legal Aid (15100).
Further, dedicated Nodal Officers for each State and UT have been nominated so that “Cooperative Federalism” continues unabated.
Ministry of WCD is propelling the idea of Mobile OSCs, Mobile Anganwadis and Mobile Open Shelters and utilizing the 13.8 lac Anganwadi centres as extended outreach services for migrant labourers especially females and children keeping in place all the social distancing measures and safety protocol. Inter-sectoral convergence with RWA, Panchayati Raj Institutions and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will go a long way.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package has provided Rs.500 per month to 20 crore women Jan Dhan account holders. Under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, free gas cylinders has been provided to 8 crore poor families which has also eased life for women to some extent.
Increase in collateral free lending from Rs. 10 lacs to Rs.20 lacs for women Self-Help Groups is also a small step in the right direction to empower women of poor families.
We should try to leverage all the opportunities in these times of crisis and we hope that the society learns to appreciate the fact that “peaceful co-existence” is the takeaway for all of us from this phase in our lives. The time is ripe for India Inc to take decisive and drastic steps which has been given a start with “Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”. We have made some progress but have miles to go.
May we come out with more wisdom and may our daughters, sisters, mothers and care givers get all the support, strength, safety and security which is due to them during this lockdown and in times to come.
(The author is Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Govt. of India)