COVID-19 Other States

In the hinterland, women mount spirited offensive against pandemic

Local women leaders engaged in COVID-19 relief activities and services.  

With the second wave of COVID-19 hitting the country’s rural hinterland hard, city-based NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) — which helps women from rural India play a decisive role in sustainable farming — has reached out to nearly four lakh families across 15 districts in Maharashtra, Bihar, Odisha and Kerala to help stem the tide of the pandemic by rural capacity building measures.

SSP activists at the gram panchayat level organised themselves into Women Task Force members (Sakhi) in over 500 villages in these four States and helped local government authorities speed up COVID-19 recovery and resilience by arranging quarantine of patients to delivering food for afflicted families.

“Both waves of the pandemic saw spirited grassroots women leaders seize the initiative and aid local health authorities by reaching out to nearly four lakh families in four States. Over 3,000 women in Maharashtra and Bihar leveraged the economic lockdown to create local food economies and markets where once there were none. Defying convention they took on new roles as negotiators in mandis and organised farmers into marketing collectives to sell essentials,” Prema Gopalan, executive director, SSP, said.

“Our three key strategies to contain the spread of the contagion involved capacity-building by forming ‘village action groups’ headed by women with knowledge on prevention and quarantine measures. Secondly, we helped equip local authorities and frontline workers to coordinate mass awareness programmes, and help out with food, medical relief and emergency services. Our women activists worked along with the extant health systems to ensure readiness for vaccination and access to health services, especially for women and children in backwater villages and hamlets,” Ms. Gopalan said.

In order to deal with the more lethal second wave of the pandemic, SSP activists focused on empowering grassroots institutions, namely gram panchayats and women leaders in villages to adopt a holistic approach which involved building community resilience by improving food security, livelihoods and access to social protection for the most vulnerable groups.

Till date, SSP activists have distributed more than 4,000 food and grocery kits to needy families in Latur, Osmanabad, Solapur, Nanded and Ahmednagar districts in Maharashtra among others, besides Gaya and Nalanda districts in Bihar and Kottayam and Wayanad districts in Kerala.

“In Wayanad, SSP activists in conjunction with local women leaders and farmers have identified the most vulnerable communities from tribal and disadvantaged families. Women groups mobilised resources from the general public and distributed food kits to 65 tribal families at Edavaka while ‘Sakhi’ farmers have cultivated 300 kg of tapioca and distributed it to vulnerable families,” Ms. Gopalan said.

‘Sakhi’ leaders moved door to door, identified symptoms, delivered masks, soaps and sanitisers while mobilising women from vulnerable groups to be part of the decision-making process.

Jayashree Kadam from Osmanabad’s Jalkot village said that these leaders were part of the COVID ‘Sahayata Samiti’ (aid committee) of the panchayat to bring down the case numbers and provide financial aid as well, if needed.

“Awareness of social distancing, distribution of masks and sanitisers are some of the initial steps taken by women leaders. It is unprecedented and we never expected that the second wave would hit our villages in such numbers,” Ms. Kadam said.

Apart from ration and medicine distribution drives, these village level leaders organised health campaigns at the village level as well to increase the pace of vaccination while urging families to follow COVID-19 protocols.

When Zinnar, a small village in Osmanabad in Maharashtra, saw an alarming spurt in new positive cases, Jayshree Kale, a woman leader from the village, took the initiative in isolating these patients and making sure that safety measures were followed to break the chain of infection as fast as possible.

“Women leaders have been tirelessly working to creating greater awareness of safety norms to be followed, helping people with contact tracing and getting fumigation done. Now, that we have the requisite experience in dealing with two successive waves, we are much better prepared to tackle any further crisis in the future,” Godavari Dange, a grassroots leader from Marathwada, said.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 12:38:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-the-hinterland-women-mount-spirited-offensive-against-pandemic/article34861956.ece

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