“It is women’s responsibility to maintain the social fabric – whether at home, in health centers and schools, or in caring for the elderly – all of this is unpaid care work (and it continues to increase) ”, explains Mita Lonkar of the Chaitanya Foundation in New Delhi, India, one of the many NGO partners of UN Women in India, providing essential support to women and their families, while the country struggles to cope with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The majority of people on the front lines of the pandemic are women, there is a need to provide resources such as health care, education and training for women,” Lonkar adds. “Women are particularly vulnerable economically – their personal finances are weaker and their position in the labor market is less secure than men. “
Since January 2020, India has reported more than 27 million cases of COVID-19 infection and more than 300,000 deaths – numbers that many believe to be substantial underestimates. As infection rates peak, hospitals run out of beds and oxygen, drugs are dwindling, and there are vaccine shortages. The country also experienced massive flooding and displacement in its coastal areas last week when Cyclone Yaas made landfall.
The scale of the emergency is unprecedented and as with every crisis, women and girls, especially those from poor and marginalized communities, are among the hardest hit. Data from at least seven states indicate that women account for 34-42% of COVID-19 infections. The needs are exponential – from basic needs for food, personal protective equipment, hygiene and sanitation products, and vaccines, to longer-term support to reintegrate women into the labor market and access funding for women. start-up.
Worldwide, COVID-19 led to more job losses for women, and India is no exception. Women’s participation in the labor market was on a downward trend even before the pandemic, and women’s earned income was only one-fifth that of men – well below the global average. In the informal sector, the situation is worse and 91 percent of women in India are engaged in the informal sectors and at home. The time women in India spend on unpaid household chores is 10 times that of men. As the pandemic rages on, many women have had to stop their paid work to care for their families.
The Chaitanya Foundation has been working with UN Women since 2019 to roll out its second chance education and vocational learning program in India, which has reached over 50,000 women. The program now facilitates access to employment for women who have completed their training, and helps small entrepreneurs who need smaller capital investments, as many of their loans were turned down during the pandemic.
The crisis has made it clear to Lonkar and her team that the company needs to take a close look at how it values and pays for women’s work.
Susan Ferguson, representative of UN Women in India, agrees: “Whether at home, in the office or in the field, we must stop taking women’s work for granted. And we need to expand educational opportunities for women and girls.
“UN Women India’s Second Chance Education Program is a good example of how we can simultaneously fight the pandemic and provide women with opportunities to advance their careers, by training first-rate health workers. line while providing pathways to employment, ”adds Ferguson.
Currently, UN Women and its partners in India are providing masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to frontline responders; train health workers in the response to COVID-19; support women’s livelihood projects and provide cash transfers to women in need. To mitigate the increased risk of gender-based violence in the context of existing inequalities, UN Women is also supporting the training of counselors, social workers and staff in One Stop Crisis Centers – facilities where female survivors can access a comprehensive package. services: attention, legal aid and temporary shelter.
UN Women is seeking immediate funding to support and expand these initiatives.
Access to information is another area of concern for women’s organizations on the ground. “The development and empowerment of women depend on the availability and accessibility of quality information. Information permeates all aspects of our daily life… and yet it seems that most women do not have access to relevant, precise and timely information ”, underlines Mita Lonka of the Chaitanya Foundation. Misinformation about the COVID-19 disease and vaccination is widespread, and the lack of information for women can have fatal consequences.
UN Women launches communication efforts in partnership with civil society and youth groups to increase access to verified information, fight misinformation and improve women’s knowledge about prevention and vaccine against COVID-19 disease , as well as how to access medical services, emergency accommodation or protection orders to escape violence.
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