An Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi, conducted a survey among 4,500 women respodnetns in rural areas of 20 Indian states during the month of July and August 2020 has found that the Covid-19 pandemic has had huge impact on women’s lives, work, livelihoods, and entitlements.


A report on the survey, “Impact of Covid-19: VillageMaker Study”, states that the current pandemic has accentuated already high and persistent gender inequality and disparities in Rural areas in developing countries like India. The report, released at a national level webinar attended by experts, practicetioners, and policy makers, points towards the impact of pandemic on rural women — or village makers.

Excerpts:

The survey finding reveals improvement in safe drinking water, toilet facility and use of cleaned fuel, but the expensive charges of LPG/PNG is still a major hurdle. One in every two women respondents used tap water for their drinking purposes; 80% of them had toilet facilities within the house, 75% of them had LPG/PNG connections but due to high charges three-fourths could not fill it.
Access to education and health facilities are still a main problem in rural areas as eight out of ten respondents reported that girls college situated at distant place viz. more than 5 kms. Around 53% of the surveyed married women revealed that their children could not attend school during pandemic due to distance and another one-third did not attend the online classes in absence of availability of smart phone with internet connection.


The problem of public health care system also revealed by half of the respondents as they still availed the private health facility, and 80% of them use their own savings for their health care. The worst part is that still 52% of the married women did not use sanitary pads during menstruation as they said it is expensive or unaware of it.

Land and agriculture

In rural areas, land is the main resource and about 63% of the respondents have mostly joint land ownedership, and around 55% of them owned marginal land (up to 1 hectare), who produced maily rice, wheat, and sugarcane crops.
Around 54% of the respondents sold their produce to their local trader, 33% to the buyer, and 23% to cooperative and government agency. Due to the pandemic, 42% of the respondents reported having received less than the market price, and 28% reported having delayed in payments of sold produce.

Livelihood and time use

Around three-fourths (74%) of the respondents still depends farm activities for their livelihood, while 36% were involved in non-farm activities. Over half (56%) of the respondents did not get any work during the pandemic as the work they used to do n both farm and non-farm activities before pandemic has now gone to returned male migrants.


Women were spending more time in unpaid domestic and care work. Out of total active time of about 10 hours in a normal day they were spending 90% of their time in unpaid work such as cooking, other domestic and care work. This reveals that women’s work load in unpaid domestic and care activities in rural areas has increased during the pandemic, which is mainly due to their children not attending schools and lack of economic activities for women due to high return male migrants in rural areas, as three-fourths (76%) of the reported that the migrant workers returned to their villages.


About 65% of the respondents said that wages and salaries have decreased during the pandemic while 44% said that crop prices have reduced and 70% feel that the price of essential commodities has increased during the pandemic.


More than half (52%) of the respondents believed that the prices of products have increased during the pandemic while more than 60% revealed that production, marketing, and movement have also reduced significantly. Almost half of the women surveyed (48%) reported that they had some debt, out of those 35% borrowed money from landlords, and another 30% from commercial institutions.

Social evils

For ages rural society has been bogged down by many social evils. Over the years, there has been improvement but still 14% of respondents revealed about existence of untouchability in rural society, 21% experienced discrimination based on caste and 46% encountered wage discrimination based on gender.
Around 43% respondent reported  having seen violence against women in their neighbourhood due to poor cooking, children crying, and not taking care of in-laws. In addition, 10% of the respondents said that there has been an increase in child marriages,15% reported increase in child labour, 38% said increase in verbal abuse, 13% reported increase in farmers’ suicide during the pandemic.

Government welfare schemes

About 57% of the respondents belonged to BPL households and all possessed aadhaar card and voter ID card. The government welfare package reached to majority of the respondent as three-fourth (76%) them received some form of relief packages, about 40% received cash transfers and (83%) received work in MGNREGS out of those applied applied for the work.
In general in rural areas also people are taking preventive measures during the pandemic and 52% of the respondents were using cloth masks. But the impact of pandemic can be seen on respondents as over half of them were stressed about earning a livelihood and getting coronavirus themselves or their family members. Around 55% of them were eagerly looking for work and another 52% was in need of urgent medical assistance and ration.

Experts’ views

Vibhuti Patel, former professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, said that every fourth youth in the country is currently unemployed due to reverse migration men in rural areas are now competing with women for jobs and in this course, women are loosing their work or employment. She also stressed that gender stereotypes are playing a big part and there is an underreporting of unpaid care work.

Madhu Joshi, senior advisor, Gender Equity and Governance, Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3, formerly CEDPA India), New Delhi, noted that women being isolated in a lockdown situation not only makes them vulnerable to domestic violence but also cut off from social groups which give them identity and power.
G Sridevi, associate professor, department of economics, Central University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad said that women and children belonging to lower social groups face the highest amount of sexual abuse and suffer from malnutrition.


Prof Govind Kelkar, chairperson, GISC, IMPRI, and executive director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram, pointed out that today we need data for ownership of resources by women. Usually, land ownership is in the name of the head of the household which creates a lot of patriarchy and masculinity in society.


She said that unpaid care work is a necessity but it should not be the responsibility of only women. Unpaid care should also be recognized as productive work. Economists have made only paid work productive, and unpaid work is not given any value. A woman spends around 12-14 hrs on non-paid work but she is not considered a worker. Unpaid work has to be reduced with technology.
She added, when we talk about women’s inequality it is not considered a science but considered as activism. So there is a need to conceptualize patriarchy, masculinity norms in the present context and welfare for women in futur

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