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Home / Columns / Design a safety net for poor urban women

Design a safety net for poor urban women

Perhaps one way would be to first create a database and consider some form of cash incentive to at least tide them over at a time when the cost of food, medicines and other necessities has gone up.

columns Updated: Sep 05, 2020, 20:00 IST
The devastation wreaked by Covid-19 has hurt people across India in numerous ways. While there has been much talk of safety net schemes and programmes for the rural poor, the same cannot be said for the urban poor.
The devastation wreaked by Covid-19 has hurt people across India in numerous ways. While there has been much talk of safety net schemes and programmes for the rural poor, the same cannot be said for the urban poor.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

The devastation wreaked by Covid-19 has hurt people across India in numerous ways. While there has been much talk of safety net schemes and programmes for the rural poor, the same cannot be said for the urban poor. The reverse migration of the unorganised sector workers to cities has exposed not just the debilitating impact of the pandemic, but decades of neglect and the inability of the State to reach out to the large swathes of informal workers and make them an integral part of the growth story. And lest we forget, many of them are women managing women-alone or women-dependent households. In fact, women in urban settings facing distress hardly feature in social welfare schemes.

Most women are in the unorganised sector and the lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the pandemic have had a terrible effect on their earning capacity. A number of surveys, including one by the Azim Premji University with the support of the Centre for Advocacy and Research, show that economic stress has caused hunger, deaths from related morbidities, and an increase in suicides in various parts of the country. The survey also showed that even for households where one person was employed, there was a drop in income by over half. The impact of the lockdowns and job losses has been more severe among women with lower levels of education.

For the situation to improve, there has to be much greater public spending. The government, in collaboration with civil society organisations, must focus on urban poverty and find ways to address the different levels of vulnerability that the poor, especially women, face — for they confront the “triple burden” of raising a family, earning a livelihood and contributing to community work.

There are many schemes which could help. The government can think of increasing the number of days of work available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, but add on a national urban employment guarantee component to it. Some states such as Odisha, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have put such schemes in place, and best practices from these could form a template for a national scheme.

Women who work from home in urban areas to produce items for sale are finding it difficult to get money to buy raw materials. More importantly, they no longer get orders as there is no demand, and this means there is a high likelihood of them sliding into poverty. Most of them now have to shoulder a huge burden in terms of childcare too, since children are not going to school. In addition, many have to tend to the elderly in the family. In urban settings, there are also other risks for women. One is the lack of availability of water which means they have to rely on private sources of water, which brings with it health risks.

The government has to look at strategies keeping in mind the increased vulnerabilities of women in urban settings. Perhaps one way would be to first create a database and consider some form of cash incentive to at least tide them over at a time when the cost of food, medicines and other necessities has gone up. Resident welfare associations could think of setting up recovery funds for women in need. This is also a time when companies, though themselves in a difficult spot, could focus on this group when it comes to social responsibility.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com

The views expressed are personal

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