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23 Oct 2020

Fighting Covid-19 on health, violence and livelihood

Forty year old Sundari Bai from Paba village, Girwa, happily shares "I have grown and sold vegetables in my village in the times people were most afraid. Many of them even came straight to my field for purchase."

 

Women of the village of Paba village in Girwa, Alsigarh sit gathered together in a circle, talking and listening to each other. Some speak with a heavy heart while others lend a supportive ear. After the anxieties of an enforced lockdown there is a renewed sense of community. A safe space has been created for the women to meet regularly to discuss their struggles. In this environment women are able to share personal struggles and stories of intimate partner violence as well as learning about business, earning income and best practices for improving their livelihoods.

Data collected from across India during lockdown portrayed a grim reality showing an increase of domestic violence complaints reaching a ten-year high. For many women, limited mobility not only affected their livelihood but their mental and physical health as well. Seva Mandir introduced Self-Help groups years ago into Rajasthani villages and has since been working with many villages to introduce training on intimate partner violence, creating safe spaces where women are able to meet with their fellow group members and discuss ways in which they can get help.

Since the creation of the Self-Help groups women have found that with support, they are able to tackle social injustices resulting from gender inequity, strengthening not only the individual but the community at large. One recent example was that of a woman who did not participate in her villages' SH group. She approached the leader and asked them to intervene in her domestic violence case. She came to the meeting crying and extremely distressed but knew that approaching a woman-only group would give her a safe space to talk through her situation. The SH group counselled her and mobilized the village community to ensure that she remains safe in her house. She now knows she has a close-knit group of women she can call on whenever she needs to and feels better in this knowledge.

By using established Self-Help groups, women can now seek counselling for the domestic abuse as well as support to build their livelihoods, therefore finding more autonomy, allowing them to forge a path to live safely and independently, producing a better outcome for the community as a whole.

When the Rajasthan government finally relaxed lockdown on the 20th April this year, allowing more room for the agriculture and other industries to operate, the Seva Mandir teams worked closely with families on rebuilding livelihood opportunities alongside the ongoing Covid-19 relief drive. Many families had been left with little income and reduced food resources.

In the previous year, a very different scenario was presented, Dec 2019 saw 42 women beneficiaries participate in vegetable cultivation activities, planting seeds, saplings of peas, onions and tomatoes, the harvest of which was expected by March this year (the same month that lockdown was announced). With restrictions put in place, everything was put on hold, the shops and markets shut down, stalling the economy. The beneficiaries therefore used their stock to feed their families, selling the surplus to generate additional income. .

Seva Mandir teams negotiated providing seeds at a lower contribution rate (reducing by 10%) and provided remote training to women at home during lockdown to ensure best business practice, enabling the women to maximise profits. In addition, they learned to pasteurise the peas, saving some for future consumption. The average income of beneficiaries is now approx. INR 3,800. Seva Mandir continues to provide regular monitoring and support.

The presence of a strong support group for women along with agricultural assistance is helping many families in south Rajasthan to rebuild lives with dignity. Seva Mandir's Self-Help groups have produced female leaders who are taking leadership in sensitizing communities around them, helping to build a safer and responsible ecosystem for women and children. Seva Mandir continues to work at expanding livelihood opportunities through multiple ways; poultry, high quality seeds for flowers, vegetables and by expanding SH groups into villages.

 

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