As COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented worldwide health emergency, women across the world have come on the frontlines. The members of women’s SHGs have been playing a key role in the backdrop of the pandemic.
In J&K, there are approximately 4 lakh 20 thousand women members of around 42 thousand Self Help Groups (SHGs) formed under the Ministry of Rural Development’s Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM/JKRLM).
With the increased demand for medical facilities, these women have taken up the task of producing masks, Sanitizers, Hand washing gel cleaning staff. Apart from this, the SHG members were suggested as the institution that should take the lead and play significant role in promoting Social Inclusion & Social Development (SISD) as is happening in Self-Help Groups, where several initiatives are being undertaken to reach the most excluded and also addressing issues related to food security, health, and sanitation in the community. For example, they have an activity called “Ek Muthi Chaul” as part of this activity a handful of rice is collected by the SHG members during Covid-19 Combat Battle, which is donated to vulnerable families.
As reported by J&K State Rural Livelihoods Mission MoRD GOI, around 2000, SHG members are presently involved in the manufacturing of masks and sanitizing provisions.
Women SHG members in JK State Rural Livelihood Missions (UMEED) have produced around 10 Lakh masks, 10,000 litres of hand wash and sanitiser. In Reasi, for instance, SHGs have produced about 110000 masks by getting order from district administration. In district Bandipora, poor rural women who were initially engaged in stitching cloths have switched over to sewing masks and have produced more than one lakh cotton masks.
Women SHG members of JKRLM (UMEED) in Bhaderwah district have produced around 10,000 liters of hand wash and sanitiser.
Moreover, women SHG members, who also work as banking correspondents, known as ‘Bank Sakhis’, have continued to provide doorstep banking services to remote areas.
They are distributing pensions as well as enabling the most vulnerable to access credits into their accounts through direct benefit transfers (DBT). The work of the SHG members has not only helped in meeting the increased demand for medical provisions, but has also provided the members themselves with some financial relief.
The members who were earlier deprived of their daily incomes due to the lockdown are now able to earn around INR 300-400 per day. Women across J&K started online IEC campaigns by using different mediums of communication to cover all the SHG members & their families under social security Schemes like PMJJBY & PMSBY which is very important in the present panic situations created by Covid-19 throughout the world.
The government of India has rolled out two social security schemes, namely, PMJJBY and PMSBY in the country with a view to financially empowering people and providing social security to them, a circular issued by the Finance Department that all the employees as well as community members are, as such, advised to consider a subscription to the two schemes, if they have not done so already, by contacting the branch managers or bank Sakhis of UMEED working in different branches of J&K UT in which they maintain their saving accounts so as to secure & renewal of social Security insurances Schemes for Fy 2020-21.
Through a digital training programme, the SHGs will be equipped to create awareness about social distancing and steps to be followed in the community. They will also suggest practices for maintaining personal hygiene, sanitation and adopting cashless practices. UMEED, a programme spearheaded by the Government of J&K through the J&K Rural Livelihoods Mission Society, has collected more than 100,000 mobile numbers of community members. It is using the Mobile- platform to release voice, text messages and is also addressing the community’s queries regarding COVID-19.
Sanitary napkins—An essential commodity for women during COVID-19 lockdown:
In the wake of the Coronavirus disease, COVID-19, Women SHGs in J&K working to protect each other in communities. Key to keeping healthy is having access to basic sanitation and hygiene. Yet globally, 2 billion people live without access to basic sanitation, 3 billion lack basic hand washing facilities at home (WHO). People in least developed countries, people most left behind and least able respond, are impacted most by unsafe sanitation.
Menstrual Hygiene is vital to the empowerment and well-being of women and girls worldwide. It is about more than just access to sanitary pads– though those are important. It is also about ensuring women and girls live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation with dignity.
While keeping in the view Women Self-Help Group members put availability of Sanitary Pads with the contribution from every Village Organization (VO) to manage their menstruation in a hygienic way- in safety, privacy, and with dignity- wherever they are.
There is an urgent need for economic reconstruction in the post-lockdown period. SHG loans have the potential to facilitate and boost investment or spending.
They also provide a safety net to improve resilience during a critical time of need. Such loans enable women to avoid high interest rates and harsh conditions placed on borrowers by banks. It has been observed that women SHGs in J&K UT under UMEED have a gross NPA ratio of 0.001 percent, negligible than the industry average.
Therefore, it is necessary to keep the SHGs solvent and recapitalize them so that they have adequate liquidity to lend and play their vital role in the recovery process.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) relief package, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has doubled the amount of collateral-free loan to Rs 20 lakh for women SHGs to meet their business requirements.
Arsheed Ahmad Bhat is Block Programme Manager J&K Rural Livelihoods Mission, Dansal Jammu.
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