Similarly, Rupa moved to Delhi from Azamgadh in Uttar Pradesh 20 years ago. Her husband works as a rickshaw driver. She has three children- two daughters who are 18 and 15 years old respectively and one son who is 13 years old. She lives in Khapas Hera a slum in south-west Delhi where she used to work in a small fabrication unit that specialized in wedding attire for a monthly income of INR 5000. However she has not worked since March 2020 when news of the pandemic led to the nation-wide lockdown. Her employer has told her that there will be no work until November.
This is a difficult time for Rupa and her family. “I have not been able to pay my rent for several months. We have been taking loans from money lenders in the neighbourhood to buy food and basic groceries. We even requested some money from our village a few weeks back because things became very difficult.” she says.
The lack of access to good quality healthcare is a major cause for concern for several homeworkers. Women like Kavita and Rupa feel particularly vulnerable in the face of this pandemic. Kavita worries that those in her neighbourhood have not fully understood the importance of social distancing norms and are still unaware of the implications of not following simple hygiene rituals. She worries that her community might be more severely impacted by this pandemic because they cannot afford good hospitals and doctors.
Children’s education is also likely to be greatly impacted due to the financial crisis faced by homeworkers. Jenny worries that her son will not be able to appear for his class 10 final exam if she is unable to pay his fees on time, leading to an unplanned break in his education. The uncertainty in the lives of women like Kavita and Jenny will remain for some time to come. “We see the number of Covid cases rising and worry that strict lockdowns may be imposed at any time. How can we get back to work if things go on this way?’ Jenny asks.
During the lockdown homeworkers were left in a lurch with a sudden loss of work, no income, non-payment of past dues, and no access to social security /protection measures. Rakesh Supkar, the business head of Traidcraft India reiterates, “It is critical to win back the trust of workers, who have been disproportionately impacted by this crisis.”
With support from the European Union under the Hidden Homeworkers Project, with our partners Home Net South Asia and Homeworkers World Wide, SAVE in Tiruppur has reached out to 3174 homeworkers so far, raising awareness about Covid 19, providing them with masks and soap. With many homeworkers not able to access government ration schemes since they are migrants from other parts of Tamil Nadu, SAVE has played a crucial role in ensuring food security and preventing homeworkers and their families going hungry. Essentials such as lentils, rice and oil have been provided to 1000 homeworkers. At the same time, SAVE has linked 151 homeworkers to government schemes that are available to support them at this difficult time.
However it has been difficult to take stock of the situation on the ground. As Mary, the Director at SAVE points out, it has not been possible for workers to gather in one place to discuss the situation and plan a way forward, due to social distancing norms. Each homeworker is being met individually and this has been a challenging task for the team at SAVE.
Similarly, in Delhi, project partners SEWA Bharat – Delhi Branch have reached out to 160 homeworkers, raising awareness about Covid 19 through phone calls and audio messages. Furthermore, they have reached out to 360 homeworkers through, SEWA’s aagewaans (local women leaders) through digital modes such as WhatsApp, giving detailed awareness sessions around protective measures against Covid 19, domestic violence, psychological trauma and care. They are also in the process of distributing Covid 19 awareness pamphlets to homeworkers and their families.
With many homeworkers not able to access government ration schemes, SEWA Bharat- Delhi branch has played a crucial role in ensuring food security and preventing homeworkers and their families going hungry. Essentials such as lentils, rice, and oil have been provided to 191 homeworkers. SEWA Delhi has also provided Sanitary kits to 250 homeworkers and their families. These consists of sanitary pads, 2 sanitizers,1kg of detergent,1lt of disinfectant, bathing soap, washing soap and 5 cotton cloth masks. Additionally, SEWA Delhi has linked 39 homeworkers without ration cards to temporary rations distributed by the government.
In Nepal, our partner SABAH Nepal has reached out to 36 homeworker leaders from in 8 locations through phone calls, who have in turn reached out to 1500 homeworkers on COVID-19 awareness. They have been providing counselling sessions twice a week via Viber, a voice messaging software, to homeworkers who have reported feeling depressed and vulnerable during this time of uncertainty and crisis.
Similar to India, in Nepal, the relief package announced by the government for informal workers was insufficient despite the prolonged lockdown. SABAH Nepal selected 200 vulnerable homeworkers for food relief distribution. The relief package included rice, lentils, cooking oil, salt, sugar, tea, spices, beaten rice, potato, flour, hand wash, soap, masks, and a mobile recharge card.
Under the livelihood support initiative, SABAH Nepal also provided raw materials, free of cost, to 72 homeworkers who are now working 45 hours a week and have been able to sell 3600 face masks in the local markets. To further support homeworkers, Sabah Nepal has diversified its products by making processed food items that are dried, pickled, frozen or ready-to-eat. They have also launched a mobile application called “Mero Pasal Sabah Bazaar” to enable homeworkers to post their products and sell to a wider audience.