Femme First Foundation, in partnership with Twitter India, ran a campaign to acknowledge the work done by women in public offices during the COVID’19 pandemic. The gendered experience in different sectors, the uneven burden of domestic and professional responsibilities, the vulnerability to the virus and the various inconspicuous barriers that hinder access to basic livelihood means often go neglected. These 19 #WomenChangemakers were chosen from a pool of public nominations and come from a variety of fields such as healthcare, legislature, law enforcement, administration, local government , the judiciary, grassroots activists, and so on. These exceptional women leaders shared experiences from their work during COVID, the challenges they faced, and the various empathetic approaches adopted by them to make public service more accessible.
As a part of the campaign, we organised Twitter Spaces and Twitter Chats, and also held interviews with some of them individually, broadcasting them on our social media platforms. These conversations and discussions reaffirmed our notion of the well-recognised fact of women being more inclusive leaders, better decision-makers, and more collaborative team players.
One of our changemakers, Ms. Abhinandita Dayal Mathur (Advisor, Govt. of Delhi), shared, "Women have exhibited a natural sense of leadership with compassionate understanding and respectful sensibility. People have had different experiences in places with female leaders. They are collaborators, and this makes a difference."
The imperative need to have a gendered approach in policy making has been highlighted over and over again. . During Covid-19, we witnessed women leaders come to the fore, tapping issues specific to women and other marginal groups and having a more inclusive approach. Ms. M.S. Lakshmipriya (IAS, Deputy Commissioner, Bongaigaon) talks about Project Saubhagya, through which she shared that "We noticed a decrease in maternal mortality in a six-month period, from 16 to 3, and also a decline in infant mortality from 253-123." Similarly, Ms. Janani J (Assistant public prosecutor, government of Delhi) highlights how female survivors had suffered a lot in the Mahila Courts , especially with the onset of the pandemic, which saw an exponential rise in domestic violence, sexual abuse at homes, etc.
While women were disproportionately impacted during the pandemic, those on the margins were the worst sufferers. It is important that when we look at issues, we need to analyse them from an intersectional lens, looking at the various structures of oppression that make it harder for some people than others. In pursuing the goal of gender justice and equity even during the tumultuous times of the COVID ’19 crisis, some of these women changemakers talked about their work with women and communities at the margins. Ms. Shraddha Joshi (IRS officer & Director, MAVIM) shared, "The biggest challenge during COVID was to create livelihood opportunities for poor women, especially those who came from the lower caste or lower class background." So we (MAVIM) created an E-Business platform, leveraging existing small-scale production units of women to make COVID-related material such as PPE kits, masks, etc."
Dr. C Meenakshi (IRS Officer, IGI of Forest, New Delhi), who actively worked with the tribal communities, focused on the peculiar challenges faced by women, which made them more susceptible to the virus. She said, "Women kept postponing their vaccine doses. This is because they thought that after taking the vaccine they were likely to fall ill, and hence would need to rest for 2-3 days. This will make it difficult for them to manage their household chores. " Women constantly need to manoeuvre such barriers in a patriarchal society that often remains inconspicuous.
While the women’s movement was somewhere progressing towards reducing gender inequality, the COVID '19 pandemic aggravated the already existing problems of gender discrimination and widened the divide. Today, India is far from achieving the SDG of gender equality by 2030. In fact, India's rank in the "Women's Peace and Security Index" dropped to 148 out of 170 countries. This requires urgent measures to ensure women have more space at the table, to ensure their voices are heard, and also to acknowledge the commendable work done by some of these women on various fronts to bridge this gender divide.
(To be continued in part-2)