Investing in rural women builds resistance to future crises

Despite the devastating effects of Covid-19, women in rural communities across India have used adaptability and resilience to come up with effective coping strategies. The most recent display of the role of women in times of crisis was led by Kerala’s nurses. Kerala’s success in curbing vaccine wastage and administering 74.26 lakh doses after receiving 73.39 lakh doses was seen as a testimony to the resourcefulness of its nurses. Kerala’s women nurses are also the trailblazers behind Kerala’s low infant and maternal mortality rates.
The tale of women shouldering responsibility for rural healthcare goes beyond Kerala. In a country where quality healthcare remains a privilege of the rich and influential, a silent army of women, clad in pink sarees, work tirelessly and selflessly to make basic healthcare facilities accessible to those who live on the margins of the growing Indian economy. India’s ASHA workers are the backbone of primary healthcare in the country’s 6,00,000 villages. For many villages where hospitals aren’t accessible easily, 860,000 ASHAs across the country are the only ray of hope in providing medical assistance.

Besides healthcare, it’s well recognized that rural women play a critical role in agriculture, food security and managing land and natural resources. Yet many suffer from discrimination, and structural inequality. These stark realities show that investing in rural women has never been more critical.

Aggravated health risks


The impact of COVID-19 pandemic is aggravated for women in rural areas where they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines. Restrictive social norms and gender stereotypes limit rural women’s ability to access health services.

This view was also echoed by the chief of United Nations in a press statement, “a lot of rural women suffer from isolation, as well as the spread of misinformation, and a lack of access to critical technologies to improve their work and personal life”.

The pandemic has heightened the vulnerability of women’s rights to land and resources. Even today, cultural norms impede women’s exercise of land and property rights. 

Moreover, women’s land tenure security is also threatened as unemployed migrants return to rural communities, increasing pressure on land and resources and increasing gender gaps.

Their unpaid care and domestic work has increased during lockdowns. And COVID-19 widows risk disinheritance.

Closing the divide

Despite these inequalities, rural women have been at the front lines of responding to the pandemic. Take for instance, Indu Rani. She is among the lakhs of healthcare workers who have found themselves in the spotlight. A trained nurse, she doubles up as a vaccinator. Indu travels 170 km for 8 hours daily to the Nathupur primary health centre. That too without a day off. Indu starts her day at 4 AM to cook for her family. She leaves for work at 6 after finishing household chores. Her arduous journey to the vaccination site involves a train, a bus, and an autorickshaw. After finishing her shift at 5 PM, she takes the same route home. Over the past few months, Indu has administered more than 10,000 doses.

Stories like these are  abound. Which makes it clear why most think-tanks unanimously agree: The need to invest in rural women is imperative. According to the UN  Secretary-General António Guterres, our focus must be on:
1.  Providing them with access to healthcare, social protection and agricultural information
2. Closing the digital divide
3. Responding to the “rise of domestic violence against women”
4. Tackling discriminatory land and inheritance laws that expose rural women to losing their sources of income; and
5. Supporting women’s unpaid care and domestic work. 

Join Rukmani Trust in its quest to empower rural women; increase our efforts to support them through the COVID-19 pandemic; and work with them to build their resilience to future crises.






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