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Feminist struggles in times of pandemic: lessons from rural India

Indian women during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in Gurgaon, February 6, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Feminist struggles in times of pandemic: lessons from rural India

Indian women during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in Gurgaon, February 6, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Feminist struggles in times of pandemic: lessons from rural India

Indian women during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in Gurgaon, February 6, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Feminist struggles in times of pandemic: lessons from rural India

Indian women during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in Gurgaon, February 6, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Civil society has championed solidarity during this historic episode, and as often, women’s initiatives have appeared to be at the forefront. Not because of “natural” female altruism or solidarity, but because their assignment to social reproduction functions simply leaves them with little choice.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought tragedy in India, especially at the outset of the crisis. The situation is far from over, and as elsewhere, women have been heavily affected.

Small traders, home-based workers, informal recyclers and domestic workers have lost their jobs on a huge scale. School closures, which continue in some states such as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, and the return home of interstate migrants due to lockdown restrictions, have resulted in an overload in domestic work. Cramped housing, anxiety about what is still to come, and the ban on alcohol sales had left women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

The Indian government has been a key player in this tragedy. Observers have noted that the lockdown was imposed with unheard-of brutality and cruelty. According to some estimates, up to 100 million inter-state migrant workers were given just a few hours to make their way home.

At the same time, government support measures such as distributions of food and gas cylinders, cash transfers and subsidised loans have proven inadequate or are impossible to obtain.

Had these measures been put in place differently, these might have changed the situation for many women, as well as migrant workers, discriminated minorities and all informal workers.

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