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Webinar Series: COVID-19 Pandemic

Understanding its Impact on Marginal Groups and Populations

Panel 1: COVID-19 and Gender Justice: Is the Response Adequate?

Date: Thursday, May 28, 2020, Time: 10.30 to 12.30 hrs.

Moderator: Dr. Kanchan Mathur, Honorary Professor, Independent Consultant and Gender Expert, Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur


Pushpa Mai, Founder Nai Bhor, Jaipur, a CBO working for the rights of transgender persons; she is a well-known transgender leader in Rajasthan and member of the transgender board. Strong advocate of transgender rights across the State, she has been involved in facilitating relief and financial assistance to vulnerable transgender with support of the local government.

Basanta Nayak is the Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Youth and Social Development in Odisha, an organization working with urban poor communities for over four decades. An expert on gender budgeting, he is presently involved in leading the organization’s work on SDG Goals which, he believes, has to be shaped by the people.

Meera Parida, Founder, SAKHA, a CBO working for rights and entitlement of transgender. As a member of the Odisha Kinnar Samaj she has represented the concerns of transgender at many national and international forums including the International Visitor Leadership Programme. Meera anchors a TV programme Bhinna Manush Bhinna Katha to sensitize people to issues related to transgender.

Shobhita Rajagopal, is an Associate Professor and Officiating Director of the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur. She has extensive experience of working on gender and intersectionality issues cutting across sectors including education of marginalized girls, MHM and gender mainstreaming.


The key questions deliberated upon during the panel discussions were as follows:

  1. Can we say with confidence that gender is recognized as key issue and there is a collective will to address all the barriers it poses?
  2. How can we equip and sensitize society and administration on the challenges faced by transgender, single women and girls?
  3. What measures do we need to take to make the system provide all basic and essential services and be responsive to the needs of transgender, women, girls and other vulnerable groups?
  4. How to shape policies and interventions that ensure the principle of Leave No One Behind?

While explaining the main objective of the Webinar, Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) stated that for organizations like CFAR who are deeply inured in community engagement processes with the teams literally spending time from dawn to dusk with the community listening to them, deliberating with them, planning and acting together in many ways from organizing campaigns, holding stakeholder consultations and advocating jointly with policy makers, the pandemic is now posing new challenges. With no large gatherings allowed and movement restricted, the time has now come to regroup and change ones tactics of community mobilization and collective action. We need to invest in each individual community member, strengthen leadership of each person, connect digitally and enable every person to participate, shape local action, get their voice heard and assert their agency. To enable this to happen, CFAR with the support of Water for Women (WFW) and DFAT organized the three-panel webinar on COVID 19- Understanding the Impact of the Pandemic on Marginal Groups and Populations on 28-29 May, 2020, and brought together experts, civil society and community leaders to weigh in on each of the themes especially in the context of COVID and to empower each of the community members with renewed perspective on what more we need to do with even greater conviction to enhance gender sensitivity, social inclusion and universal access to safe WASH services. She concluded by stating that this alone will enable us to secure the policy and budgetary support for a pro-poor COVID response and recovery.


Pushpa Mai said that the funds for COVID were not reaching the Transgender community. There is no mention of transgender in Government Orders and Directives related to COVID-19 response. Transgender persons are stereotyped and seen as earning their livelihood by singing and dancing at weddings and collecting alms on auspicious occasions. We, therefore, need to sensitise the administration by organizing workshops to address their inherent prejudices against the community and make them aware of the issues faced by the community.

Pushpa asserted that there is an urgent need to build capacities of transgender leaders and community representatives to take forward WASH issues, especially, in the current scenario of COVID-19. She also spoke about the efforts being made to secure inclusive toilets for the community for which she has approached the Jaipur Municipal Corporation to adopt trans-friendly signage in public toilets and construct dedicated toilets for transgender users.

Basanta Nayak pointed out that gender was not adequately integrated in the COVID response efforts of the Odisha government. He highlighted the three primary challenges faced by the urban poor. These were:

  • Economic distress and instability faced by the poor including migrant workers, daily wage workers and those in informal sector.
  • Absence of integration of gender issues within the overall administrative framework of the city government.
  • Inadequate decentralization at the Ward level.

Basanta stressed on the importance of gender-being a cross cutting concern-to be made an integral part of the city planning and budget allocation.

To address these challenges, he proposed setting up of a ‘knowledge network’ which will focus on gender planning, budgeting and strengthening the institutional mechanisms instituted by the government. On the latter, he opined that given the fact that the public finance framework is not gender sensitive, there is an urgent need to evolve alternatives and even models to demonstrate that it is possible and essential. He also stressed on the need to strengthen accountability mechanisms, without which gender integration would be a challenge.

In the current context in Odisha, the role of the village head or sarpanch in managing livelihoods especially of migrant labour is indicating a shift towards decentralization. Basanta appealed for deepening these practices so that there is meaningful decentralization.

Meera Parida said that neither society nor government had given any thought on how transgender persons would cope and meet their basic needs during the lockdown. The Finance Minister of the country also did not mention transgender when she announced her economic package for all marginalized communities to off-set the crippling effects of both the pandemic and the lockdown.

She also dwelt on the fact that transgender was not a homogenous group and like all other groups they have within their ranks the elderly, unmarried and those with disability and they face the same set of challenges as others.  To date there are no quarantine facilities in Orissa or Rajasthan for transgender persons. They are not so small in number that they can be ignored by those managing the pandemic, she added.

The 73d Constitutional Amendment gave reservation of seats to 33 percent women. However, the transgender was not granted any reservation and been socially excluded in diverse ways. People are experiencing lockdown now but transgender has been experiencing social lockdown since birth.

Speaking about WASH services, Meera pointed out that a large majority of transgender were either homeless or lived in rented premises. Post the pandemic they have been evicted by the landlords, hence, how could they be expected to wash hands frequently to protect themselves against the virus, when they do not even have a roof over their head? Transgender also live together in cramped spaces and social distancing is not easy.

She said that her organization SAKHA would want to work with CFAR at the advocacy level to include rights of transgender in all policy formulations and during planning of programmes and services during COVID- 19.

Shobhita Rajagopal began her presentation by saying that COVID-19 had disrupted the lives of the people but the most impacted were the most vulnerable and marginal sections of society. She highlighted that several services had been disrupted during COVID-19 including sexual and reproductive health services, midday meal in schools, distribution of sanitary napkins, and education of children belonging to marginalized families.

The existing inequalities have grown and the administrative response has been gender neutral so far. But if we have to address the differential needs of communities and groups including women, men, children (boys and girls), and transgender, a Gender Task Force needs to be constituted to assess the impact of the pandemic and the response of the government, she suggested.

Gender lens is missing in policy making, planning and implementation of initiatives and measures to prevent and manage the virus. For this to be set right, we need to collate gender disaggregated data so that all response is informed by it.


In the discussion that followed, the panelists responded to the questions posed to them. Some specific points were made:

Shobhita and Basant said that as May 28 is observed as Menstrual Hygiene Management Day, it was absolutely essential for all stakeholders to address issues related to MHM in an integrated manner. However, local solutions need to be devised to address issues effectively. One suggestion was to enable Self-help groups to produce sanitary napkins and sell them and do this at scale by building on existing efforts. In Jaipur, the police department had also distributed sanitary napkins. Menstrual waste must be disposed properly to ensure safe sanitation.

Meera and Pushpa responding to the inclusion of transgender needs and demands in the COVID response and planning by suggesting that there was an urgent need to sensitize the administration on their identity related issues and their capability and needs.

All panelists agreed that with violence against women and especially against transgender having increased during the time of COVID, some institutional mechanism needs to be set up and to begin with more Helplines need to be put in place to enable women who are experiencing violence can secure timely help and support. There is also a need to set up a greater number of Gender Cells and build capacities of people managing these cells.

The panel highlighted the need to conduct a gender analysis study to assess the impact of the economic package and the benefits that have accrued or expected to accrue to different sections and constituencies.


To ensure a gendered COVID-19 response, the following recommendations were made

  • Apply a gender lens in policy formulation, planning and implementation.
  • Set up a Gender Task Force to mainstream gender issues at all levels.
  • Adopt integrated approach to address the livelihood concerns of transgender community.
  • Strengthen ‘Care Economy’ and in particular recognize the caretaking roles of women (cooking, cleaning, care for children, elderly and those ailing) while planning COVID-19 response.
  • Involve Ward Committees in planning and executing COVID related initiatives.
  • Involve youth groups, both girls and boys, in collating gender disaggregated data.
  • Sensitize police, doctors and media on gender and transgender rights and entitlements.
  • Let CFAR, along with CBOs and NGOs, strongly advocate for mainstreaming gender concerns in COVID response planning and implementation.


Happy to find transgender issues being discussed

Divyanshi Jena, Kaberi Nayak, Jaquleen Kinner, Transgender community representatives, Bhubaneswar

We are very happy to see Meera Maa and Pushpa ji talking about our issues and so many people discussing about our problems, which is never discussed anywhere. This gives us confidence that we are being heard and looked after.

Ramzana, Community Management Member, Hathroi, Jaipur

It has been a wonderful experience to see Transgender and women experts from Bhubaneswar and Jaipur at one place and hear them discuss on issues related to women and transgender.

Deepak Behera, Youth Club member, Bhubaneswar

We really liked the discussion and we also understand the concerns of Transgenders. We also wanted to know more about the problems of women migrants, as we have been hearing in news about their difficulties.

Would have liked to hear and learn more

Sanju, Community Management member, Brajlalpura, Jaipur

We would also like to hear from experts about women headed households, experiences of single women, and women managing households with a large number of family members

Arati Jena, Mahila Aarogya Samiti, Bhubaneswar

We want to discuss about problems faced by women in our community. We also want to know about the problems other women are facing in different places all over the country.  We would like to hear more on gender roles, and on what a woman can do to help other community members during this pandemic

Manju, Community Management member, Brajlalpura

We would like to hear personal experiences and case studies of women and transgender from Jaipur as well as other cities 

Asha Samal, Single Window Forum member, Dumduma Pana Sahi, Bhubaneswar

We would also like to know the situation of women in other parts of the country. Are the women facing domestic violence at other places as we have been hearing many such cases in news. 

Need solutions and know how to overcome problems

Kaberi  Bhoi , Adolescent Group, Dumduma Bhoi Sahi, Bhubaneswar

I could understand whatever the panelists were saying and liked the discussion on problems related to menstruation faced by girls during lockdown. Would like to know more on the solutions and the help we are going to get to overcome them?

Veerender Sahu, Slum Development Committee member, Brajlalpura, Jaipur

There is a need for a capacity building and sensitization program for the participants on gender, transgender and women’s issues. Dr. Shobhita mentioned about the Gender Task Force. We heard about gender budgeting for the first time. This will help them become familiar with some terms which are used in such sessions. 

Make the discussion more interactive and in local language

Mumtaz, CMC Member, Hathroi

The CFAR team members explained what was being said to us but there were many places where English was used. It would be preferable if Hindi or our local language is used to help us understand better

Veerender Sahu, Slum Development Committee member, Brajlalpura, Ramzana, Community Management Member, Hathroi, Jaipur

We would like to get an opportunity to ask questions directly and also participate in the discussions. A question-answer session between the panelists and participants will be nice.

Santoshi Sahoo, Community Management member, Bhubaneswar

We liked the topic of the discussion as it is very relevant to our context, but we faced problem in understanding both English and Hindi, and would prefer Odia.