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Women from our projects work as warriors even as their difficulties grow

Pune, March 30: Even when they are overwhelmed by their own difficulties, these women and men are performing a number of tasks to keep others safe. Hundreds of women and men who are part of our community-based projects are playing a role in keeping people safe and helping them tide over the problems following the lockdown. They include around 185 members of the community management committee (CMC), 500 members of the Mahila Arogya Samiti (Women’s Wellness Committee), 125 help desk members, apart from around 10 ASHAs who are part of the community engagement work of the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR).

One such worker is Smita Sonde, a resident of Vishrantwadi, Pune. Smita, 35, suffers from breast cancer while her husband is a diabetic and suffers from tuberculosis. It was a struggle for them making ends meet and bring up their 14-year-old son. However, Smita is currently engaged with the helpdesk as she informs people “how to keep social distance, wash hands and avoid getting infected.” Smita’s chemotherapy is postponed and the family is short of essential food items, but she continues to be of service to others.

At the same time, CFAR is also keeping government departments informed about the ground situation with regard to a lack of income, shortage of food people are facing, along with rising prices.  A quick survey done by CFAR and its partner Sahayy Single Window, a women’s collective connecting people to their entitlements in Pune, has found that around 41% of building and construction workers (from a total of 312 surveyed) are finding it hard to feed themselves and their dependent family members. Most of the workers in the unorganized sector have lost their livelihood and do not have alternate financial support.

Many people have lost their jobs and wages. Mangal Shirsath, a 37-year-old domestic worker form Yashavant Nagar, says she her employer will not give her the monthly salary. Similarly, Rina Gavli from Shramik Vasahat, a domestic worker, and her husband, a security guard, have both lost their jobs and their wages due to the lockdown.

The Department of Food and Civil Supplies has announced it would give two months’ allocation of food grains to the people, but this benefit is available only to the holders of government ration cards. “The number of people outside the purview of cards is far greater than the ones covered under PDS and other schemes,” said Anand Bakhade, CFAR’s State Project Manager.

Even as they face the prospect of hunger, project members are doing their best to avert transmission of coronavirus in their community, says Anand Bakhade, CFAR’s State Project Manager. CFAR’s work is located in slum areas of the city which comprise 22,000 households and 91,000 people.

CFAR is working with the community and also with the administration to keep it informed of the people’s needs so that these can be addressed. CFAR has also written to the Ministry of Labour, and approached the Women and Child department and Food and Civil Supplies department to get their support in meeting people’s needs for food and medical needs. Help desk members also doing assessment of real need of most marginalized community and updating to the respective government authority as well as stakeholders.

Even as Smita is unsure of when she will get her next medical treatment, she is taking her work as a member of the helpdesk seriously. “All help desk members are working as warriors with the support of the government to save the lives of the most marginalized community,” says Smita Sonde.

CFAR recommends that people from underprivileged communities, irrespective of whether they have government entitlement cards or not, should be given grocery items, including soaps, while all medical treatment should be available to them free of cost.