COVID-19 Pandemic Impact On Women And Their Struggle To Feed Their Families

( March 1, 2021 )

International Women’s Day 2021: While the pandemic has impacted almost everybody, women, especially in marginalised rural communities have been hit harder and one of the biggest challenges faced by them during this unprecedented crisis has been ‘access to food’


New Delhi: “A mother can do anything to provide the best to her child. I have a seven-month-old grandson and I understand it is essential for his growth to have a nutrient-rich diet. Hum khud nahi khayege ek baar ko, par bache ko jo de sakte hai wo zaroor dege (We adults can skip a meal but we will feed our child for his well-being)”, said 46-year-old Manwara Begum, an informal waste collector from Delhi. Manwara Begum also works as a cleaner at a post office but a salary of Rs. 7,000 and some additional income that she generates by sorting and selling recyclable waste is not sufficient to put food on the table for a family of six. To make ends meet, Manwara, the sole breadwinner of the family either borrows money or cuts down on basic needs like food.

“Pet bharne ke liye khaana to hai hi, chahe roti-namak hi khaaye (Food is needed to fill your stomach, even if it means you eat roti with salt), said 30-year-old Nanhi, waste picker turned artisan and a resident of Ghazipur Dairy Farm in Delhi.

Nanhi works at a Delhi based NGO Gulmeher Green and earns Rs. 6,400 per month. Nanhi’s husband has been out of work for over two years now which means the burden of running the five-member household rests with Nanhi. Talking about how she feeds her family on such a meagre salary, Nanhi said,

“Often children request for a particular food item or dish but there are days when we sleep on an empty stomach, how do we fulfil our children’s demands? We have to turn down their request and if they are adamant, we beat them up.

NDTV reached out to women from different cities, states and circumstances to understand the challenges faced by them on a daily basis to feed their families and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their lives.

46-year-old Manwara Begum, an informal waste collector from Netaji Nagar in Delhi is the sole
breadwinner for a family of six
Giving a peek into her family and life, Manwara Begum told NDTV,

“My husband is a drug addict that means whatever little he earns by collecting and selling recyclable waste is spent on buying drugs. I registered him for de-addiction therapy but doctors there said that his body is so used to drugs that he will die if he doesn’t get it. Essentially, now I have to support his addiction. Two years ago, my elder son (22-year-old), who was the sole breadwinner of the family, got a head injury that affected his brain. We have spent Rs. 60,000 on his treatment but all in vain. Now he just sits at home and doesn’t talk to anyone. My daughter-in-law wants to work and support the family but then who will take care of her kid? My younger son (18-year-old) is trying his luck in dancing.

When asked how the family managed during the COVID-19 lockdown when all workplaces were shut, Manwara Begum said she herself was at home for three months and senior officials at the post office supported her family financially by providing some money. The family’s food requirements were met through the free ration initiative – Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana – announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the pandemic relief package. Under PMGKAY, foodgrains were distributed to all the 80 crore beneficiaries under Targeted Public Distribution System- those under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and Priority Households (PHH). Along with foodgrain each beneficiary household (each ration card no matter how many members) also got 1 kg dal/gram (chana) per month.

“We have a ration card through which we get 16 kg wheat and 4kg rice every month. During the lockdown, the government provided us double ration and one kg of pulses for free, said Manwara Begum.

30-year-old Nanhi, waste picker turned artisan and a resident of Ghazipur Dairy Farm in Delhi is a
mother of three children
But for women like Nanhi who do not have a ration card to access the government’s support, organisations like Gulmeher Green and Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group came to the rescue.

“I have three daughters aged between 5 and 13. Two of them study in a government school and as part of the mid-day meal, it’s only in February both of them got dry ration, said Nanhi.

As an artisan at NGO Gulmeher Green, Nanhi upcycles waste materials into paintings, poster, wall hangings, among other things. But during the lockdown, since the demand for such products was low, Nanhi and her team were given the task of stitching face masks which brought in some money.

“In 2020 I applied for a ration card and I am yet to receive one. On March 3, I took a day off from work, giving away a day’s salary only to go and check the status of the ration card. They said, come after Diwali, 2021; ration card should be ready by then. I cannot take a leave every other day and the officials are not giving any explanation behind the delay as well, said Nanhi.

Rudani Devi and her family at their tea shop at Wapcos Road, Sector 18, Gurgaon
Just like Nanhi, Rudani Devi from Sarhol village in Gurugram (Gurgaon) is also waiting for her ration card for over a decade now. Rudani Devi hails from Madhubani, Bihar but soon after marriage, she came to Gurugram along with her husband and together they run a small tea stall at Wapcos Road, Sector 18, Gurgaon. Talking about the hardships brought in by the COVID-19 and lockdown, Rudani Devi’s husband K.C. Pandit said,

“Before the lockdown, we used to make Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 7,000 a month. Additionally, I would often take up odd jobs like loading and unloading and bring Rs. 200 to Rs. 400. During the lockdown, all sources of income were shut. We thought of going back home but people around us advised against it because there was no conveyance, we have three children and the disease was spreading like a wildfire. Anand Sir, one of our regular customers, who works in a nearby factory once gave me Rs. 500 and said, you can still survive in a city but you won’t if you try walking back home.

Further talking about how the couple fed their children, Mr Pandit said, they would eat at the government’s food distribution drives and bring home some for their children. He added,

“NGOs like Smile Foundation also stepped up and provided dry ration. We applied for a ration card in May, 2007 on our village address but we don’t know what the status is now.

Mr Pandit said that life is slowly coming back on track as things unlock but what still scares him the most is the lockdown period when the family was petrified of stepping out of the house, contracting the disease and eventually dying.

“We didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to ask for help. We were scared of going to a neighbour’s place also.

Source :