The COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard and the development sector was not saved from it either. I am part of the core team of Smile Foundation’s girl child and women empowerment programme Swabhiman. Our interventions involved support in terms of intensive on-ground activities and in person interactions. But to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such activities halted at the initiation of the lock-down. Women and adolescent girls were majorly impacted during this time as the physical and psychological pressure on them increased with accessibility to education, livelihood, hygiene, nutrition, and community services being adversely affected. The Swabhiman team focused on providing a support system to the women and girls by connecting through phone calls, text messages and virtual platforms, helping them navigate the challenges brought by the pandemic.
Counseling for pregnant women and new mothers
The biggest challenge was faced by pregnant women and lactating mothers who were at a vulnerable stage and were stressed out as to how to handle themselves and the new born during this time and get the required services. The mobilisers in the various project locations connected through phone calls with this target group and with the community health services like Aanganwadis, Primary Health Centres (PHCs), and government hospitals and made sure that all kinds of support; the required information regarding check-ups, immunization, emergency numbers and other relevant care was available on time. This aided many successful institutional deliveries with appropriate post-delivery care to the women and the newborns.
Access to Sanitary Napkins and Contraceptives
Another challenge was availability of sanitary napkins and contraceptives. With constant counseling over years, many adolescent girls, women have started buying sanitary napkins on their own but with the lockdown the market availability of sanitary napkins declined and in many areas it was nil. To help them maintain the hygiene, sanitary napkins were distributed in various locations. Similarly, the availability of contraceptives also declined in the market and the Swabhiman Team distributed condoms as contraceptives to couples to help them maintain their family planning method.
Awareness on Livelihood and Income Generation
Losing out on jobs was a common challenge that was faced by the unorganized working sector and the majority of the urban slum population belongs to this sector. To help and support the families, awareness and information on various government financial aid schemes are being provided to the communities with proper support to get the benefit. Information about money management and ideas on income generating sources are also being provided to the people like mask making, marketing of products through social media.
Sessions for Mental Well-Being of Adolescent Girls
Online sessions on life skills, nutrition, career counseling, yoga, hygiene, Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH) are being regularly organized for adolescent girls to keep them engaged and not let the lockdown and isolation period affect their mental well-being.
Now, as the “Unlock” has started in a phased manner, Swabhiman has resumed its on-ground activities taking into proper consideration the social distancing norms and sanitization practices. However, connecting over digital platforms has become a routine that has opened many new doors for community women and girls and will be a useful tool for us in the future as well.
Hoping for good times ahead!
To support Smile Foundation’s women empowerment programme visit https://www.smilefoundationindia.org/she-can-fly/