India: Tackling new challenges to protect women and girls during COVID-19


UN Trust Fund grantee tackling new challenges to protect women and girls during COVID-19 in India
SAHAYOG field coordinator distributes masks and information on COVID-19 in local community. Photo courtesy of SAHAYOG.

SAHAYOG Society for Participatory Rural Development is going beyond its original mandate to meet the needs of women and girl survivors or those at risk of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The first thing we did,” said SAHAYOG's Coordinator Paula Das, “was to reach out to our partners in various districts [who] provided us with information on the ground [so that] we are making continuous adjustments in our programme.”

With its usual group activities suspended, SAHAYOG shared audiovisual recordings on WhatsApp to teach and facilitate small online groups of adolescent girls about sexual and reproductive health and rights. This method has allowed the girls to open up about the risks of violence they were facing at home during the lockdown. SAHAYOG also set up a toll-free crisis helpline Sakhi Saheli (“Friend”) to provide information, register complaints and follow up on issues with the relevant local council or department.

UN Trust Fund grantee tackling new challenges to protect women and girls during COVID-19 in India
Community men help pack and distribute ration bags for the most marginalized and at-risk. Photo courtesy of SAHAYOG.

During the lockdown, many people in rural communities can no longer earn money, which may lead to greater tensions in the household, placing women at heightened risk of domestic violence.[1] Paula shared:

“Since our work is among marginalized communities, we were able to see how the lockdown created economic havoc in their lives as many [of them] work in the informal sector.”

Despite not being a relief organization, SAHAYOG immediately called for funds for an emergency relief effort, which has allowed it to help 2,175 families and 10,875 individuals most at risk of starvation already during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the beneficiaries is Reena Devi, a 74-year-old woman whose relatives and neighbors could no longer afford to buy her food. Food rations from SAHAYOG arrived just at the right time.

UN Trust Fund grantee tackling new challenges to protect women and girls during COVID-19 in India
Adolescent girl makes sanitary pads with materials provided by SAHAYOG. Photo courtesy of SAHAYOG.

In addition, SAHAYOG is mobilizing its local networks to:

  • attend online classes to take notes for children in slums who cannot afford to do so;
  • provide cloth to girls to make sanitary pads; and
  • offer basic safety equipment to front line workers.

“Over the course of project implementation, the UN Trust Fund provides grantees with training in areas such as ethics and safety, finance and project management”, said Elimane Bousso, Capacity Development Coordinator of the UN Trust Fund. “These skills will enable them to not only undertake high-quality work to end violence against women and girls, but also prepare them to adapt effectively when facing new challenges, as seen here with SAHAYOG.”

A non-profit voluntary organization, SAHAYOG led a project funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) to establish a culture of zero tolerance towards violence against women and girls and gender discriminatory practices. Though the project ended just before the pandemic began, SAHAYOG has since continued to build on the project’s achievements and adapted its work to meet the new challenges posed by COVID-19.

[1] FAO. “Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 and Equitable Policy Responses in Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition.” 15 May 2020. Last visited: 8 September 2020.