| Susmita Saurav, IOP Correspondent - 09 Jul 2021

Call for Intentional Gender Lens in the Pandemic Times

In just about a three month's time span, beginning the pandemic lock-down period, NIDM team had received more than 40,000 calls related to Domestic Violence over their helpline numbers, 42 percent victims being women.

  • Women are always in special situation during any disaster. – Maj Gen Manoj K Bindal
  • Women’s well-being can never be achieved by any single agency. – Dr. Rashmi Singh
  • Women are the hardest hit among others in the wake of the pandemic. – Onkareshwar Pandey
  • Digital Divide in education, early marriages of young girls are becoming rampant. – Dr. Harpreet Kaur
  • ‘Shadow Pandemic’ – another term for the burgeoning scene of  Domestic Violence across the world. – Pooja Priyamvada


Organised jointly by Mata Sundari College for Women, Delhi in collaboration with Golden Signatures and Indian Observer Post 

By Susmita Saurav

New Delhi: “In just about a three month's time span, beginning the pandemic lock-down period, NIDM team had received more than 40,000 calls related to Domestic Violence over their helpline numbers, 42 percent victims being women,” said Maj Gen Manoj Kumar Bindal, Executive Director, National Institute of Disaster Management under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India. Speking in a webinar as the Keynote speaker Mr. Bindal bespoke about the exigency for acknowledging women’s psychological health issues, and  empowering them psychologically, especially in the post-disaster times to come. 

The webinar “PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING OF WOMEN DURING THE DISASTER ERA” was organised jointly by Mata Sundari College for Women, University of Delhi in collaboration with Golden Signatures Research and Consulting (GSRC) and Indian Observer Post on 24th of June 2021.

This was an inaugural event by Mata Sundari College for Women, in association with the A select group of ace speakers and special guests who greatly enlightened the audiences on the topic. The Webinar was intended to address the urgency for an action-oriented approach towards women’s well-being during times of the Covid19 pandemic. The luminaries comprehensively explored the topic in scientific detail.

Maj Gen Manoj K Bindal, Executive Director, NIDM, MHA Govt of India, was the Keynote Speaker at the event. As Special Guests, – Dr. Rashmi Singh, Special Secretary and Director, DCW, Govt of NCT, Delhi; and Ms Pooja Priyamvada, Author, Poet and Thought Leader – cast their valuable light in their respective disquisitions.

Mr. Onkareshwar Pandey, an eminent Journalist, Thought Leader and the founder of the Golden Signatures Research and Consulting, guided and moderated the entire event. He laid down a well-founded framework for the ensuing discussions.

Maj Gen Manoj K Bindal said, “Women pose as more vulnerable group in the post disaster scenario. This vulnerability is of three kinds – Biological (the reproductive health system, the aspects of premature births and still born babies), Social (comprising the deeply rooted inequalities), and Psychological (the dynamic pressure that shall be deeply felt by women in times to come).”

He further said, “Women are natural caregivers in families. This added burden is deepening the trauma and stress among them. They have a psychological makeup that renders them more prone to depression. In the light of culture and tradition, women feel the mammoth load of increased responsibility as nurturer of the young, elderly and sick people in her family and community. This renders them economically, mentally and psychologically more vulnerable. Incidences of early marriages of young women to older men are on increase. Thus, women are always in a special situation during any disaster.”

Maj Gen Bindal compared the non-disaster times to the post disaster times. In the non-disaster times, a woman can be guaranteed help from relatives, neighbors and employers, who readily come in handy. But the post-disaster times pose special challenges as there are widows with children to nurture, and because they mostly don’t get to see the dead-bodies of their spouses due to Covid19 protocols, there is hardly any emotional closure for these hapless women. The day-to-day livelihood of unemployed women has also become an ordeal.

Immediate measures need to be taken for their psychological recovery. But this recovery can never happen in isolation. Recovery is a process and product of economic, social, mental, physical and biological well-being. 

Suggesting for a holistic approach to women’s psychological recovery in post-disaster times, Maj Gen Manoj Bindal said, “The requisite general principles that government must follow as part of its Disaster Management should reflect in government’s attitude towards the aggrieved women – like maintaining confidentiality, having a non-judgmental attitude towards her, encouraging her self-expression, acknowledging her feelings and comforting her, and also highlighting her personal resources. It is also crucial to help mobilize family support in her favor, relieving the inherent family stress and tension and encouraging family reunions. Most importantly, we should aim to help the woman rediscover her life.”

Maj Gen Bindal said, the psychological health of women must be addressed in 7 areas:

1) Livelihood, (2) legal, (3) Compensation, (4) Paralegal, (5) Medical, (6) Housing, & (7) Self-care and psychological aspects

All the 7 areas need to be successfully negotiated for the real psychological empowerment of women. We must also aim to link her socially at community level and build up their lives by realizing her positive qualities, Maj Gen Bindal concluded. 

Dr. Rashmi Singh, Special Secretary and Director, DCW, Govt of NCT, Delhi  enlightened the audiences about the increase in domestic violence and cases of suicides. She said that women were largely found to be in denial mode in acknowledging that domestic violence existed in their homes. Acceptance of such issues is the first step towards solution to those issues. Conversations alone cannot solve the problem unless there are interventions. There must be women-centric practices and convergences and a sectoral approach to women’s mental health issues. Dr Singh advised a holistic approach to the psychological well-being of women in these times of disaster. She underlined the fact that women’s well-being can never be achieved by any single agency.

Dr. Rashmi praised the ‘Kudumbashree’ idea in Kerala, which has successfully brought about convergence of good practices, encouraging conversation and sharing of information. She applauded the breaking down of the synods, especially of the monopolistic approach of state institutes.

Dr. Rashmi  said, “Whatsoever the nature of disaster, women are most vulnerable among others. But even among women there are degrees of vulnerability, variously felt in different groups – the elderly women, specially-challenged women, the women belonging to the unorganized sector, and professional women. For this it is pertinent that the solutions are customized to fit individual needs rather than catering to the philosophy of ‘one-science fits all’.”

Dr. Rashmi further said, “Professional women working from home are reeling under stress. This is due to the deeply prevalent socio-cultural construct that requires women to achieve a superhuman level of multitasking. They often  carry the triple burden of balancing work, children and the dependent sick/elderly people at home. Other family members need to be sensitized to her well-being and encouraged to help. Gender roles must be revisited in the family and focus should be on her well-being and happiness. In the unorganized sector, there are widespread incidences of women losing jobs. Domestic-helps are being turned down for fear of pandemic. They are much more economically hit by the pandemic and often struggle for daily food needs. Government must identify vulnerable groups and reach out to them through supply of ration and other basic health needs”

Dr. Rashmi identified tremendous potential in the Anganwadi centers and networks that are operating at states and grassroots level. She urged the need to further optimize this segment while using the available resources and services. She said, the highly commendable SSK (Saheli Samanvay Kendras) model, created as a single-window concept to achieve the intended convergence of available resources, nevertheless has a more widespread outreach in various communities. SSK’s primarily encourage a conversation stream called “Sanvaad”, for which many field functionaries and counselors are being trained at the grassroots level.

“Women in every community must be acquainted with their basic human rights, like the POSCO Act, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act, and the Domestic Violence Act,” Dr. Rashmi said.

“In addition to conversing with women, they should be handed various tools to achieve their desired well-being. Para-counselors should be trained to possess virtues of patient-listening and non-judgmental attitude. This would ensure that not only certified people from reputed institutes like NIMHANS be entrusted with the onus of mental well-being, but also such trained people who could actually have a wider outreach, she suggested.

Dr. Rashmi hailed the efforts of EVA’s, MANAS, the AYUSH medical practices, and the women helpline numbers which are at ready service of the aggrieved women. She suggested a better use of the ASHA’s, Anganwadi networks, NSS cadres and also advised active involvement of teachers of colleges to achieve overall psychological well-being of girls and women in the pandemic era.

The Principal of Mata Sundari College, Dr. Harpreet Kaur delivered an introductory speech summarizing the salient points subsequently taken up for discussion by the eminent intellectuals present at the event.

Dr. Kaur said, the doubling of human population across the globe in just about fifty years has accounted for deeper impact of the recent disaster. Disruption of services and communal losses are primary effects of the pandemic. Mental health issues are considered as its secondary aspects. The pandemic has perpetrated an enduring fear in society alongside separation, grief, and a deep and all-pervasive sense of loss. There are associated health issues, most commonly loss of sleep. There is also a universal existential search for inherent meaning of life stippled with variegated strokes of negativity, anxiety and depression. A general loss of interest is felt among the masses.

Apart from the universally perceived trauma, the pre-existing socio-cultural gender inequality has greatly aggravated the psychological trauma in women. More than seventy percent of front-line workers are women who are being overworked and ill-treated. There is increasing stress of women due to unpaid labor and increased instances of Domestic Violence.

Dr Kaur specified the digital divide in education of girls, and early marriages of young girls to older men. She asserted that emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual, intellectual and social wellness is all interrelated aspects that should be addressed in entirety. Most importantly, women need to be an essential part of the policy making process.

Onkareshwar Pandey, Editor in Chief of Indian Observer Post established the narrative of webinar event by quoting Lucille Ball: “Love yourself first and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. Nurturing yourself is not selfish – it’s essential to your well-being.”

By quoting Margaret Thatcher : “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”, Mr. Pandey emphasized that women need to be really happy in order to engender a happy society.

Warmly welcoming all participants, distinguished speakers and nominees from different parts of India and abroad, he beautifully summed up the quintessential role played by women for their family, society and country in these pandemic times, while her own problems go largely unattended.

Mr. Pandey stressed the urgency to discuss women psychological well-being as a separate topic. Despite the fact that the pandemic has violently impacted every single individual, man and woman alike, women are the hardest hit among others in the wake of the pandemic because the pre-existing gender inequalities have greatly deepened. It has become mandatory to mitigate the impact of the disaster faced by women who must be placed at the center of a country's developmental and welfare policies, he said.

Onkareshwar Pandey expressed the need for applying an intentional gender lens to the design of fiscal stimulus packages and social assistance programs. He focused on equal representation of women in all Covid19 Response Planning. Women's work-hour duration is 3 times more than men in the unpaid domestic-labor sector. There is reportedly a global gender pay gap of 16 percent, women being paid 35 percent less than men working in the same arena. Moreover Young women (25 to 24 years old) are 25 percent more likely to live in poverty than men.

Mr. Pandey drew the webinar’s attention on the “Shadow Pandemic” which had been nurturing itself under the aegis of the ongoing Covid19 pandemic and invited Ms Pooja Priyamvada, as the guest speakers, to share her views.

Ms Priyamvada insisted that the word “psychological” be replaced by a more comprehensive phrase “Psycho-social”, as there is undeniable social connotation to the disaster. She explained her stance through a scientific PowerPoint presentation. She noted that women suicides have become the most common mode of death among women, as compared to pre-pandemic times, when death was largely caused by child-birth. Suicide is just not a mental issue, but a public health issue, and more appropriately a psycho-social phenomenon. College students have recently been at the receiving end of this trend.

Ms Priyamvada reiterated that ‘Shadow Pandemic’ is just another term for the burgeoning scene of Domestic Violence across the world. Dismally enough, in India there is only one psychologist per one lakh people in the country. She recommended some basic remedies like taking a good rest, exercising, and sharing of responsibilities at home to deal with the physical manifestations of the trauma. In conclusion, she accorded with a quote by Malala Yousafzai, “We need a Reset, not a recovery”.

At the end, Mr. Onkareshwar Pandey delivered an epilogue where he extolled the virtues of a sound mind in a sound body.  He stressed on the  undeniable right of every human being to positive mental health, yet women’s psychological well-being almost always gets ignored. Women not only play multifarious roles in family and society, they are also increasingly breaking the glass ceiling of leadership roles in society. Therefore, there arises the criticality to discuss and study their psychological well-being. A positive mental health begets a finer and fitter emotional intelligence and occupational health, and also engenders good interpersonal relationships.

“As the world approaches normalcy from the traumatic pandemic period, life after Covid19 is all set to greatly change. Humanity has time again defeated every adversity by its indomitable spirit of resilience in the face of natural disasters. Therefore we look forward with hope into building a brand new world where there shall be women-centric approach to every policy approved by government, Mr. Pandey said.

Mr Pandey finally gave a heart-felt tribute to woman power and women’s role in the society despite her vulnerability and gargantuan trials in the face of the great Covid19 pandemic.

Susmita Saurav is Correspondent, Indian Observer Post; a journalist, writer, autism counsellor and an academician; NTA NET and GATE qualified post graduate in English, with a flair for creative writing, Sketching, painting, and poetry writing. Email - susmitasaurav965@gmail.com 


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