Taruna lost Rajeev her husband to Covid-19 2 days before his 50th Birthday.
Rajeev was infected by the virus during India’s second Covid wave. His family was unable to access medical resources, as hospitals were overwhelmed and there were limited facilities. He died two weeks after they finally managed to find a bed at a government-run hospital.
Rajeev’s death has paralysed me. This is the most difficult time in my life. But, I don’t have any time to mourn because my life has turned around.” Taruna, 46, says. Rajeev was the breadwinner of the family. He also took the majority of financial decisions. Taruna now relies on the savings of her parents and limited financial knowledge to provide support for their children.
We lived a happy life, and we got all the things I wanted. He was the one who did the budgeting, and I simply asked him to pay me. Taruna states that now I am unsure how long the savings will last as I have not managed them before.
However, she doesn’t have any work experience so is unsure where to start. She wants to be able to provide support for her kids but does not have the right skills. “I want to get a job and leave the house. I would love to meet new people. “When I am at home, the pain will not let me sleep.”
India is one of the worst-hit countries by Covid, with more than 440,000 deaths. Tens of thousands of widowed women have been left struggling to adapt to new lives after the pandemic.
Most of these women never had a paid job. The World Bank reports that India has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. It was lower than 21% in 2019.
Many people have lost their sole breadwinner and are now struggling with the financial and emotional burdens. They were financial dependent on their male partners because of gender roles at home and patriarchal norms.
The World Bank found that Indian women had 13% less chance than men in 2017 of being able to access emergency funds. The World Bank also found that Indian women were 6% less likely to have a savings account than men. This is despite the fact that Indian women are significantly less likely to use mobile internet or own mobile phones than men.
This makes it harder for women like Taruna to access compensation – such as the recent announcement by the Indian government to pay a sum of 50,000 rupees ($674; £500) to the families of those who died of Covid-19.
Madhura Dasgupta Singhha was a social entrepreneur from Mumbai during India’s second Covid Wave. She was fundraising funds to help a Classmate. He was a 50 year-old engineer who was Covid-positive and required critical care. Unfortunately, he passed away but his classmates wanted the money to go to his loved ones.
Madhura asked Madhura his wife to tell him which bank they should credit funds to. She said that she did not know if her husband had one. Madhura 51, who is an ex-banker, said that while there wasn’t any knowledge within the family about what to do in financial disasters, this was the right time not to show her how to use the internet or financial prudence.
Madhura realized this and started Not Alone. This campaign was to aid women who were the only bread-winners in their family due to the pandemic. She noticed a significant increase in the number of volunteers from India, and Indian diaspora who wanted to assist her after the launch.
About 100 women live in this community. Many people are suffering from mental illness. Madhura, along with her volunteer team, have witnessed cases of depression and survivor’s guilt. Many others are finding it difficult to get by.
Many of these women have inheritance issues. For others the in-laws won’t let them remain in their marital home. Madhura says sometimes, the family of the deceased offers a substantial settlement. However, they soon discover that they are being dominated by new relatives.”
Many are having difficulty paying their kids’ school fees. The woman in one instance didn’t have any idea about insurance, but she continued to pay her premiums even though her husband had died.
Poor financial literacy is the root of this problem, she says. Globally, 35% of men are financially literate compared to 30% of women, according to a 2015 survey by ratings agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P). However, India has a lower level of financial literacy and a wider gender gap, where 27% of Indian men are financially literate, compared with 20% for women.
Madhura, along with her team, encourages women to re-enter work but others are not yet ready. Grief counselling is a priority in such situations. However, the process can be slow and not linear. A simple trigger, such as a photograph or a fragment of conversation, can sometimes stop emotional progress for several weeks.
The program provides career support and guidance to those who are ready. The volunteers assist in growing small businesses from passion-driven projects that many of these women are involved with.
Madhura has been approached by some start-ups, expressing an interest in hiring from the community. Twelve women have found jobs already and more are on their way.
Madhura was supported by her classmate and she opened a bank account. While she was able to receive some money from friends and family, she still needed an income source. Madhura, her team and others wanted to help but ran into some obstacles. Her former classmate turned down a job offer because her wife was emotionally draining. Madhura patiently waited and eventually she called.
“She now invests wisely. She has learned internet banking. It’s all small, but it’s huge for us.
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