COVID Forced Women From Low-Income Houses Cut Back on Food Intake: Survey

One in every 10 women surveyed said that they did not have enough food between March-October 2020.

3 min read
COVID Forced Women From Low-Income Houses Cut Back on Food Intake: Survey

Women in India's low-income households cut back on their food intake, and rest, but provided more unpaid care work, amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, found a study by consulting firm Dalberg.

The study, in which over 15,000 women were surveyed, also revealed that it was taking longer for them to re-enter workforce after the first wave of COVID-19.

One in every 10 women surveyed said that they did not have enough food between March-October 2020.

"An estimated 3.2 crore women reported being worried about food sufficiency in their households (but not having had to limit food yet). Given Indian women’s poor nutritional outcomes pre-pandemic, it could compound pre-existing women’s poor nutritional outcomes pre-pandemic," the report said.

More Unpaid Care Work, Less Rest

Women made up just 24 percent of those working before the pandemic but accounted for 28 percent of all those who lost jobs, and 43 percent of those yet to recover their paid work.

About 41 percent of women versus 37 percent of men saw an increase in unpaid care work. While 27 percent women said they got less rest during the pandemic compared to only 18 percent men said the same.

"We believe that this increase in women's household burden will make it difficult for them to re-enter the workforce, leading to economic consequences that may outlast the pandemic."
Dalberg Report

Of the women who were successfully enlisted under the MNRGA, at least 30 percent did not find work.


Limited Access to Menstrual Products, Contraceptives

At least 16 percent of women (an estimated 1.7 crore) who used menstrual pads prior to the pandemic had no or limited access to menstrual pads between March and November, the study pointed.

This was primarily because they could no longer afford these items.

"Women who don’t use appropriate menstrual supplies and have poor menstrual hygiene are more likely to contract reproductive tract infections (RTIs), urinary tract infections (UTIs), and have a higher susceptibility to cervical cancer," the study pointed.

At least 33 percent of the married women surveyed said that they couldn’t access contraceptives as the pandemic disrupted public health outreach programs.

Muslim, Migrant Women Hardest Hit

The study pointed that women from lower-income households, Muslim as well as migrant women, and single separated/divorced women were among the hardest hit.

"Women from lower-income households were also slow to recover both their paid work and income. The extent of food deprivation and limitations in access to pads were also higher for some of these segments. For example, 20 percentage points more single, separated/divorced women had limited food or ran out of food during the pandemic compared to the average woman, while 3-6 percentage points more women from households with less than INR 10,000 monthly income were faced nutritional challenges compared to women from households with more income."
Dalberg Study

How To Fix This Gap?

The Dalberg study also said that the existing government machinery alone cannot fill the existing gaps, and pointed that additional support systems should be established to support recovery of women. Some suggestions put forth by the study are:

  • Launch drives to enlist women on MGNREGA job cards; increase the total number of person-days to support rural women’s recovery.

  • Bundle provision of pads with the PDS distribution; conduct awareness campaigns on menstrual hygiene to increase usage.

  • Ramp up family planning efforts to increase contraceptive access and usage.

  • Put in place systems for inclusion of single, separated/divorced/widowed women under the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) rollout.

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