Why women and girls are vulnerable to coronavirus

Although the risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 is greater among men and the elderly, women in the developing world face unique challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, Hand in Hand Programme Development Manager Isabel Creixell explains how women are being affected – and what Hand in Hand is doing to help them.




Women are traditional caregivers: when a family member gets sick, it’s their job to step in. First and foremost, this puts them at greater risk of infection. But even in cases when they don’t fall ill, the burden of household work can increase exponentially, particularly at a time when children are home from school. Parents all over the world have been struggling with a version of this, and in many cases feeling completely overwhelmed. Now imagine if you also had to walk miles every day to fetch water, plus do the chores and shopping yourself, all while tending to the smallholding that’s keeping your family from starving and, in many cases, trying to run a small business on the side. Something’s got to give, and when a family member or members fall ill that thing is almost always the business – and in many cases the farm.




Women working as unpaid nurses don’t have time to be unpaid farmers. In households where men don’t share the burden (most of them, in rural settings) and virtually 100 percent of female-headed households, health crises can turn to hunger crises, quick.

Across our operating countries – right now – there are women who don’t have the time to grow food because of coronavirus and don’t have the savings to buy it. Those who do have savings will be running out soon. At the same time, women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, meaning they lack social protections like insurance or sick paid leave. Their capacity to absorb shocks, in other words, can be effectively non-existent.

Finally, and maybe most starkly, when economic pressures and food shortages visit rural households, tradition often dictates that women and girls eat least and last.



Gender-based violence

Increases in gender-based violence during lockdown have rightly caught our attention here in the developed world. The developing world, where rates of violence against women are significantly higher, deserves our attention too.

Let’s not forget that things could get worse, not better, as the lockdown lifts and the true extent of our economic crisis begins to dawn. If isolation is one cause of gender-based violence, stress and financial difficulties are two more. At a time when every spare penny will have gone to buying food, escaping violent relationships will be more difficult than ever.




Health services can be universally lacking in the countries where we work. But even when they’re available women face unique challenges in accessing them. In some communities, restrictive norms keep women from travelling alone. In others’, doctors won’t see them unless their husband – who could well be ill with Covid-19 – is present at the appointment.

How Hand in Hand is helping

Long-term plans to help women weather the coming economic storm are being developed by our programmes teams now.

In the more immediate term, we’ve already taken measures to protect our women members. These include:

  • Reaching women that official health guidance hasn’t, typically via their Self-Help Group leaders, to spread information about social distancing, handwashing and other virus prevention measures.
  • Providing opportunities to talk about domestic abuse. Although they’re stuck in their homes, some women find that simply having a space to talk about their situation can benefit their mental health. When the lockdown is over, we can more actively direct them to support services.
  • Providing information about keeping their businesses running, from how to produce items such as soap and masks to boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops.
  • Working with men, who make up roughly 20 percent of our members, to share information about the benefits of sharing household tasks.
  • Reaching men with targeted messages about coping mechanisms, and providing someone to talk to, in order to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse.

Hand in Hand creates 3 millionth job

Fourteen years ago, Percy Barnevik and Dr Kalpana Sankar joined forces to expand a small charity in southern India that provided free schooling to children working in the local silk trade. It was called Hand in Hand.

They soon realised the real problem wasn’t a lack of schools; it was the desperation that forced parents to send their children to the factories in the first place. “We had to attack the root cause of the problem: poverty,” says Barnevik.

Fast-forward to today and that’s exactly what Hand in Hand has done, fighting poverty with business and skills training from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and in eight countries in between. Today, we’re proud to announce a major milestone in our story: the creation of Hand in Hand’s 3 millionth job.

“Even when they’re undernourished, downtrodden and illiterate, Hand in Hand’s entrepreneurs have an enormous will,” says Barnevik, now Hand in Hand’s honorary chair. “When they get a chance they’re not letting it go by. These women can move mountains.”

Here’s to fourteen more years, millions more jobs and more moved mountains.

Percy Barnevik on The Social Enterprise Podcast

Hand in Hand Co-founder and Honorary Chair Percy Barnevik appeared recently on The Social Enterprise Podcast, presented by Rupert Scofield, president of Microfinancial Institution FINCA and author of ‘The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook’.

Here’s a description from the Social Enterprise Podcast website:

“On this special episode of the Social Enterprise Podcast, Rupert is joined by businessman and philanthropist Percy Barnevik. After a successful career in business – chairing companies including ABB, Sandvik, Skanska, Investor AB, and AstraZeneca – Percy founded non-profit organisation Hand in Hand International, inspired to help street children in India. Having worked in 14 countries, the organisation provides grassroots entrepreneurs in some of the poorest places in the world with the skills to start their own businesses. Percy reveals his motivations, some of the challenges, and how business informed his approach to charity.”

Listen to the podcast here

Hand in Hand and the Primark Better Lives Foundation eliminate child labour in 99 communities

Hand in Hand and the Primark Better Lives Foundation have teamed up to eliminate child labour in 99 of India’s poorest communities.

Completed in September, the five-year programme opened 170 schools and learning centres, providing more than 7,600 school places, and helped more than 9,200 women launch family-based enterprises, benefitting some 46,000 family members.

“The Primark Better Lives Foundation has been working with Hand in Hand for more than four years now, funding a programme to fight poverty in the state of Tamil Nadu, India,” said foundation trustee Paul Lister. “What we most appreciate about Hand in Hand is their businesslike, entrepreneurial approach to tackling social challenges.”

Stamping out child labour has long motivated Hand in Hand’s work. In fact, our job creation model was developed as a direct response to child labour in India.

“Hand in Hand started as a small NGO struggling to eradicate child labour in Kancheepuram,” explained Hand in Hand Co-Founder Dr Kalpana Sankar. “We followed a child-centric approach, but quickly realized that broader social sensitisation was the key. In October 2004, the organisation shifted its focus to the community.” Put simply, when mothers work, children don’t have to.

Ten years later Hand in Hand has helped create 1.92 million jobs in 10 countries, improving the lives of 9.62 million family members – most of them children. The need for jobs is particularly acute in India, where only 29 percent of women older than 15 have paid work, even while more than 10 percent of children aged 5 to 14 are forced to work at least 14 hours a week.

“Our goal is to create 10 million jobs for some of the world’s poorest residents, helping to fight child labour in the process,” said Hand in Hand International CEO Josefine Lindänge. “Thanks to the Primark Better Lives Foundation’s generous donation, we’re one step closer to getting there.”

Where next for philanthropy?

Hand in Hand Advisor Professor Myles Wickstead gives his views on the future of philanthropy

Philanthropy, NGOs and international development – where next?

It was never very explicit, but one key assumption underlying the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that in return for better policies and governance in the developing countries there would be continuing – and indeed significantly increased – flows of official development assistance (ODA) from the OECD/DAC countries. This compact was made much more overt subsequently, not least at the Gleneagles Summit hosted by the UK in 2005.

Now it is the UK’s turn to host another G8 Summit. It will be marked inter alia by the UK achieving the 0.7% ODA/GNI target – the first G8 country to do so. We should be very proud of this, in part because it shows that the UK has delivered on its commitment and because well-targeted and effective concessional assistance remains crucial for many countries.

But the world has changed dramatically in this period. The distinctions between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ have become less useful. The G8 has yielded power to the G20. Other types of financial flows have assumed ever greater importance – above all private sector financing and foreign direct investment; diaspora remittances (which have for some time exceeded aid flows to the developing world by a ratio of three to one); and the growth in philanthropic funding.

Rasul, a poultry farmer from Sholgara District in Afghanistan working with his chickens.

Rasul | Poultry farmer | Sholgara District, Afghanistan

At the beginning of the century, philanthropic flows to developing countries were insufficient to warrant a line in the OECD/DAC’s list of financial resource transfer. They now account for about half as much as ODA – a massive shift. Of course the creation of bodies with very significant resources like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has had a major impact; but there has also been a significant growth in other foundations and philanthropic giving, both international and from within emerging economies themselves.

A further shake-up of the international development context is under way, largely because of the continuing progress being made by many developing countries but also as discussions begin on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015. Key issues will be how to reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups and promote greater equity, and how this can all be made consistent with addressing issues like climate change and pollution to assure the future sustainability of the planet.

So let us fast forward to 2025. If progress continues at the same rate as has been evident in recent years, there will be many more middle-income countries (MICs) – joining countries like India, China and Ghana – than now. They will need significantly less ODA from donors, which will be concentrated on a relatively small number of fragile states. So will there be a continuing need for philanthropists and civil society organisations?

‘Yes’, is the short answer. Very wealthy philanthropists and foundations might choose to support ‘global public goods’ – addressing issues such as diseases that cross borders, or supporting the development of new agricultural practices which have broad application. But on the whole it is likely that philanthropists will be increasingly home-grown and resident in middle-income countries, so will want to use their wealth to target inequity and inequality in their own countries or regions. Some of them at least, having made their money in the private sector, will want to use their philanthropic efforts to strengthen that area of the economy, perhaps focusing in particular on the key challenges of employment and job creation.

Civil society organisations will also have a continuing important role to play as service-deliverers and as advocates for policy change. As they develop capacity and capability over time, local CSOs/NGOs will become increasingly able to form direct relationships both with their governments and with philanthropists. The key role of international NGOs is likely to be to support development work in fragile states and to respond to humanitarian emergencies; and of course to continue to act as advocates for the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be.

NGOs, international or national, need resources. Philanthropists, international or national, have them. What needs to be done to tackle poverty, inequality and sustainability should become increasingly evident over the next two to three years. Philanthropists and NGOs will together have a crucial role to play in addressing those challenges.

Original article published by www.bond.org.uk

Job creation top priority for post-2015 agenda

Job creation heading the list of priorities

For the first time, the importance of job creation in the fight against poverty is heading the list of international development priorities and grabbing the attention of decision makers.

The World Bank, the UN’s High-level Panel on post-2015 Millennium Development Goals and most recently Justine Greening, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, have all highlighted the critical role of job creation.

Members of the village walking along a pathway between their houses

Village Kanchipuram, India

Hand in Hand has direct experience of jobs as an engine for poverty reduction, having generated over 1.3 million jobs in just eight years – predominantly among women in India and increasingly in sub-Saharan Africa. We have seen firsthand that women running gainful small businesses can transform their families’ lives and their communities by accessing better healthcare, improved housing and sending their children to school and not to work.

In her speech on February 8th, Justine Greening listed job creation as one of the top three future priorities for the Department for International Development (DFID), alongside humanitarian assistance and support to women and girls. While DFID is already working with small and medium sized enterprises – which Greening called “the backbone of the private sector”– to unblock £5 billion in commercial lending and create more than one million jobs, the department will shortly set out a fresh strategy to drive “the economic growth that leads to job creation”.

The Secretary of State is not alone in recognising the importance of job creation. The third meeting of the UN High-Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Agenda in Liberia on February 1st calls for the post-millennium development agenda to encompass job creation. The World Bank’s 2013 World Development Report, simply titled “Jobs”, also draws attention to the wider development impact of employment, particularly for women, and in small enterprises. The “positive spillover effect” for society of jobs for women mentioned in the report is well known. Perhaps more remarkably, the report states that small enterprises have been found to generate the highest number of jobs in developing economies: “If only a fraction of the self-employed succeeded in building a viable business, the …impact on living standards and productivity would be substantial”.

Sven Sandström, CEO of Hand in Hand International, says “The international recognition now being given to job creation and entrepreneurship is long overdue. Poor people have few or no financial assets but they want to work to improve their own and their families’ lives. Hand in Hand unlocks that potential by training the poorest – and in particular women – to manage their money, start and run a business, access credit where needed and market their products. Working in partnership, our goal is to create 10 million jobs for the poorest by 2020.”

Hand in Hand India’s Dr Sankar shares financial inclusion expertise

Dr Kalpana Sankar, CEO Hand In Hand India, portrait picture.

Dr Kalpana Sankar | CEO Hand In Hand India

The CEO of Hand in Hand India, Dr Kalpana Sankar, was invited to speak at the launch of Papua New Guinea’s Centre for Excellence in Financial Inclusion (CEFI) on 24 April. The event was inaugurated by the country’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.

Dr Sankar drew on Hand in Hand India’s ten years’ experience in financial inclusion and microcredit in India and beyond.

In the Hand in Hand model for fighting poverty, entrepreneurial business training dovetails with financial inclusion. Over the past ten years, US $183m of business start-up loans have been extended to some of India’s most disadvantaged rural women, enabling them to set up and expand 915,000 businesses. This approach for job and business creation has now been successfully adapted in six other countries in Asia (Afghanistan) and sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe).

CEFI is co-financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Government of of Papua New Guinea and will drive the national strategy for financial inclusion.

Read more about HiH India’s results in financial inclusion and microcredit on the Hand in Hand India website.