Formalisation of Informal Labour

This article is part of our Rural Reset series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods.

The informal sector of employment has been the most impacted by the unprecedented lockdown of 2020. Azim Premji University and partner civil society organizations conducted surveys amongst nearly 5000 self-employed, casual and regular wage workers in 12 states of the country between 13th April and 23rd May and this study revealed that the lockdown had caused a massive spike in unemployment with two-thirds of the respondents losing their

employment during in this phase. Those who continued to have a job saw a drastic fall in wages with an earnings drop of over half of their wages. The loss of employment was faced more by marginalized groups which included Muslims, Dalits, and women.

While there are no official government estimates, a study by Save the Life Foundation indicates that the lockdown saw the death of nearly 750 migrant workers in India. Following this, an RTI by the Wire indicated that there were over 80 deaths of workers reported across several railway stations in the country. This pandemic has now more than ever highlighted the need for governing agencies and impact entities to rethink informal sector policies to ensure that the informal worker is provided with some form of security similar to those received by employees in the formal sector. 

What is the informal economy?

The informal economy is a universal phenomenon. But in India, a majority of the workforce belongs to the informal sector. While there is scarce documentation, a study by the International Labour Organisation reveals that 90% of the Indian workforce belongs to the informal sector and the lion’s share of this number is from the agrarian economy. The informal sector is also the highest employer of women, with 94% of the female population being employed in the informal sector as per a study conducted by Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology Allahabad in 2011.

Some chief characteristics of the informal sector are as follows:

  • Casual jobs rather than regular jobs

  • The absence of a formalized labour contact

  • Appalling work conditions

  • No social security

  • Irregular payments.

  • Sporadic work timings. This includes long work hours (without any extra pay) and unprepared periods of unemployment

  • Lack of collective agency or representation

Despite these challenges mentioned above, one of the most advantageous features of the informal sector is that it provides access to cheap unskilled labour which is a boon capitalist entities. The prevalence of this condition of employment has led to a disproportionate distribution of wealth in the market which allows for the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer.

Legal Amenities 

The informal sector is an umbrella term to represent the livelihoods of people in various categories in both rural and urban areas. The term informal labourer is used to represent manual labourers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, sanitation workers amongst others. The requirement of each community in certain ways does differ from one another, but as a welfare state, there are certain benefits be given to them as given to their formal counterparts.

In India, there are laws which include The Industrial Disputes Act (ID) which require employers to follow a certain protocol before terminating an employee’s job. Under this law, they would be required to pay some kind of compensation to their employees. Other acts

include the Equal Remuneration, 1976 which prohibits discrimination in the remuneration of an individual based on their gender, The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 prohibits discrimination based on maternity status of women and grants paid maternity leave for women. These are just part of a larger legal framework which is designed to protect the Indian labour force.

Many of these laws are not extended towards the informal sector wherein there is a constant violation of basic labour entitlements. Acts need to be directed towards providing some form of security to the formal worker. One act, in particular, that was set up for this purpose was the “Inter-State Migrants Act, 1979.” As per the act, employers have to ensure that migrants receive their payments on time, their housing is ensured and they receive a journey allowance not less than their travel from their place of employment to their homes including return journeys. Several ground reports indicate that this law has been violated and migrant workers had to pay their expenses from their own pockets.

Role of CSR in addressing the issues in the informal sector

While there are legal provisions that are set in place, it is the duty of an employer to understand the importance of informal labour. The employer should be morally responsible to ensure that their employees whether formal or informal are entitles to their rights. At the end of the day, this is the most important measure to bridge the gap between informal and formal labourers.

Secondly, impact organizations can work towards raising awareness about the legal rights of the labour force. As per the law, labourers are entitled to a certain set of rights. However, there is a lack of awareness regarding the nature of these rights. Owing to this, there is a lot of exploitation of labourers in the informal sector daily. In an attempt to address these issues, Aajeevika Bureau, an organization based in Ahmedabad Gujarat developed an interesting model to tackle this issue. Aajeevika Bureau offered legal education and counselling to the workers in the informal labour force to make them aware of their rights. Under this project,  a total of 552 legal cases on wage-related disputes have been registered, and 345 have been successfully won in favour of the workers. Workers have earned an approximate of Rs. 64,29,236 in settlements.

Rethinking the Informal Sector 

While there are larger frameworks which need to be addressed, one of the most important changes that need to be taken as our personal outlook to the informal sector. The informal sector which comprises labourers who are largely viewed as inferior is the people who built our cities. However, the amount of money that they receive is largely disproportionate to the kind of work that they engage in.

The pandemic forced the general public to acknowledge the contributions of the informal sector to the overall development of cities. The sudden absence of the informal worker crippled the economy on a larger scale. It is our responsibility as people to ensure that they receive the rights that they are entitled to receive. Simple measures such as providing a domestic worker with a weekly off can put informal labourers in the same plain as workers in the formal sector.

Reinvent the Agricultural sector

This article is part of our Rural Reset series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods.

In 2020, the government released information that the agrarian sector is expected to grow 3-4% in the upcoming year. This is 60% more growth than the non-agrarian sectors in the country. The government attributes this growth to a good monsoon which increases the availability of water resources in the rural areas. However, there is an alternate discourse to consider.

The managing director of Bajaj Auto said that even if Bajaj could produce motorcycles, no one would buy them with the ongoing pandemic. The farmer will never be forced to face this conundrum, because food and food products will always be in demand. Given the inelastic nature of the agrarian sector, can this pandemic be looked at as an opportunity to reconsider and reinvent the manner in which we look at agriculture?

The agrarian sector is the backbone of the Indian economy. This became especially apparent during the unprecedented lockdown of 2020 when the supply of vegetables and milk continued in the face of a pandemic. Here are some known but ignored facts in our country: 70% of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture as their primary form of livelihood. 82% of the farmers are small scale or marginal farmers. The agrarian sector overall contributes to 15% of the GDP, which is one of the highest numbers, globally.

Farming in India is considered to be a gamble by many . Droughts in 2002 and 2003 saw a massive decline in crop production with a reduction by 38 million metric tonnes (MMT). In the years following this, there were instances of droughts through the period between 2009-2010, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, when there was no substantial drop in food production, hence proving the resilience of the Indian agricultural system. This was possible with the introduction of investment in irrigation and the buffer stocking of basic staples, enabling the system to sustain during hard times.

In 2020, the agrarian sector continued to face natural disaster and calamities which included cyclones, floods, and locust infestation. The natural calamities were combined with the impact of the ongoing pandemic which saw a sharp decline in availability of labour and interruptions in the crop cycle due to the lockdown regulations.

Why Agriculture?

Apart from being the primary source of livelihood for a majority of the population, agriculture may be the answer to providing food security to a majority of the population thereby positively impacting the health and work productivity of the country as a whole. It is important to note that as per the All Inclusion Financial Survey by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the average monthly income of a farming family was 8931 rupees, which varied amongst farmers from different state backgrounds. The study further revealed that the overall compound average growth rate of the real incomes in agriculture was 3.7%. Given that the agrarian industry provides jobs for 45% of the population, the current contribution to the GDP is something that needs to be further addressed. The numbers from the survey indicate that the increase in the monthly income of a farmer will result in an overall increase in the national GDP, thus boosting the country’s economy.

16 Point Plan to Boost Agriculture 

As a part of the Budget 2020, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman released the 16 point plan for the development of the agricultural sector as a part of the “aspirational segment” of the Government’s strategy directed towards boosting the agrarian economy. The plan includes (1) building rural technology to assist farmers in the cultivation process, (2) use of environmentally friendly and sustainable tools in the farming process (such as proper manure, solar pumps),  (3) creating alternative forms of livelihood for farmers through the use of solar grids, (4)  increasing credit available to farmers, (5) increasing market linkages of farmers through online mediums and (6) Initiation of kisan rail and airways with refrigerated coaches to transport perishable goods. If these are followed and implemented in the right manner, it will help strengthen the network of farmers in the national and international context.

Alternate Approaches to Support Farmers 

The agrarian sector is extremely susceptible to the external environment and climate change. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that there will be a greater frequency of droughts and floods. Investments should be made to increase productivity of farmers and de-risk agricultural production. For this purpose, it is important to build a strong and scientific base in monsoon and climate modelling.

Research should be directed towards building flood resilient strategies to prevent the loss of crops during flooding. Secondly, irrigation facilities should be developed to support the farmer during the period of droughts. The use of water in farms should be regulated in order to ensure that the supply of groundwater (80% of the country’s dependency) is not depleted. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), can be used to build irrigation infrastructure. This in turn will also provide more income for people in rural areas.

Finance should be directed to the hands of the farmers through various means such as agricultural cooperatives, commercial banks or Kisan Credit Cards. With the demigration that was caused with the lockdown, there will be an increase in the number of workers in the rural areas. With additional funds and support, the money can be directed towards increasing the production yield in the upcoming agricultural season.

While the above factors take care of providing employment and increasing yield, it is crucial to create and maintain market linkages between the farmers and the consumer to ensure that the returns to the farmer increases considerably. Finally, it is important to mobilise research and technology to further revolutionize the agrarian economy.


In the past, moments of disasters have been used to change the way we study and understand and work in any sector. In the present circumstances, the agrarian sector is the only one that continues to grow even in the face of a pandemic, and making changes for its betterment will have a ripple effect on society at large. Therefore, further look into the agricultural sector may be the answer to rebuilding the rural economy.

Right to Return: Supporting returned migrant workers in their native villages

This article is part of our Rural Reset series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods.

At the start of the nationwide lockdown back in March, India saw the reversal of a multi-year trend of jobs and workers moving to cities in search of opportunity. Seemingly overnight, jobs and wages in urban areas dried up completely. And what followed was millions of migrant workers who onced crossed state lines and moved many miles from their native villages making that long trek back to their homes and families. The relaxation of nationwide restrictions has led some employers to hire back their low-wage employees. However, many workers remain stranded in their native villages in search of ways to make a living.

This mass exodus from India’s urban areas need not be a death sentence. India’s rapid urbanization over the last decade has certainly led to the growth of industries and opportunities. But the benefits of urbanization have come at the expense of the millions of rural villages and towns that remain home to the large majority of Indian families. This year’s migrant worker crisis provides us with an opportunity to invest in these workers by investing in their native villages. By creating opportunities in the communities where people already live, we can economically empower millions and transform rural India into an economic powerhouse for the entire country. We must start by leveraging the existing talents of rural populations and supporting local ventures with skills and capital.

Expanding public works programs in rural communities 

Back in June the Indian government announced the creation of the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan (GKRA) program to carry out 50,000 crore of public works using returned migrant labor. These workers will be paid to work on projects from ministries ranging from Road Transport & Highways to New & Renewable Energy. Public works programs have the dual benefit of providing employment while improving wellbeing through new and expanded infrastructure, an area in which rural communities are severely lacking. While the GKRA program is a great start, non-governmental actors also have the ability to harness the power of a public works model to provide employment to returned migrant workers.

Much has been written on the ways that a lack of digital infrastructure in rural communities is exacerbating societal inequalities. Internet service providers (ISPs) and other digital enablers have the ability, through a public works based model, to hire migrant workers to expand broadband internet connectivity and other digital infrastructure to more remote rural areas. While migrant workers benefit in the short term from the employment opportunity, the ISPs are able to expand their reach and customer base in the long-term. This is just one example of the power that private sector actors have to address the migrant worker crisis. Other private sector actors should follow in the government’s lead and look for ways to enhance their business prospects while giving livelihood opportunities to returned workers.

Making entrepreneurship accessible to everyone

For years, leaders in rural communities have been starting and operating their own entrepreneurial ventures. However, the barriers to the creation of a successful rural enterprise are numerous and lead many budding entrepreneurs to abandon their ventures or never start in the first place. To encourage sustainable entrepreneurship in returned migrant worker communities, they require the proper resources and business knowledge. Providing capital, skilling and advertising platforms to these fledgling entrepreneurs would help them get their ventures off the ground and provide one mechanism for migrant workers to support themselves financially.

Making traditionally urban jobs rurally located

The pandemic has shown that with the proper infrastructure, many jobs that are traditionally held by those in rural areas can be performed all over the country. With this in mind, many employers now find themselves with flexibility as to where they choose to recruit from and locate their offices. As it stands, 65-75% of new corporate job entrants each year are not job-ready or employable. While this statistic signals a larger issue with the Indian higher education and vocational training system, it also presents an opportunity to businesses. As employers must expand their job training programs to build the necessary skills in new hires they also have a chance to tap into, and train, non-traditional pools of talent. This opens the door to building a new workforce of rural employees.

For the last ten years at IndiVillage, we have been harnessing the power of impact sourcing to provide well-paying technology jobs to workers in rural communities. Although many of our employees have completed a diploma or degree from a local university, our robust training and onboarding operation enables us to hire a diverse workforce and develop their skills and capabilities over time. Businesses, particularly those within the tech industry, could follow  this model by hiring and training returned migrant workers to start new, non-urban offices. This would provide the dual-benefit of businesses gaining access to new, lower-cost talent and workers gaining new skills and the ability to make a living. Embracing the new, remote-base working model gives businesses and workers the power to transform themselves completely.


We are currently faced with a once-in-a-generation chance to shift the paradigm of work in India by re-orienting it around where people actually live. By choosing to support returned migrant workers in their native villages, we indicate as a country that our priorities lie not only with urban dwellers but people all over this vast nation. We now have the power to build thriving rural communities and open the doors of opportunity to all, regardless of where they live. Investing in the returned migrant workers is just the first step.

Data Annotator: A Doctor’s Best Friend

Imagine an algorithm that detects the presence of the COVID-19 virus through a lung scan? If this technology was readily available all over the world, then the way we dealt with this pandemic would have looked dramatically different. The good news is, this is a possibility in the near future as technology and artificial intelligence penetrate the healthcare world.

Medical images account for at least 90% of all medical data today. They are by far the largest and fastest-growing data source in the healthcare industry and this voluminous amount of data poses equally large challenges for diagnosis. Having to deal with these data adds a tremendous amount of stress to medical workers, patients, and healthcare systems. Well-designed technology can significantly reduce the time taken to arrive at diagnosis, improving health outcomes and in some cases, saving lives.

Diagnosis is a critical element in the care of many patients. Achieving quick and accurate diagnosis of disease is crucial to patient outcomes, and ensures that patients get timely access to the treatments they need. For physicians, a faster diagnosis means more time spent treating and caring for their patients. However, in hospitals around the world, medical diagnosis times can drag on as physicians struggle to acquire necessary testing and information. In these cases, AI technology can serve as a helpful tool. Research increasingly shows the many ways that artificial intelligence can aid doctors and healthcare systems throughout the patient cycle, from helping detect and classify diseases using medical scans, to aiding in the selection of a treatment course.

Enable Algorithms to Read Scans through Data Annotation 

The Medical Futurist claims that data annotators are the unsung heroes of artificial intelligence development. Though drawing lines and deciphering pictures might not sound complex, the scale of data to be annotated and the lack of experts available to do so poses a tough challenge. But successful adoption of training algorithms allow physicians and other healthcare workers to focus on the servicing and caring rather than documenting.

IndiVillage has worked with multiple healthcare organizations looking to improve their AI technology to aid in accurate, timely diagnosis of diseases, such as annotating lungs in chest X-rays. In this case, we annotated medical scans of lung nodules to identify anomalies and feed the annotated data back into their system’s algorithm. Using pixel segmentation to annotate lung scans, we effectively train their AI system. Our team of annotation experts quickly acquainted themselves with the client’s specific requirements and received training on the anatomy of the human lung and varying types of anomalies that arise in lung scans. Our team generally begins work by identifying abnormalities, looking at approximately 400 images over a three month period. Each image is studied and accurately labelled to create high-quality training data to feed the client’s algorithms.

IndiVillage’s efforts have aided in training data that the client utilized in their AI technology for faster detection of pulmonary abnormalities, thus reducing overall diagnosis time. This has allowed doctors to focus more on treating the patients than being absorbed in reading a multitude of reports.

Our Approach to Community Wellbeing

After weeks of working from home with internet support from our end, we finally opened our offices again with maximum caution and protection.

Impact beyond Employment

As an impact-driven social enterprise, the health and wellbeing of the community we work in is very close to our heart. In the past year, we have impacted close to 3500 people with free healthcare services. With COVID-19, we have doubled down on our efforts to ensure the the safety and health of all community members with several initiatives.

Our employees volunteered to distribute masks for members in the community to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

To support frontline workers in the community, we also distributed face shields to police and healthcare professionals as an immediate intervention for the community’s well being.

Our Healthcare facility provides free treatments and medicines to the economically weakest members in the community. Currently we had to close the center but are looking to re-open it as soon as the situation allows

Since schools remain closed in most parts of the country, we supported families in the community by providing workbooks and pencils to keep the kids entertained in a meaningful way.

Rural Edtech: Partnerships For Progress

This article is part of our Rural Reset series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods.

Every day it seems we spend more and more of our lives in front of a screen. While technology already played a large role in our daily lives pre-COVID, the pandemic has accelerated the entry of technology into many sectors, and education in particular. Practically overnight, digital technologies moved from a supplementary classroom aid to the forum through which the entirety of instruction is performed in many areas.

A uniquely positioned solution

Rural school systems suffer from a plethora of problems, many of which edtech is uniquely positioned to address. First, there is a massive teacher shortage in rural India. A report from 2016 showed that there are 97,273 single-teacher schools across the country, accounting for approximately 8.8% of total schools. This shortage contributes to many of the gaps in educational attainment in rural schools, with more than 50% of students in 5th standard classes unable to read a second standard textbook or solve basic mathematical questions. Such issues also contribute to the higher than average dropout rates among rural students.

Edtech solutions have the power to alleviate many of the issues plaguing rural schools. Through the use of multimedia screens, videos and other interactive teaching tools, teachers can more effectively engage their students and explain learning material. Digital edtech can also help overcome geographic barriers to education, by allowing teachers to engage remotely across multiple locations simultaneously. This does not mean that edtech is a “cure-all” for struggling rural school systems. However, these solutions can give schools a leg up on providing quality education to their students.

Current state of Edtech in rural areas

Educational technology, or edtech, can take many forms. From virtual teaching platforms, to open-source curriculum databases, to online test prep software, edtech solutions promise to make learning more flexible and fruitful. However, without the proper investment in rural areas, edtech risks becoming a solution that only benefits those with the means to take advantage of it.

However, to seize upon the benefits of edtech, one first must be able to access edtech solutions. And as the millions of Indian students currently learning remotely can attest, edtech solutions are only meaningful for those with stable, consistent internet access. On this front, rural India lags severely behind. Estimates from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show only about 25% of rural communities currently have access to broadband internet services. The growing availability of rural data services has been able to supplement some of this deficit. However, widespread access to broadband, as well as computers and other devices, will be required before rural areas can take full advantage of edtech in schools.

Why are Public-Private Partnerships the way forward?

Many traditional government funding schemes have been proposed to expand access to both broadband and thus edtech. As part of the larger Digital India initiative, the government has launched the ‘E-Kranti’ program to aid in the provision of basic infrastructural set-up for internet services in remote and rural areas. And while these programs show promise to expand access in the long-term, newer models of investment can make an immediate difference.

Public-private partnerships (PPP) between Indian IT companies and rural social sector actors have the potential to totally up-root the edtech ecosystem in rural India. Through decades of on-ground work, Indian educational NGOs have built relationships and field infrastructure in rural communities across the country. However, they often lack the sustainable investment and expertise to leverage these networks into significant edtech interventions. This is where IT companies come in. By matching the NGOs knowledge of their communities, with the IT companies vast technical resources, the two groups can build thorough, effective edtech interventions with the power to make meaningful change in rural schools. These partnerships can take on many forms. In some areas, internet service providers (ISPs) can work to expand broadband infrastructure to serve as the backbone to edtech interventions. In other areas, the provision of laptops and other internet-enabled devices, or the development of online curriculum can be done on the part of the IT companies.

Though the form will depend on the partners, public-private partnerships serve to benefit both rural communities and the partners themselves. 65% of India’s families currently live in rural areas. Through a sustained investment in rural areas, IT companies have the ability to bring millions of children into the formal employment sector. This not only improves the economic outlook of India at large, but also expands the companies’ talent recruitment pool for future employees.

Examples of Partnerships 

Learn, Out of the Box:  This program was launched as part of a partnership between the Vodafone Foundation and Pratham Education Foundation. The main aim is to use technology as a teaching tool for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Vodafone has provided ‘WebBox’ kits that consist of a smartphone, keyboard, data SIM cards and AV cables and software to transform classrooms into “smartclasses” for 50,000 kids across 12 states.

Google and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE): Google recently announced a partnership with the CBSE to enable 1 million teachers to use online learning tools such as GSuite for education, Google Classroom and more in their classrooms. This investment will be part of a larger $10 billion dollar investment in the digital future of India.


Edtech is no longer an optional tool to enhance teaching. In a post-COVID world, it is an imperative. Students in classrooms that are unable to utilize technology, and thus many students in rural areas, risk being left behind as the world of education moves increasingly online. Innovative public-private partnerships between education NGOs and Indian IT companies can harness the capabilities of both actors to amplify their total impact. When it comes to rural edtech, private-sector partnerships are a pathway to progress.

Universal Menstrual Care: It’s on All of Us

This article is part of our Rural Reset series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods.

Periods are not a new phenomenon. They are a regular part of most women’s adolescence and adulthood. But for millions of rural women, the onset of menstruation is associated with a significant decrease in quality of life. Lack of access to menstrual hygiene is the fifth biggest killer of women in the world each year. And for those who continue to live with poor menstrual care, monthly periods can mean pain, infection and the use of materials such as sand and wood shavings in lieu of menstrual pads. The stigma around menstruation in rural areas can also take a psychological toll on women who are forced to drop-out of school and restrict their participation in family and religious rituals during their monthly cycle. Every woman deserves to live with the dignity that proper menstrual care provides.

Traditionally, advocacy for improved menstrual care and resources has come from women-led NGOs and local female leadership. As with many issues affecting Indian women, women experiencing these issues have been most vocally speaking out. But a nationwide system of poor menstrual care impacts all parts of society, not only the lives of women who suffer at the system’s hands. For too long, the fight for universal menstrual care has been seen as a womens-only fight. It is time for all of us, governments, NGOs, private businesses and, most importantly, the men who make up half of Indian society, to join in the movement for universal menstrual care.

Barriers to menstrual care: the three A’s 


Studies indicate that 71% of adolescent girls in India report no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. Widespread lack of education and awareness around menstrual cycles thus creates a culture of fear and misinformation. Even after the onset of menstruation, adolescent girls are often not taught by their female elders how to attend to their own menstrual care in a hygienic and gentle manner. These girls then continue this cycle once they have female children of their own.


Traditional cultural norms and pervasive taboos around menstruation lead to the ostracization and isolation of menstruating women. One of the most widely believed myths remains that menstrual blood, and thus menstruating women, are dirty and impure. As a result of this and other myths, menstruating women face harsh restrictions during their monthly cycles and are often forced to stay home from school, remain indoors, avoid kitchens and temples and, in some cases, are relegated to ‘menstrual huts,’ secluded from their friends and families. These harsh norms breed shame and secrecy in young girls around their monthly cycles. And these feelings of shame lead many young girls to pursue dangerous self-menstrual care practices, including the use of unsanitary menstrual products, all in the interest of hiding their period from others.


One of the greatest barriers to women’s proper menstrual care is a lack of access to the necessary hygienic products and facilities. According to a study performed in cooperation with UNICEF, only 12% of menstruating women in India have exposure to proper period products such as sanitary pads. The other 88% of women are largely dependent on unsafe alternatives such as rags, cloth, ash, hay and sand. This practice is not only undignified but also extremely dangerous, often leading to discomfort, infection and even death. An absence of proper sanitation infrastructure including private spaces for women, clean water for washing, sanitary toilets and proper disposal mechanisms for menstrual products also poses a significant hurdle to proper care. 40% of all government schools alone in India lack proper functioning of common toilets and of those with functioning toilets, 40% of schools lack separate toilet facilities for girls.

The next frontier in the movement for gender equality

Menstrual care is a crucial foundation of the movement for gender equality in India because of its significant externalities on all other facets of women’s lives. Poor menstrual health care, and associated restrictions and perceptions, is associated with strong gender disparities in health, education and work outcomes. It has been estimated that 1 in every 5 girls drops out of school at the onset of their first menstrual cycle. And this lack of education coupled with monthly restrictions during periods keep many women from pursuing meaningful work later in life. If India is to improve its ranking of 122 out of 189 countries in the HDR Gender Inequality Index, it will have to address the many problems with its system of menstrual care.

It’s on all of us to join in the movement 

The fight for universal menstrual care will require cooperation across many different parts of society.


State, local and national governments have the ability to elevate universal menstrual care to a priority within their political agenda. From regulating the prices and taxes on menstrual care products, to providing funding for schools and public buildings to improve toilet facilities, to even mandating an inclusion of menstrual hygiene education as part of government school curriculum, governments have numerous policy levers that they can pull to improve menstrual care on a massive scale. And governments also help drive agendas for non-governmental actors, who often try to align with government priorities to receive funding and promotion. Through partnerships with some of these actors, including grassroots NGOs and large corporate players, governments can amplify their impact and involve more players in the movement.

Corporations and businesses 

By leveraging their immense resources and large employee bases large, corporates and smaller brands alike have the ability to accelerate impact and change the conversation around menstrual care. In one example, food-delivery company, Zomato, recently announced the rollout of a new policy allowing female employees to apply for up to 10 days of “period leave” per year. While this policy has obvious immediate benefits for the company’s female and transgender employees, corporate decisions such as these also begin to address some of the shame and stigma associated with menstruation by normalizing them as a “part of life.” Brands can further address these societal taboos around menstruation through digital awareness campaigns that align their companies with the fight for universal menstrual care. Corporates can also mobilize their resources to support grassroots NGOs who are doing work on the ground and in communities. As part of the “Wind Beneath Her Wings” campaign, a joint initiative between social enterprise Dharma Life and Spain-based women’s sportswear brand Believe Athletics, every sale on the brand’s website corresponded to one young girl receiving a sanitary hygiene kit. Campaigns such as these provide crucial grassroots support and help brands put their money where their mouth is.


Non-governmental organizations are responsible for mobilizing communities on a grassroots level and executing programs that directly impact their stakeholders. While there are hundreds of Indian NGOs that work directly in the menstrual health space, NGOs aligned with other areas also have the power to bring menstrual care and education to their stakeholders. By serving as the bridge between their communities and the larger movement, NGOs are a foundational player in the fight for universal menstrual care.

Indian Men 

Periods have long been considered a women’s-only issue. But excluding men from the movement for universal menstrual care has only served to increase the proliferation of harmful misinformation around periods and stunt the progress of menstrual care activists. 84% of the members of India’s parliament are male. In order to make any real progress in the area of menstrual care, men must become champions of the movement. This is done, in part, by actively involving more men in menstrual care interventions. Providing menstrual education not only to women, but also to men, not only directly addresses some of the stigma and taboos around menstruation but also ensures that all community members feel invested in the improvement of women’s welfare. Periods are thus transformed from something shameful and secretive, to a natural part of the lives of their friends, sisters, mothers and wives. It is no longer enough for women to be the sole advocates for their own care. Real change requires men to take the next step.


Achieving universal access to menstrual care, particularly for women in rural areas, would significantly improve women’s overall health and allow them to participate more fully in society. While periods may only last a few days, their impact on the lives of rural women can be felt throughout the entire month. Through proper education and access to care, these women can live more fully throughout all of their days. We now must all work together to make this a reality.

Samvada: Dialogue for Impact 6 – Community Outreach and Engagement

Impact organisations across the country are working towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Samvāda: Dialogue for Impact is an initiative by IndiVillage to facilitate dialogue, ideation, networking, and collaboration between impact organisations. The first Samvāda session was initiated in August 2019 and included participants from recognised organisations such as Ashoka Changemakers, Amani Institute as well a presentation from our own CEO Smita Malipatil. The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for dialogue and learning between impact organisations as a way to cope with the increasing challenges. To support this need, Samvāda: Dialogue for Impact has decided to focus on ‘Problems and Solutions During the COVID Crisis in Rural India’ in the coming year.

Samvāda: Dialogue for Impact returned with its sixth event on Wednesday, 26th August on a virtual platform, to adapt to the current COVID predicament. The topic for the event was Community Outreach and Engagement. The Naz Foundation, Sneha Foundation and MYRADA participated as panelists in the event. The audience included members from organisations such as Head Held High Foundation, GoSports Foundation, Teach for India amongst others. All the participants of Samvāda were keen to learn about the different ongoing community outreach methods, techniques and innovative models that were used to support communities in the middle of this crisis.

Demystifying COVID-19 

One of the primary areas of focus for all the organisations was the dissemination of factual information regarding the pandemic amongst stakeholders as false information through various sources has resulted in inciting fear in the community. Participant organisations stressed on the need to counter the spread of fake news by sharing simplified content on the pandemic which includes proper hygienic practices to follow and immunity building mechanisms. This could be done through the use of WhatsApp, word of mouth and cluster based programs. Prior trust and relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders in a community plays a crucial role in the success of organisation’s information dissemination projects.

Capacity Building of Field Team 

The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations to reimagine their programs to support communities in this moment of crisis. While working on the field, an important aspect for organisations to consider is the safety of their field team. Along with the beneficiaries of the programs, the field teams of organisations were also oriented towards social distancing norms and practices to ensure their own safety in the face of this pandemic. The Naz Foundation specifically highlighted the importance of modelling as a technique to inculcate correct social distancing procedure and hygienic practices in the community.

Rethinking Social Intervention 

With the announcement of the lockdown, all forms of life and activity in the community has come to a sudden halt. Schools are shut and people have lost their income and work. Adults and children find themselves forced to adapt to a new found reality. Organisations across the country have had to reinvent their programs to address the ongoing crisis.

In the initial stages, the priority of organisations was to distribute rations amongst their beneficiaries. Interesting work was done by MYRADA and Head Held High who used community centers as a medium to circulate information in the community, provide relief and connect individuals with government schemes. To keep children engaged, Sneha participated in UNICEF’s creative skills workshop. Children in the community performed different kinds of activities which included drawing, dressing up, dancing with their mothers amongst other activities. The idea behind this engagement was to help children feel a sense of security.  Similarly, IndiVillage also distributed learning packets to keep children engaged during lockdown.

Participant organisations also talked about their work towards supporting livelihood opportunities in the community. Instead of purchasing masks for its stakeholders, MYRADA engaged women of an SHG who stitched over 10,000 masks for them. This in turn kept the SHG members engaged, in a time when federation meetings were not possible, and allowed for them to continue earning. Similarly, Head Held High also developed livelihood opportunities for women in the community. They had women make leaf plates and masks. They created market linkages so that the women would be able to sell their produce and earn an income.

Head Held High shared data from a survey that they conducted amongst migrant workers which revealed that 60% of migrant workers would choose to not return to the cities following their ordeal. This along with inputs from the other panelists reveals the need for developing income earning strategies and social enterprises in rural india.

There are many synergies in the operations of impact organisations in the country during this period. All organisations are adapting towards a new reality, one which has forced the use of technology. However, this also has some advantages because it allows for networking, ideation and collaboration between organisations across the country. Partnerships and collaborations between different NGOs or NGOs and the government may be the answer to solving the several challenges that are currently plaguing the country.

Tell us how you have been engaging your community stakeholders. Write to us at or connect with us on any one of our social media channels.

Rural Reset: Empowering New Rural Livelihoods

This article is part of our Rural Reset Series, where we evaluate forward-looking, long-term solutions to the issues and challenges facing the people of rural India. Check out our LinkedIn page every Wednesday to find proposals for innovative solutions in the areas of education, gender and livelihoods. 

For the nearly half million Indians who were employed at the start of the pandemic, work looks a little different than it did a few months ago. An estimated 122 million Indians lost their jobs at the start of the national lockdown in April, primarily small traders and wage laborers. The images of the millions of migrant workers forced to endure starvation, dehydration and fatigue as they walked back to their native villages still remain emblazoned in many of our minds. And even for salaried workers, the economic fallout from the pandemic has only continued, with an estimated 5 million salaried workers losing their jobs during the month of July.

While the pandemic has certainly created a precarious situation for millions of India’s workers, the situation pre-pandemic was already difficult. 2020 saw the end of a multi-year trend of jobs, and thus workers, moving to urban areas. This shift has only served to widen the rural-urban divide and create a massive drain of brain and manpower in rural villages. India also remains a nation whose economy is dominated by an overwhelming majority of informal work. Out of the national total 465 million workers, around 91% (422 million) were informal workers in 2017/18. As the pandemic illustrated so clearly, these informal workers find their employment status increasingly insecure and subject to forces out of their control.

Looking forward to a post-COVID world, it is time to re-think the way we work in this country. Through a robust economic recovery, we have the power to provide benefits and protections to informal workers and re-distribute attractive livelihood opportunities to areas outside of urban centers. Below we briefly introduce three ideas that we believe have the potential to transform how livelihoods are earned in rural areas. In doing so, we hope that they may build an economically stronger, more equitable society.

Providing livelihoods opportunities for returned migrant workers 

At the start of the nationwide lockdown back in March, India saw the reversal of a multi-year trend of jobs and workers moving to cities in search of opportunity. Seemingly overnight, jobs and wages in urban areas dried up completely. And what followed was millions of migrant workers, who onced crossed state lines and moved many miles from their native villages, making that long trek back to their homes and families. The relaxation of nationwide restrictions has led some employers to hire back their low-wage employees. However, many workers remain stranded in their native villages in search of ways to make a living.

rural reset

This mass exodus from India’s urban areas need not be an economic death sentence. India’s rapid urbanization over the last decade has certainly led to the growth of industries and opportunities. But the benefits of urbanization have come at the expense of the millions of rural villages and towns that remain home to the large majority of Indian families. This year’s migrant worker crisis provides us with an opportunity to invest in these workers by investing in their native villages. By creating opportunities in the communities where people already live, we can economically empower millions and transform rural India into an economic powerhouse for the entire country. We must start by supporting local ventures with skills and capital, and leveraging the existing talents of rural populations.

Can COVID provide an opportunity for the growth of the Agrarian sector in India?

India is an agrarian economy with 70% of the population dependent on agriculture as their primary form of livelihood. 82% of India’s farmers are small scale and marginal farmers. In 2020, while a majority of industries have taken a severe hit due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, the government has stated that the agricultural sector is expected to grow 3-4% in the next year. This is 60% higher growth than the non-agrarian sectors in the country. The government attributes this growth to a good monsoon which increases the availability of water resources in the rural areas. However, there is also another aspect to consider.

During the initial stages of the lockdown wherein a majority of the industries were shut down, the agriculture sector was still working to provide food and milk for the entire country. The supply of vegetables and milk continued despite the shortage of labour in the fields and natural calamities which occurred in several parts of the country. The continued supply of resources is a reminder of the resilience of our agrarian sector. The current COVID crisis acts as a reminder of the importance of the agrarian sector. Given the current predicament, can we look at COVID as an opportunity to revolutionize and invest in the agricultural sector?

One entrepreneur, one village

rural reset

A country observes a high economic growth when there is an increase in the quality and quantity of factors of production, namely, Land, Labor, Capital and Entrepreneurship. India being a rich country in terms of land and labor, has seen a gradual increase in capital and entrepreneurship over the past decade, but mainly in the urban sector. With nearly 70% of India’s population belonging to the rural sector, there is a need to focus on empowering rural communities to rise to the same level as their urban counterparts.

The idea of “one entrepreneur, one village” is simple. It’s a proposal to add a social initiative into corporate businesses run by entrepreneurs and to make this social initiative adoption of a village. In rural communities of India, there is a sizable lack in nourishment, literacy, infrastructure and livelihood opportunities. The country has witnessed large scale development and growth according to the numbers being portrayed, but the ground reality is much different. Policies are being made at the national level, time and again, but the trickle-down effect of implementation is low, despite the existence of Panchayati Raj. This decentralised governance, provides power at grassroot levels while also giving opportunities to minorities and women to voice out their opinions. But as this system is not standardised in each state, the overall development is impaired. The guidelines for schemes and policies are clearly set but implementation of the same has to be better. A major reason for this inadequacy is lack of motivation and awareness in the people. As seen in multiple cases across the country, an external force has generally aided in providing this motivation and awareness.