Impact of Covid-19 on women in low-income households in India


Impact of Covid-19 on women in low-income households in India is a report published in May 2021 by Dalberg, a global social impact advisory group. It contains the results of a study on the pandemic’s effects on women from households with a monthly income of less than Rs. 20,000. As of October 2020, the report states, one in four women from low-income  households (roughly 6.4 crore women) had not recovered their paid work, were limiting their food intake, or were unable to access essentials like pads and contraceptives.

The report covers the impact of the pandemic on “…livelihoods, access to essentials, assets and debt, food and nutrition, sanitation, and time use.” It studies the extent to which government social protection programmes supported low-income households during the crisis and suggests measures for their economic recovery.

This 34-page publication contains an introduction (Chapter 1), the study’s findings (Chapter 2), suggestions on areas for additional research (Chapter 3) and notes on the study’s methodology (Chapter 4).


  1. The report includes testimonies through telephonic interviews of about 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households across 10 states: Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It represents their experience of the nationwide lockdown –from March 24 to May 31, 2020 – and the months immediately following.

  2. The women who were interviewed had access to mobile phones; roughly half of them owned one. Hence, they represented a section of low-income households which was relatively better off.

  3. The report states that during the peak of the lockdown, in April and May, around 4.3 crore women lost their sources of income. While women accounted for only 24 per cent of the workforce before the pandemic, they made up 28 per cent of those who lost jobs because of it. About 43 per cent of the women who lost their jobs were yet to regain paid work – which, the report states, indicates that women experienced a slower recovery rate in paid work as compared to men.

  4. Over one in 10 women restricted their food intake or ran out of rations the week they were surveyed. About 16 per cent of women who used menstrual pads before the pandemic now had limited or no access to them. More than one in three married women were unable to access contraceptives.

  5. Roughly 47 per cent of women – as compared to 43 per cent of men – reported an increase in household chores, and 41 per cent of women reported having to do more unpaid care work than before. The report suggests that this increase in domestic work for women may lead to an unequal rise in the hours women spend on housework even post-lockdown.

  6. The study shows that women from historically marginalised groups were more severely impacted by the pandemic than others. Women from households which were earning a monthly income of less than Rs. 10,000 lost 3 to 7 percentage points more of their income than the rest of the women surveyed. This difference was 13 percentage points for Muslim women and 10 percentage points for migrant women.

  7. Government welfare measures under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) of 2005, the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana and the public distribution system (PDS) supported 1.2 crore, 10 crore, and 18 crore women during the pandemic. (MGNREGA aims to provide 100 days of paid work in a year to rural households in India; the Jan-Dhan Yojana provides access to financial services for low-income groups.)

  8. Members of self-help groups reported a borrowing rate of 59 per cent, as compared to the 42 per cent average among the surveyed women. Other channels for borrowing money were family and friends.

  9. The report identifies six areas where the government could strengthen its efforts to support the recovery of women from the effects of the pandemic. These are: launching enlisting drives to include more rural women into the paid workforce through MGNREGA; issuing pads along with rations through the public distribution system; increasing contraceptive access in Bihar, as well as organising campaigns to encourage the use of condoms; supporting women’s economic recovery through existing livelihood schemes; prioritising single, separated, divorced and widowed women under the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme; and establishing social assistance programmes for women working in the informal secor, particularly domestic workers and casual labourers. (The Centre’s ONORC scheme allows beneficiaries to avail food grains in ration shops across the country.)

  10. The report points out areas that require additional research to fully understand the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. This includes studying the reasons behind the loss of paid work among women farmers, domestic workers and women employed in the private sector.

    Focus and Factoids by Dipanjali Singh.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.






May, 2021