Thread of life: Finding dignity and hope through social protection

November 15, 2022

Ramilaben, with her two sons, after receiving the Covid-19 ex-gratia assistance

UNDP India

Thirty-four-year-old Ramilaben's hands move swiftly with a needle, threading pieces of mirror and shiny stones to the border of a saree. The mother of two boys earns a meagre INR 20-40 (less than half a dollar) daily for hours of abhla bharat – a tedious mirror embroidery commonly found in Gujarat's Jamnagar district.

Last year, when Ramilaben lost her husband to COVID-19, not only did her family lose their sole breadwinner, but they lost their savings too. Her husband's medical bills and last rites ravaged their incomes and savings. Ramilaben relied on her below-poverty-line card under the National Food Security Act to feed her family of three.

Financial crises tend to be harsh on the poor, especially poor women. Many women, like Ramilaben, also lack awareness about social protection schemes and safety nets and often do not have the necessary documents to access such services.

For UNDP, increasing awareness about the government's social protection schemes and enabling communities to access them remains a priority. We work closely with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to support 10,000 marginalized households in Gujarat to improve their lives and livelihoods under the joint initiative — PROGRESS.

In December 2021, Ramilaben's life took a turn for the better when she met a soochna saathi (information friend) — a cadre of high-school graduates trained by UNDP, who, equipped with a smartphone, help vulnerable communities access social protection schemes. They screen, select, inform and fill out forms for the beneficiaries to avail of welfare programmes and schemes.

These soochna saathis go door-to-door to raise awareness about cash and card transfer schemes that the poor and vulnerable can avail. Twenty-seven-year-old Keval Kubavat, a resident of Singach village, helped Ramilaben access several welfare programmes. "I regularly do house visits and raise awareness about social protection programmes. I feel empowered because I am able to help the most vulnerable," he says.

Evidence shows that giving cash transfers to women leads to expenditure on things that benefit the family, such as food, education, and healthcare. Ramilaben received the Covid-19 ex-gratia assistance of INR 50,000 (USD 600), to support her family. Her application was filed online last December, and she received the amount directly in her bank account within a month. In March this year, Keval also helped her apply for the Ganga Swarupa Yojana, a widow pension scheme that gives her a monthly amount of INR 1,250 (USD 15) to secure her future. And in August, she received a one-time cash transfer of INR 20,000 (USD 245) under the Sankat Mochan Yojana, a National Family Assistance Scheme to those who have lost an earning member.

"I had no idea that I was eligible for these schemes. And the paperwork seemed most daunting. I am grateful to soochna saathis and UNDP for supporting me. I feel hopeful for our future now," she says.

Ramilaben is cautiously hopeful. She knows a one-time cash transfer will not secure her family's future. But she is using the money judiciously - to open a tailoring shop and to educate her boys. She says in Gujarati, "Apni to zindagi badgi e bagdi, kam se kam chhokrao ni to sudhre" (My life may have seen setbacks but I will try and improve the lives of my children).

Ramilaben, inspired by her late husband, is ready to pick up the threads of her life and take charge.

As part of PROGRESS, UNDP has supported over 3,000 people like Ramilaben, in the villages of Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka, to link up with social security convergence in the wake of the pandemic.

- with inputs from Jitendra Garva and Divya Jain, UNDP India