These Covid-affected women are #NotAlone

Plans take on a life of their own, when the future is at its foggiest. When two former bankers from Mumbai — Reema Sen and Madhura Dasgupta — co-founded Aspire For Her (AFH) on Women’s Day last year to encourage and support women to enter and stay in the workforce, little did they know they were onto becoming powerful allies for countless women, newly widowed and brutally thrust into isolation and hardships by the pandemic.
To help such women — left behind with financial insecurities, familial duties, worries about their children’s future and their own crushing loss — build back better from this crisis, Sen and Dasgupta initiated a platform last month called #NotAlone. The initiative aimed at practical, hands-on support for women who have lost their spouses or parents, who were also the primary breadwinners, focuses on grief counselling and support with succession management to preparing them for jobs and facilitating upskilling workshops.
“NotAlone was not a pre-planned strategy. It was a response to what we saw in our immediate community of family and friends. Women were devastated after losing their husbands to Covid. Many of them were not just emotionally but also financially dependent on their partners. Some did not know if they had a bank account while some had never interacted with the external world,” said Sen for whom, having lost her father at a young age and witnessing what her mother had to go through, made the plight of these women “relatable.”
Relying heavily on word-of-mouth, the platform has seen 57 women from Ambala, Gwalior, Hospet, Rajkot and Kadapa to Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata — sign up for support and solace since it was launched in May.
NotAlone’s efforts to handhold these women through immediate and long-term support follow a five-step recovery plan — grief counselling and a safe community space; banking and financial literacy; help with insurance and inheritance claims; legal aid; and education and employment opportunities. Every woman is assigned an ‘anchor’ who stays connected with her through the program, connects her with the right resources and spots high-risk cases that call for immediate intervention.
“For us, these women are not database entries to match jobs with skill sets. We treat each woman as an individual in a very fragile state and recognise that she has her own set of requirements,” says Sen.
One such woman is *Pinky, an MBA in retail management who had stopped working on medical advice during a difficult pregnancy. Her world fell apart when she lost her husband last month, just days after their daughter’s first birthday. “I need to get my confidence back and stand on my feet again,” says the 33-year-old who with the help of NotAlone volunteers has been straddling Zoom rooms attending career preview sessions or learning computer programming while her insurance issues are being resolved by a mentor from Aspire.
A grief counsellor managed to bring *Asha, 32 with a 3-year-old daughter — who lost her husband last month — back from the brink when she learnt that Asha had tried to harm herself in a state of helplessness. A fortnight into the NotAlone program, Asha is better aware of her inheritance rights and trying to regain her strength to look into her future and brushing up her CV that once boasted an MBA degree.
While several corporates have already joined forces with NotAlone as “empathy partners” either to hire or put together a structured program for these women, Sen and Dasgupta’s past experiences as senior bankers — “putting together structures and institutionalising processes” — they believe will hold the initiative in good stead. “The entire program is pro-bono and fuelled by compassion and generosity. We hope to leverage our extensive networks, supporters and volunteers who are playing the roles of anchors and resource coordinators, every day,” added Sen.
*Names changed
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