Women-led SHGs in Jammu and Kashmir manufacture more than 9 lakh face masks

Jammu: Amid the growing concern over the dearth of face-masks to stop the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, the female-only self-help groups (SHGs) in Jammu and Kashmir have risen to the extraordinary challenge by manufacturing more than 9 lakh face masks, lending a helping hand to the government to combat the deadly virus.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the members of SHGs of Jammu and Kashmir State Rural Livelihoods Mission (JKSRLM) were stitching shirts, bags and uniforms. Today, to help the government to combat this contagion, their sewing machines are roaring furiously only to manufacture face-masks. These women — all of whom have escaped the abject poverty through the intervention of JKSRLM— have once again displayed their grit and determination in fighting against all odds. This time not only for self-help but for entire community.
In Block Gool, District Ramban, Naseema Akhtar, mother of two, is busy making cotton based face-masks in her small home to help fight the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. For past one month, Naseema has been making around 50 masks a day. She is one of about 60 SHG members in the sub-division involved in stitching face masks.
After realising the importance of face masks in view of the global pandemic and shortage of masks in the Union Territory, Naseema, a member of Anjum self help group, bought the required material for mask making from her own pocket. She spent Rs. 4000 out of her hard earned money to buy the material and started making the masks.
“I did it for my community as I realised there was a shortage of masks in our UT. So, I didn’t wait for the money from the government to start this process of making masks,” said Naseema. “I am feeling elated that I could help my people, my community at personal level during these difficult times and everyone must do their bit to help combat this contagion.”
She further added that all the women of her cluster are working from homes. “Work has been distributed to members and they are manufacturing the masks as per the guidelines laid down by the government.”
Around 50-60 women from several SHGs in the Sub-Division Gool are involved in making masks and have thus far produced more than 7000 masks with the support of the district administration and Department of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, J&K. The district has manufactured a total number of 54890 face masks.
Similarly, Aasifa, 25, member of Khoobsurat SHG in District Kupwara walks more than 10 kilometres daily — wearing face mask and gloves — to reach her centre where she along with other women of her Cluster make around 900 masks a day. She leaves her home around 8:30 in the morning and reaches the centre at 9:30 am. The women espouse social distancing and the preventive measures while making the face-masks.
“Due to lockdown, there is no public transport, so I often walk to the centre to make these face masks,” says Aasifa.
The production of these face masks by the self help group have not only ensured the supply of face masks in the UT, but has also provided employment to thousands of women during this lockdown.
“This task of sewing masks has become a great source of income for us during this lockdown period when people have become jobless,” admits Aasifa. She quickly adds that money is an incentive, “but what gives us an added satisfaction this time is that we are doing something for the benefit of the society.”
Anjum and Khoobsoorat are not the only SHGs on the job. Around 2000 women from several SHGs across the JK UT have joined the fight against the COVID 19 who have, thus far, successfully produced more than 9 lakh 73 thousand face masks, with Kashmir division producing as many as 5 lakh 63 thousand face masks and Jammu Division sewing more than 4 lakh face masks and they are still on the job in some districts. Importantly, the first consignment of 12200 masks was made available within just 36 hours and handed over to the respective district administrations.
These SHGs are one of the many sources that the districts have utilised for providing masks free of cost to all PHH households and at a subsidy of Rs.10/- to all NPHH households across the UT in compliance to the instructions issued by the Government for ensuring universal usage of masks as one of the important measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The panchayat level and block level committees formed under the chairpersonship of Sarpanches and Block Development Council Chairpersons were given the job of distribution of these masks in their respective areas.

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