Bangalore, Karnataka, India:
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated lives and livelihoods around the world. Women have especially borne the brunt of the disease’s impact. Statistics from global surveys and studies on the impact of Covid-19 demonstrated that traditional gender bias has worsened employment opportunities and economic conditions for women worldwide. According to the World Values Survey, more than half of respondents in many countries in South Asia and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) agreed that men have more rights to a job than women when jobs are scarce. About one in six respondents in developed countries concurred.
Homemakers who have lost their husbands have in many cases also lost their source of economic sustenance. Additionally, women who are their families’ sole earners have experienced reduced income and job opportunities. Women artisans in particular have lost traditional platforms to promote and sell their handicrafts during the pandemic.
In response, 17-year-old student, Anika Midha, built a platform to grant women facing financial hardships the autonomy to create and sustain their livelihood.
The Willow Fund is a non-profit organization established during the pandemic as a platform to share women’s stories and uplift them by providing economic support. The organization raises funds for select charities and provides an online shop for impacted women artisans to showcase and sell their handicrafts. The long-term goals are to help over 100,000 women — who have been affected by the pandemic or who are in search of an ally —have access to better livelihoods within the next five years and to empower them to create better futures for themselves and their dependents.
The organization is run by volunteers and supported by sponsors to keep the operating cost at zero. 100 per cent of the funds raised and proceeds from sales go to the NGOs with which Willow Fund has partnered., The NGOs work to give women beneficiaries access to skill development initiatives and provide women artisans access to the market.
Anika, the founder of Willow Fund, who has lived in India, China, and Singapore, hopes to harness her different lenses toward women’s health, well-being, and empowerment.
She says, “Being a third culture kid, my life began in India, continued in China and Singapore. Now, I live and study in the US. When COVID-19 hit last year, I saw every country that I called “home” go through massive devastation. Overnight, the state of so many countries, families and individuals were left in jeopardy. The level of despair seemed unreal. I realized that many people’s lives would never remain the same, especially women’s. Even if we as the world were to recover, it was going to take every bit of resilience we possess. I used my sense of resilience to dream of a better future for women artisans across the world, in order to grant them the autonomy to create and sustain their livelihood. That’s how Willow Fund began.”
Willow Fund also provides financial support to young women students affected by the pandemic, as it did in the case of two engineering students. Both girls were on the verge of quitting their studies, having lost the primary earning members in their families to Covid-19; the Willow Fund heard about their stories and raised funds to give them the financial security to continue with their education.