More than 200 women home-based workers from the lowest economic strata, including nuns and prison inmates, are benefiting from the Civil Society Organizations’ (CSOs) facemask project. The task began half a month after the discovery of the first COVID-19 case in Bhutan and the team is witnessing more orders for facemasks.
The facemask that the team produces is of the best quality, comfortably designed with three layers and affordably priced at Nu 50 each.
The facemask can be reused thus making it cost-effective and cutting down on possible waste. The project aims at zero profit and to support women in the country by engaging them in the production.
Chairperson of SAARC Business Association of Home-Based Workers (SABAH Bhutan), Phuntshok Chhoden, said that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all countries have run short of the necessary items including masks. “Even in neighboring country like India and Bangladesh our biggest source of imports, with rising cases and the lockdown, export of essential medicines, hand sanitizer and PPE has stopped completely.”
“We saw an obvious and real scarcity of these items in the local market,” she said, adding, “We proposed the idea of making masks as a joint activity by the CSOs with tailoring capacity and the proposal floated with the heads of more than 50 registered CSOs.” Instantly, the idea was adopted.
Additionally, she said that the impact of the project was Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) visibly playing a role in supporting government’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, supporting livelihoods of women home-based workers-tailors during this challenging period and being a part of promoting long-term hygiene practices for the public through advocacy on use and care of the cloth masks.
She also said that among the group of 13 CSOs who came together, some with tailoring programs and facilities, it was unanimously agreed that SABAH-Bhutan was best placed to lead, host, and be the focal CSO for the project. “SABAH Bhutan’s mandate is focused solely on enhancing livelihoods of women home-based workers,” It is also well equipped for cutting, re-assembling, washing, sorting and packing with plenty of space needed for the various steps involved in producing the facemask.
The project has benefited women members of all the CSOs and beyond who are now adversely affected by COVID-19 and struggling to make a living. “Through this project, SABAH Bhutan was asked to mobilize and coordinate as many women as possible get the opportunity to sew the masks and earn a modest income during the COVID pandemic,” she added.
Talking about the quality, sizes, and pricing of the cloth masks, she said the cloth masks which SABAH Bhutan produces would safely fit under the label of semi-medical or quasi-medical masks (non-surgical) which certain categories of frontline volunteers and the public could use with confidence for protection and safety.
Moreover, the mask is made of three layers with finest cotton and muslin as the middle filter layer; designed to be comfortable and durable. The mask is even washable, reusable and the masks are in line with environmental policies of reducing waste.
She also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA recommends a minimum of two-layered fine cotton masks which would provide up to 79% protection from COVID-19 droplets but the mask produced here is superior. “It is protective, hygienic, and cost-effective.”
The masks produced received the approval of the Ministry of Health (MoH).
MoH alone ordered 200,000 masks which are on the verge of completion and they have also produced more than 7,000 masks on behalf of the CSOs group and offered to His Majesty’s Secretariat. And recently, based on popular demand, they have started to place the masks for sale in various outlets in Thimphu mainly in Pharmacies like Kuenphen, Norling, Sampang, Himalaya, Chunidhing Food and also in MKP Restaurant in Paro town.
Phuntshok Chhoden also said that the mask is produced in varied sizes: large/medium, medium/small as well as children’s sizes to fit.
For bulk order, the adult size masks are fixed at Nu 50 per piece and for children, Nu 40. More than 70% of the cost of production goes towards payment of piece rates and wages for the women involved in the production.
Talking about the challenges the chairperson said due to lockdown in India and elsewhere, materials both in terms of quality and measure were hard to come by
“The production of masks will continue as long as people are in need. As time passes the design along with quality may get even better than the current masks,” she said.
Sonam Tashi from Thimphu