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Fulfilling The Promise Of Safe Motherhood
Ajitha Menon

Whereas on the one hand it’s true that India still registers the highest number of maternal deaths in the world, on the other hand, there is no denying that there has been a steady decline in the Maternal Motility Rate – from 178 per 100,000 live births in 2011-2012 to 167 at present. What is needed now is that added push in the ongoing efforts to make better health services available to pregnant women, new mothers and infants. So, how can India safeguard its mothers? A three-year-long maternal health campaign, which has reached out to over one lakh people across six states, has many valuable lessons. From regularising the functioning of the Village Health Sanitation Nutrition Committees (VHSNCs) to creating an army of community sensitisation workers who empower people with information on healthcare to devising innovative ideas for monitoring the progress of expectant mothers as well as tackling administrative hurdles, a slew of measures have truly inspired vigorous collective action and instilled a sense of responsibility and ownership among the people, which is the only sure-shot way to save vulnerable mothers and children.

Sensitising communities, especially tribals and dalits, to their rights has given them a real shot at quality treatment. In Marwatoli village of Kishanganj district, Bihar, the largely dalit and minority population freely queues up at their once-defunct health sub centre.

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Waiting For A Girl In Their Life
Azera Parveen Rahman

Bangalore-based Saumya Vishwanathan always wanted to adopt a daughter. When she got married to Ranjith and shared her wish with him he was a little taken aback. But Vishwanathan was prepared for such a reaction, so she sat him down to discuss her reasons for wanting to adopt a girl. Once on the same page, Saumya and Ranjith first became parents to Ayaan – “because I wanted to experience childbirth” – and then, three years later, 10-month-old Masoom became a part of their family. Unlike Saumya and Ranjith, for Meenakshi Padmanabhan and her husband, Rajiv, the decision to go in for adoption came when they were unable to conceive even after 15 years of marriage. While friends and relatives suggested surrogacy, a chance meeting with a couple who had adopted a baby girl, changed their mind. It’s truly a strange paradox that in a country that has one of the worst child sex ratios in the world at 914 girls per 1000 boys when it comes to adoption many prospective parents are looking to bring home a girl child despite a tough and long-drawn adoption procedure. In fact, in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where it may take as long as six years to adopt a baby girl, couples are willing to wait it out to welcome a daughter in their lives.

“Okay, maybe I am being biased here, but what we’ve seen and truly believe is that girls are warm, empathetic and they always stand by their family.”

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Manipuri Women Want Less Violence, More Solutions
Ninglun Hanghal

Manipur is going through another dire phase – and once again it’s women to the rescue. Ever since the state assembly passed three controversial bills, one among them a land revenue and land reforms bill that has not gone down well with the tribal groups, clashes between the youth and security forces have become an everyday occurrence. What has kept matters in control, especially in Churachandpur, one of the worst-affected districts, is the personal involvement of local women’s groups, like the Zomi Mothers Association, Hmar Women’s Association, Kuki Women’s Union and the Mizo People’s Convention Women’s Wing. They have come out in large numbers to demand a “political solution” and are even “prepared for a long movement” but are unwilling to even consider violence as the way out. Be it peaceful sit-ins or candle light marches and signature campaigns there’s a lot that the mothers have done so far to draw attention to the angst of tribal communities.

“When we came to know that youngsters had gathered in large numbers to burn down the police station, we rushed to the spot and formed a human fence. We appealed to them to withdraw saying that we as mothers did not want to lose any more of our young children.”

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Finding Hope In A Frayed World
Elayne Clift

Lately, it’s been hard to find anything positive to say about the future of the human race. The political trash talk has reached new lows, climate change-induced disasters are ripping through settlements with devastating consequences and discrimination and violence against women as well as marginalised communities has become everyday news. Is there any reason to hope? Surprisingly, the answer is still ‘yes’. One of the biggest examples is individuals’ response to the heartrending refugee crisis that has gripped Europe. In Germany, hundreds of people have signed up on the website ‘Refugees Welcome’ to offer accommodation in their private homes. Described as an “Air B’n’B for refugees”, the Berlin-based site is helping people from Africa, Syria and elsewhere. Another strategy has been the widespread petitioning of governments to accept more people, as the Icelanders, Brits and others have done. Then there have also been instances where people have come together in groups to provide assistance as needed, be it donating goods or volunteering services to makeshift refugee camps.

We need, as Jeremy Corbyn has said, “a force for change in the world, a force for humanity in the world, a force for peace in the world, and a force that recognizes we cannot go on like this…”

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Women Set Their Development Agenda
Ajitha Menon

Caste equations in Kerala have always been a powerful socio-economic and political force. Over the years, the schedule castes (SCs) and other backward castes (OBCs), reeling from suppression and oppression at different levels, have organised themselves into cohesive bodies to enforce their rights and seize their entitlements. Today, the feisty women members of grassroots groups like the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS) or the OBC Ezahva organisation and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) in the state have not only managed to overcome exploitation but they are now successfully setting the community development agenda for their local self government bodies. Apart from having found a unified, confident voice and platform to air their views on equality and rights, they are holding regular meetings with officials at the panchayat and district levels to push economic empowerment and secure people’s access to government schemes.

These organisations have set up an almost parallel democratic structure from the panchayat to the block and district levels and the Vanitha Federations, powered by strong women, are active and important participants in this para governance model.

[Photographs Available]

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