Project Partners: PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Developmental Action)
and Jagori, women's resource centre
Project Title: Facilitating Women in Four Endemic Poverty
States of India to Access,
Actualise and Sustain Provisions on Women Empowerment
Supported by UN Women's Fund for Gender Equality
What are the ways in which poor
women in rural India are trying to empower themselves? How are their efforts transforming
their lives? What are the innovative tools with which they are engaging with the world?
To reflect women's agency in rural India, WFS will generate a special series of features
that will capture women's mobilisation in the four states of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha,
Jharkhand and West Bengal through public meetings, self help group activities, livelihood
initiatives, involvement in local governance and efforts to combat domestic violence
Village Women Educate Themselves To Manage Money
By Ajitha Menon
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when books and numbers meant nothing to rural women in West Bengal's Purulia district. Not anymore. In the Barrabazar and Jhalda blocks, hundreds of women, organised in Self-Help Groups (SHGs), are now well-versed in reading and writing in Bangla and doing basic mathematics. Who or what is behind this remarkable turnaround? Aided by Pradan, a non-profit working in the region, it's the women themselves who first powered an SHG revolution here. Once the money started coming in - Burrabazar's 184 SHGs have a total fund value of one crore ninety lakh rupees - the women insisted on acquiring basic literacy to safeguard their earnings. Following the computerisation of their business model, they can now confidently deal with the "computer bandhus and munshis", who keep their accounts. But not for long. Their next step is to handle the computers themselves!
* There was a keen demand from the women to know what they were signing, how much money there was, what the loan interest rates were. They hesitated to put thumb impressions on papers they couldn't read.
WFS REF NO: INDL501P
By Ajitha Menon
Bengal's Tribal Women Lead Change
It was ironical that Purulia district often found itself on the West Bengal government's 'drought-hit' list even though the average rainfall here is 1100mm-1500mm. Failure to conserve water as well as poor agricultural practices meant that despite back-breaking labour in the fields, farmers could only achieve six months' food sufficiency. Today, however, the landscape and lifestyle here is changing, all thanks to a water management revolution led mostly by tribal women like Sadmoni Hembram, Sarathi Bala and Balika Mahato, whose Self Help Group federations, the 'Jhalda Nari Shakti Mahila Sangh' and 'Sabuj Sathi Nari Shakti Sangh', have mobilised 5,000 women district-wide, to ensure food and water security. By using traditional, low-cost water systems like 'hapas' (tanks) and earthen dams, the women have turned the once-parched fields into multi-crop lands. Livelihood issues sorted, they are now setting their sights on tackling social evils like rampant child marriages, dowry and female foeticide.
* Such has been the impact of this socio-economic empowerment that Sadmoni says, "Aajkal dada bagale gecche, amra meeting esche (These days men take the cattle for grazing while we attend a meeting)!"
WFS REF NO: INDL417P
By Kulsoom Rashid
Village Women Wield Tools For Equality
The district of Dindori is perched
almost on the border that Madhya Pradesh shares with
Chhattisgarh and is remote by any standards. It is
largely tribal and also extremely poor. So when a
group of women located in Dindori names their
federation after the famous local woman icon, Rani
Durgavati, who is said to have courageously defended
her kingdom of Gadha - one of the old independent
Gond states - against the Mughal emperor, Akbar, the
symbolism is certainly striking. Today, like their
famous ancestor, the members of the Rani Durgavati
Mahila Sangh are courageously taking on patriarchal
forces in their region that have long denied them
their rights. Interestingly, while most of the members
of the 'mahila sangh' have a low level of
education, and have never seen a computer, these
days the federation's work is expedited by a
computer system run by hired experts, whom the women
term as "computer munshis". These "computer munshis"
key in the data provided by the women during meetings
and send it back to them so that they can monitor
the functioning of their groups better.
* 'They have been preparing for this annual day
for months. They discussed the logistics, the programmes,
decided on the budget and who the guest speakers should be.
It was totally their show and their energy is infectious!'
WFS REF NO: INDL409P
By Pamela Philipose
Rural India's Power Women: Learning Local Politics In Hazaribag
For the women of the Damodar Mahila Mandal Sangh (DMMS),
it has been a logical transition from livelihood generation
through the self-help groups to village development and
from village development to village governance. Today, its
13,177 members are keen to participate in the political
processes so that the concerns and demands of ordinary women
are reflected in the decisions taken in their village. In
late 2010, when Jharkhand witnessed panchayat elections after
over three decades, not only did 30-odd members of the DMMS
contest the polls, others participated in various ways,
including taking part in mass meetings. The experience of
participating in the elections was a mixed one. Not many
DMMS members got elected but it gave them an insight into
how the system functions. They are now keen on taking that
involvement to the next level.
* "What was important was not that many of these women hadn't
won, but that they had actually taken part in the elections."
WFS REF NO: INDL402P
By Pamela Philipose
Ripples From Padar Village: Rural Women Take On Violence
Violence against women in urban India has become part of everyday
life but apart from episodic bouts of outrage it hardly attracts
public attention. Imagine then how much more invisible the issue
is in the rural heartland. But it is precisely in such an unlikely
setting that the Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS) has taken root and grown
in the two districts of Betul and Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh spreading
over 217 villages. It all began as a small group of self-help groups in 1998
organised by Pradan, a non-profit working with India's rural poor. Nothing
reflects how far the NMS has travelled from being an agency merely involved
in borrowing and lending, to articulating gender issues and acting on them,
than the fact that it has now set up a 'Suraksha Samiti' (security committee) -
a paralegal group that addresses issues of violence against women.
* "When we went to stop liquor sales in one area, we were told
that alcohol was a source of livelihood for so many families. We
then replied, 'But please remember also remember that in the process
you are destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of families'."
WFS REF NO: INDL327P
By Sarada Lahangir
Anjani And Friends Make Their Small Farms Come Alive
The only time when Karanjia block of Odisha's
Mayurbhanj district figures in the national news is when there is a
threat of bird flu in the air. But it should be making waves for other
reasons as well, because it is here that a tribal woman like Anjani
Nayak from the remote village of Bhadobeda has been able to turn her
life around. Just a few years ago, Nayak's family would migrate to
the brick kilns on the outskirts of cities like Bhubaneshwar and
Cuttack to keep starvation at bay. But by combining the setting up
of Self-Help Groups with innovative farming and the active promotion
of women's empowerment initiatives, Pradan, a development organisation
working in the region, has been able to help thousands of women, like
Nayak, in this tribal-dominated district to break free from the cycle
of migration and poverty.
* "What struck us was the central role that women were already
playing in ensuring their family's sustenance. It is they who
bore the burden of managing livestock, looking after families,
and assisting with the farming activities. Yet, they had benefited
the least from whatever social or economic changes that had come to
WFS REF NO: INDL315P
By Pamela Philipose
Balaghat's Sari-Clad Champions Of Change: Feminist Voices From Rural Ind ia
'HUM BHARAT KI NARI HAIN/PHOOL NAHI, chingari hain'
(We are women of India/Not flowers, but flames) ... A slogan that had reverberated
in the streets of Mumbai in the 1980s, now fills a picturesque vale ringed by hills
just outside Lamta village near Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, as thousands of women
bearing their banners and their babies, many of them from tribal backgrounds,
march into a large tented concourse to a welcoming song. They may have first begun
this journey to women's activism by becoming members of village level self help
groups, but today they can speak out against domestic violence and discrimination,
and have learnt how to demand their entitlements. A partnership between Pradan, a
civil society organization, and Jagori, a women's resource centre, is contributing
towards raising awareness at the local level and strengthening the gender perspective
of these sari-clad champions of change. A Women's Day Special.
* 'There are many women's issues here. Alcoholism is a very common.
Attitudes to daughters are distressing - the idea is to marry the girl away
as soon as possible because parents feel they quicker they do this,
the faster their responsibilities end. This, of course, impacts
the education of girls.'
WFS REF NO: INDL223P
By Pamela Philipose
'I Will Rise and Rise': Three Tribal Women Remake Their Destiny
Kaushal Markam, even after having carried heavy
headloads of soil on a work site of the government's rural employment
guarantee programme, off and on for over six months, found that the
promised wages just did not materialise. She didn't rest until she got
her dues. Gita Markam, stricken with polio as a child, has not allowed
her physical disability to stop her: She is today recognised by her
peers as a successful farmer who has managed to produce 16 quintals of
paddy from her smal1 farm holding and now wants to branch into rearing
fish. Shanti Vike has proved a vocal grassroots organiser who has
mobilised local women to confront wife beaters and take on those who
brew alcohol in her village. These three tribal women from Madhya Pradesh's
western tribal belt may be unsung, but the grit and resilience they have
displayed is remarkable.
* 'I have one 'gudiya' (daughter), who is studying in Class Four. When
she grows up, I want her to be able to talk freely about the issues that
affect her, just like I am doing.'
WFS REF NO: INDL229P
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