Women's
Political, Social and Economic Empowerment



Project Title: Facilitating Women in Four Endemic Poverty
States of India to Access, Actualise and Sustain Provisions on Women Empowerment

Project Partners: PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Developmental Action) and Jagori, women's resource centre


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 against women.

India:
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           1,200 words           Photographs Available

India:
Bengal's Tribal Women Lead Change
By Ajitha Menon

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           1,280 words           Photographs Available

India:
Village Women Wield Tools For Equality
By Kulsoom Rashid

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           1,090 words           Photographs Available

India:
Rural India's Power Women: Learning Local Politics In Hazaribag
By Pamela Philipose

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           1,230 words           Photographs Available

India:
Ripples From Padar Village: Rural Women Take On Violence
By Pamela Philipose

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           1,280 words           Photographs Available

India:
Anjani And Friends Make Their Small Farms Come Alive
By Sarada Lahangir

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 this region."


WFS REF NO: INDL315P           1,200 words           Photographs Available

India:
Balaghat's Sari-Clad Champions Of Change: Feminist Voices From Rural Ind ia
By Pamela Philipose

'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           1,200 words           Photographs Available

India:
'I Will Rise and Rise': Three Tribal Women Remake Their Destiny
By Pamela Philipose

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           1,200 words           Photographs Available

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