Spearheading a social movement for the Emancipation of Widows
In India, women are viewed as second-class citizens; the property of men and their families. They have limited opportunity for education and skills development, land ownership, employment and financial independence. Half of all women are illiterate, and half are married by the age of 18. Girl children’s education is a lower priority than boys’ education; forced to choose which child to keep in school, impoverished families will invariably choose their sons. The responsibility for household chores and early marriage are other factors that cause girls to drop out of school at much earlier ages than their male counterparts. Across India, violence against women is a growing problem. In rural areas, women are especially vulnerable to inequalities. They lack access to resources which would help them find their way out of the cycle of poverty that has a ripple effect on their families and communities.
Derogatory beliefs, superstitions and taboos around widows persist in rural communities. Widows are not permitted to participate in community life, and face social exclusion and harassment. They are discouraged from wearing good clothes or applying makeup and are not allowed to remarry. They often lead miserable, destitute lives. One in three reports having seriously considered killing herself.
HOW WE ARE HELPING
Justice for Widows Program
We work to alleviate the suffering and end the seclusion of widows by changing the way widows view themselves and the way they are viewed by others. We aim to strengthen the capacities of poor widows so they can better support themselves and their children. We aim to bring about an attitudinal change in the society as a whole by raising awareness of widows’ rights.
We focus on young widows, as they are most open to change. Widow support groups take workshops on social justice, human rights and neuro-linguistic programming courses that adopt a systematic, psychological approach to attitudinal change. The workshops encourage active participation and skills development. They help widows face life with more courage and confidence. They are encouraged to live normal lives like other women. As a symbol of change, we offer the widows decorative items which are normally considered taboo for them to wear: ‘the bottu’ (bindhi) for their forehead and flowers for their hair. By encouraging widows to dress just like other women, we refuse to accept their stigmatization. We also celebrate the re-marriage of young widows, a practice that is normally unheard of.
Members of the Women Program and other program committees are encouraged to break the superstitions of the past and invite widows to community events. They also take part in publicized rallies and conventions which decry the mistreatment and abuse of widows.
OUR 360° COMMUNITY DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT APPROACH
Our Women’s Program is committed to creating strong women leaders, because we believe that women are integral to the development process and can spearhead multiple kinds of change in their communities. Our efforts are first and foremost directed towards inculcating a sense of belief in the women, increasing their confidence and engaging them in activities where they realize their potential. Every month, 350 Self Help Association leaders and Bala Vikasa Field Coordinators attend intensive two-day trainings at the People Development Training Center, where they build their bonds with each other; discuss issues and how to overcome them; strategize on upcoming events and activities; update on the previous month’s happenings; brainstorm topics to discuss at the women’s meetings; receive knowledge in new schemes to be availed of; and share their learnings and experiences.
Back in their respective villages, they coordinate numerous activities in addition to the SHGs, including health camps, sanitation drives, tree plantation, widows’ rights awareness, and showing solidarity with orphans and aged. The strength in the Women’s Program lies in capacitating them to become all-rounded change agents with the sustained determination the improve the lives of their families and their communities, by first improving themselves.