Empowering women socially, financially, intellectually and politically
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
Women Integrated Development Program
Of our 10 Development Rules, number 2 is ‘Development is women’. We support rural poor women through the process of creating Self Help Groups (SHGs) that enable them to evolve into change agents at the individual, family and community level. We strive to help women realize a need for change, to feel more confident in their abilities to express themselves and to execute change in their communities. We focus on six aspects of development: capacity building, economic development, health and environmental development, intellectual, social and democratic development.The Women Program brings village women together to form SHGs which become safe environments where women work toward social and economic independence. Our field coordinators, who are trained social workers, nurture the groups to have regular and enriching meetings and also help the groups organize development related activities. To make the program sustainable, we run the Women Program independently and in collaboration with 43 local partner institutions to whom we hand over certain SHGs after they have reached a level of maturity. We train and empower our partners to reach out to a greater number of women in disadvantaged situations.
Women’s group activities
Discussions: Women are encouraged to question the oppressive customs that encourage gender inequality. Topics discussed include the status of widows, child labor, child marriage, women’s participation in elections, savings and literacy rates.
Education: Literacy classes, capacity building and skills training programs.
Entrepreneurship: Groups learn basic financial planning and best business practices which include business ethics, building social capital, accessing physical resources, communication skills, problem solving, punctuality and discipline. They form SHAs (Self Help Associations) that work as group savings units. Members get help accessing small loans to start their own businesses.
Leadership: Group leaders are trained on leadership, development principles and better governance. These trainings include: program planning, review and analysis; personal finance and monitoring group loans.Women are encouraged to organize events on days marking important world movements such as World Water Day.
Community Development: Groups also take up environment protection activities such as setting up kitchen gardens and planting saplings in their backyards, schools and village spaces. Women are encouraged to show initiative by applying for our water and sanitation projects. They are also responsible for identifying and supporting orphans and destitute in their communities.
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.