Women in India, as well as the entire world, have been victims of gender based discrimination and violence because of patriarchal mindset of community and need to be empowered to bring equity and justice in the society. Their empowerment includes their social, economic, legal as well as political empowerment and we adopt a comprehensive life cycle based approach for the same.
Social Empowerment includes promoting health and education of women and girls and addressing issues like gender based discrimination through the process of community sensitization and institutional development. The age-group wise community based institutions which are developed and strengthened by Prayatn have deep rooted foundation of gender equity and not just women and girls, men and boys are also sensitized on aspects like gender based discrimination and masculinity. In locations where we work, birth of child is celebrated, proper health care and nutrition of girls is rendered equal importance and their education is given importance which is not hindered by issues like Child Marriage. Our comprehensive efforts on issue of declining child sex ratio in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have resulted in path-breaking change at community level and have been considered as models by the civil society that are worth replicating.
Chahat Hai Jine Ki was a pioneering intervention of Prayatnon women empowerment that was aimed at addressing the issue of declining child sex ratio which indicated extent of gender based discrimination which has been gripping our society because of patriarchal mindset. The intervention that was undertaken in Dhaulpur, Karauli and Jhalwar districts of Rajasthan and Morena district of Madhya Pradesh between 2004 to 2013 adopted life cycle approach to address the menace and resulted in development of community based institution of gender sensitive, aware and active women as well as men, called Jag Sakhi Sangathan, that, along with Kishori Samooh (Adolescent Girls’ group) and Bal Manch (Children’s Collective),addressed all forms of gender based discrimination and violence successfully. Social and legal counseling support to women who were victims of violence was an important part of this process because most of women used to hesitate in seeking support from police in the absence of due awareness. Starting from celebrating birth of girl child, instead of cursing her as bane and eliminating her through sex selection or female infanticide, to curtailing issues of child marriage, alcoholism, sexual harassment and domestic violence, the approach had a far reaching effect on the life of women. The intervention resulted in developing a gender sensitive community which developed and followed systems and mechanisms for the purpose.
From appointing of Balika Sathis in Dhaulpurand running of Prabhatshalas in Jhalawar district, Prayatn undertook several interventions to bring girls to schools. To ensure that they find a gender sensitive environment in schools and continue their education without dropping out, we supported government schools in developing Meena Manches and extended remedial education support to them in Nadbai, Bharatpur under Girls’ Education Programme. Their life skill education and training on self defense was also in important part of the entire process. Issues that push girls out of school like absence of separate toilets for them, eve-teasing while going to school, etc. too have been addressed in this process.
In order to develop leadership on issue of gender based discrimination and violence at village level, the organization strengthened local male and female youth to act as cadre. The youth were sensitized on the issue and trained on laws and government programmes related with women and girls. Their vision on gender sensitive village development and leadership skill to achieve the same was also developed.
While working on issues related with women, we realized that their economic dependence on men makes them more vulnerable within as well as outside the family. We, therefore, decided to empower them economically by enhancing their financial literacy, developing their self help groups, linking them with banking system and ensuring alternative livelihood development support to make them self employed. Besides enhancing their skills in traditional trades like agriculture, animal husbandry, and tailoring, etc., we also tried innovative ways like social marketing of family planning and maternal health related products like contraceptives and sanitary pads. Their linkage with different government schemes has also been pursued. Ensuring land and property rights for them was another very important aspect on which interventions of Prayatn have focused.
Over last few decades, self help group development has emerged as one of the strongest means for social as well as economic empowerment of women. Seeing its effectiveness, Prayatn decided to undertake self-help group development across most of its intervention areas long back. Our frontline workers initiate them through facilitation of their formation, strengthen them and make them self reliant through capacity building and on-site support. Because of the corresponding creditand technical support, the members are earning sizeable income through trades like buffalo rearing, goat rearing, poultry, detergent making, shopkeeping, etc. and have been able to bring their families out of prolonged indebtedness. The process has helped in addressing several related issues like unemployment, child labour, malnutrition, etc. More than 5000 women have been benefitted in this manner. In districts like Dhaulpur and Baran, their federations have also been formed.
In Dhaulpur district of Rajasthan, a duly registered self-dependent women’s cooperative society named ‘Kaila Devi Apni Bachat Ghar Yojana Mahila Sahakari Samiti Limited’ at the initiative of self help group members themselves. The society has more than 1000 women as its members and is managed by women themselves. The members save part of their savings in this institution and avail facilities like loans, fixed deposits, recurring deposits, etc. for enhancing their income and savings.
In 2018, an innovative initiative was undertaken by Prayatn in Dhaulpur district in which local women were involved in social marketing of contraceptives so that they are able to generate income while spreading awareness on family planning. For this purpose, capacity building of these women was undertaken about family planning as well as social marketing skills and they were linked with the suppliers of products like condoms, contraceptive pills, sanitary pads, etc. Around 75 women were benefitted in this manner.
Adolescent girls and young women, whether going to school or not, prefer to learn certain skills that can provide livelihood security to them in future. They prefer traditional trades like tailoring, beautician, etc. Those going to school/college, look forward to computer education as well. The organization provided them both kinds of training as per interest. We have mentored entrepreneurship skills among them as well.
Several laws exist in India to protect women in India. However, women are unable to make use of them because of lack of their awareness on the same and insensitivity of service providers. Prayatn has been able to bridge this gap through awareness generation among them and counseling of victims of violence in particular. We also developed resource centers and counseling centers at village Panchayat and District level for this purpose. On the other hand, justice system was made accessible for them through gender sensitization and capacity building of its components including police, lawyers and public prosecutors, judiciary, etc. Our innovations like running of women helpline and establishment of women counseling centers in police station, have been adopted by the state government in Rajasthan.
From November 25 (International day against Violence against Women) to December 10 (World Human Rights Day), the organization started organizing fortnight long campaign to sensitize all the stakeholders including community members, civil society representatives, public servants, etc. The campaign used to begin with an innovative event – Shraddhanjali Sabha - on a public place in which homage was paid to girls who could not take birth because of their elimination through sex selective abortions to hit the hearts of all the passersby and motivating them to resolve that they will not perform any form of discrimination and violence against women. After, series of several sensitizing events in rural as well as urban areas, the campaign used to culminate in the form of a mass gathering of women, Mahila Sammelan, on December 10 at district and state level in which they express commitment to unite for ensuring their rights. This innovative campaign received huge response from the entire civil society of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. International Women Rights day (March 8) was also celebrated in similar manner.
To make aware all the information related women including laws, government programmes and schemes and extend them guidance and support to access the same, resource centers called Panchayat Sandarbh Kendras were developed at Panchayat level. We also developed a Gender and Legal Information cell at district level in Dhaulpur and the same was made accessible to wider civil society. The cell had rich collection of resource material and expert staff to provide informational support.
Women who are victims are usually not aware of the support mechanism available to them or hesitate in accessing the same because of social taboos. The organization, therefore, appointed female social and legal counselors who used to counsel the victim on what social or legal action she can take and how. A helpline, namely Nyaydhara, was established for the same purpose. Referral mechanism at community level was established to extend emergency medical support to the victims of violence.
Attitude and behavior of police personal and environment of police station also discourages woman, who is victim of violence, to approach the service for protection and support. To address this gap a counseling center called Mahila Salaah Kendra was established at Sadar Thana in Dhaulpur district of Rajasthan after rigorous process of engagement with the District Administration. All women reporting violence against them in any of the police station in the entire district were referred by the police officials to the counseling center where female counselor from Prayatn used to undertake her counseling. The innovation was later expanded by the State Government across all police stations of the state with the establishment of special desk for such women.Another important innovation in the same regard was establishment of MahilaSandarbha Kendra at District Collectorate in the same district. The objective of establishing the center was to guide women who approached the office about government programmes as schemes that are available for their benefit. A female counselor, who was aware of such programmes and schemes and was able to advise poor and less educated women, was appointed for this purposed. The initiative, too, was also a joint effort of District Administration and Prayatn.
Prayatn also organized interfaces of community members with police and members of District Legal Services Authority at village level to make them aware of laws related with them as well as free legal aid available to them through the authority. The process helped in bridging gap between community members and justice system and encouraged them to access the same without any inhibition.
Besides police, lawyers and public prosecutors form next step of justice for women. But there sensitivity and awareness on socio-legal dimensions of gender based discrimination and violence was lagging because of which they were not rendering sensitive advice to the women. Prayatn, therefore, started a fellowship programme at State level in Rajasthan under which budding lawyers were sensitized on issues related with crimes against women. These lawyers were expected to undertake awareness programmes on the issue in their respective states as well as provide free legal aid to any victim who approached them. The programe was received wide appreciation and resulted in development of a pool of gender sensitive lawyers who continued to extend the support even after completion of the initiative.
Prayatn was also able to undertake training of all in-service Assistant Public Prosecutors of Rajasthan on gender and crime against women. The training was organized in collaboration with Harish Chandra Mathur – Rajasthan State Institute of Public Administration and Directorate of Prosecution, Government of Rajasthan and was inaugurated by Home Minister of Rajasthan. More than 220 APPs were sensitized in this process which was first of its kind in the entire country.
To involve civil society organizations on issues related with women a civil society network at state level called Rajasthan Women Dignity Forum was facilitated by Prayatn. The members of the network were sensitized on issued related with women and laws and international conventions related with them like CEDAW through a series of workshops across the state. They were then brought together to enhance voice of women and girls at larger level.
Women do not enjoy equal say in decision-making process at family, community as well as administrative level because of prevalence of patriarchy. They are not allowed to take part in community meetings, meetings of Panchayat Raj Institutions, School Management Committees, etc. or their participation is for namesake only. Because of reservation in Gram Panchayats, they contest elections and become Ward Members, Sarpanches, etc. but true control of the political processes remains in the hands of male members of their family. Political empowerment of them is therefore necessary. This is done by Prayatn through sensitization of members of community based institutions and encouraging equal representation and active participation in their processes. Special efforts are made to enhance their leadership skills and they are made aware of governance processes so that they are able to take part in the same independently. Their male counterparts are also sensitized in this process so that they do not oppose but support them.
Prayatn has encouraged women to take part in electoral processes actively without any political inclination. We make women aware of the importance of their participation in political processes and encourage them to cast their vote independently. We also encourage them to contest Panchayat elections actively and build capacity of contestants in this regard. Capacity building of those who have won elections is also done so that they are able to play their role effectively without depending upon men.
While institutions like Self Help groups provide exclusive platform for women to take part and build their capacity, we also encourage their equal representation and say in general institutions at village level like Village Development Committees, School Management Committees, Village Water, Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committees (VHNCs), Gram Sabhas, etc. Sensitization of all the members (including men) and capacity building of them plays key role in this process. Federations of SHGs, Village Development Committees, etc. help in enhancing this at still higher level.