In India, our constitution grants equal rights to men and women, yet the reality is that women’s lives are still shaped by customs and traditions that work against them. Daughters are viewed as less valuable than sons. Girls are taught to believe that they are less important than boys. The number of women dying in childbirth is among the highest in the world and more than 40% of women are unable to read. Women currently make up only 6% of the Indian Parliament.
However, although social conditions continue to work against women, changes are taking place in India.
After Cyclone Orissa hit in 1999, Tearfund’s partner EFICOR began working with women in the affected coastal communities. By forming several women’s self-help groups, women have been able to establish strong enterprises and improve their economic situation.
One of these groups, called Basanti Durga, of Jamunaka village, received a loan of 150,000 rupees from the State Bank of India. The 17 women who make up the group invested 60,000 rupees in rice production and used the rest to buy a rice-milling machine. Now, they are actively involved in the whole process of making the rice ready for sale.
Not only are these women becoming involved in this business, but they have all become literate through attending literacy classes. Their new confidence helps them deal with business people who may have cheated them before.
Individual women are also making a difference by learning new skills. Tulsi Ben, age 35, of Ghotval in rural Gujarat, was a migrant worker earning barely enough money to feed her family. With the help of her group, she planted 17 pomegranate trees in the wasteland surrounding her house. In spite of being criticized by her neighbors and not getting any rewards in the beginning, she worked hard. To irrigate the young trees she fetched water from a nearby lake. Today, she sells the fruit in the nearby local market. She’s proud to be able to take care of her day-to-day expenses and afford education for her two daughters.
Empowered to Lead
Mrs. Sonmati belongs to Kaikagarh’s self-help group. As a member of the group, she attended a number of training programs and heard from other women who held key leadership positions. This motivated her and with encouragement from fellow group members, she ran for the local Panchayat Elections. Now, she is the Sarpanch (Head) of the village and has become an inspiration to other women in and around her village.
Many more inspiring stories are arising from self-help groups across India, however, there is still more work to be done. We continue to pray that one day women will no longer be marginalized and that babies will no longer be killed for being girls.
But more and more, we see glimpses of hope. As Tearfund’s work in rural areas across India grows, more women are being empowered, and lives are being changed.
The author, Kuki (Lalbiakhlui) Rokhum, is an Interserve Partner working with EFICOR as Co-ordinator of Donor Relations.
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