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EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN FOR IMPROVED QUALITY OF LIFE:

BAIFs APPROACH
A woman is the nucleus of the family, particularly, in rural India. She not only
collects water, fuelwood, fodder and food but also plays a significant role in
preserving the culture, grooming the children and shaping their destiny. Therefore,
our Founder, Late Dr. Manibhai Desai always emphasized that although women
represent only 50% of the total population, they contribute 75% to the development of
our society while men contribute only 25%. Unfortunately, in spite of their laudable
and vulnerable roles, which cannot be substituted by machine or men, women have
been neglected since generations. This is happening inspite of a woman being
recognized by our ancient saints and culture as not merely a mother but as a superior
scholarly Institution.
It is said in Manu Samhita (Chapter II, Para 145)
Upadhyaayan-dasacarya acarryanam satam pita; Sahasram tu pitrnmata
gauraveratiricyate. A Guru who teaches Veda is 10 times superior to an ordinary
teacher and the father is 100 times more than a teacher, but the Mother is 1000 times
more superior than the father.
For the rural women, the day starts early in the morning with the responsibilities of
fetching water, fodder, fuel and cooking food. She takes care of the children and
members of the family, their health, orientation and education and attends to various
income generation activities. She manages all the household matters, looks after the
family assets and livestock, handles the purchases and finance, works for almost 1416 hours and is the last to sleep at night. Still, when you ask her children what their
mother does? Most of them instantly reply nothing. There is no recognition for
their hard work, just because her work is not evaluated in terms of money. She often
falls sick, but does not complain and this goes unnoticed by others in the family as
they continue to work as usual for the sake of the family. She manages the family
very efficiently with meagre means, but is still treated as illiterate. Women are
ignored in matters, which are of concern to them as well. As a result, today women
are the worst sufferers in the society due to drudgery, ill health, illiteracy, deprivation
and humiliation. Backwardness of women is a sign of poverty and women are the
worst sufferers during the period of scarcity and calamity. No wonder, India hosts
over one-third of the poor in the world, as lack of empowerment of women is a
significant cause of poverty.
With this background, BAIF has a mandate to ensure women empowerment in the
development programmes and thereby strives to create a conducive atmosphere for
their effective participation. This strategy for women empowerment programme is
addressed through drudgery reduction, gender sensitization among other sections of
the community, capacity building to enhance their efficiency and contribute to
economic development and ensure equality and status in the society.
Way back in the early 80s, we promoted the wastelands development programme in
the tribal areas of Vansda, Gujarat through establishment of fruit orchards on
degraded lands owned by the poor tribal families. This has now become popular as
the Wadi programme. During those days, Manibhaiji visited the project areas almost
2-3 times in a month and interacted closely with the families. Initially, it was the men
who attended these meetings and accepted all the suggestions given by us for shaping
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their lands and developing the orchards. Accordingly, a suitable action plan was
prepared and the participating families were instructed to dig pits and plant grafted
mango plants, which were supplied for establishment of orchards. With great
difficulty, mango grafts were transported from Konkan region of Maharashtra and
distributed to these participants. Subsequently, during the next few weeks, when
Manibhaiji visited these plots for supervision, the women started complaining that
they were burdened with additional responsibilities. While attending the meetings,
the men had accepted all the suggestions and responsibilities but they had no time to
follow-up due to other commitments outside the farm. In such a situation, women
who had sense of responsibility and commitment, ensured that the commitment made
by their men were fulfilled. Thus, the major development responsibility fell on them.
They were engaged in digging pits, protecting plants, fetching headloads of water
from distant places to irrigate the plants, which naturally added more pressure to their
over burdened daily routine. Naturally, unable to bear the heavy workload, they were
unhappy. This gave us a thorough insight into the drudgery faced by the women, their
problems of health and deprivation of training and capacity building. Thus, BAIF
identified drudgery reduction, community health care and literacy programmes for
both children and adult as the basic necessity to bring women into the forefront of
development with dignity and equality.
Promotion of Wavli was the entry point for Women Empowerment in Vansda.
Traditionally, women have engaged themselves in vegetable cultivation in their
backyards and men have never staked their claim over these earnings. This custom
known as Wavli ensured exclusive right of women over their earnings. Realising that
Wavli could be an excellent opportunity to empower women, several new activities
such as nurseries of fruit and forestry plants, mushroom production, large scale
vegetable production and shared cropping by women groups were introduced. Wavli
attracted a large number of women and the men also extended their cooperation. The
earnings from Wavli were used by the women for food, clothing and procurement of
utensils and ornaments, which were their priority. Hence, Wavli turned out to be a
golden opportunity to implement the orchard development programme successfully,
while enlightening the men about the role of women in economic development. This
incidence motivated BAIF to ensure equal opportunity for women in all the
development programmes.
Drudgery Reduction
The extent of burden and sufferings of the rural women in India vary widely with the
social and economic status, local customs, size of family and many other factors.
Hence, an intensive study with close interaction with women can help to identify
suitable solutions for their problems. Based on the needs, the drudgery reduction
measures introduced for women include:

Creation of safe drinking water sources closer to their houses


Maternal and child health and family welfare
Strengthening of traditional health care practices
Training of midwives and upgrading the skills of local healers
Awareness on health, hygiene and sanitation
Training of local youth as health guides for first-aid

Establishment of community grain banks and promotion of nutrition gardens


Promotion of energy conservation devices: improved woodstoves, biogas,
solar devices and energy plantations
Establishment of Anganwadis and awareness of girls education

These activities have been very well appreciated and are also being encouraged by the
male members of the society.
Gender Equality
While interacting with the rural women, the major obstacles were the elder male
members of the family, who were used to seeing their women subdued and noninterfering and who never stepped outside the house on their own. Hence, a dialogue
with women threatened their status and dominance. Therefore, it was helpful to
sensitize the men about the benefits of women empowerment, particularly, with
respect to development of children and enhancement of skills for income generation.
The other aspects which required persuasion were opening of joint bank accounts and
registering assets and land titles jointly. Recognition of their services to the family
and society could empower them further and provide equal status in the society.
Gender Sensitive Approach to Women Empowerment

Drudgery reduction to facilitate participation in economic development


Involvement in decision making process, identification of strategic gender
needs and addressing them
Capacity building in technical skills, information sharing and leadership
development
Formation of Self Help Groups for solidarity, awareness and motivation,
addressing common problems and micro-financing.
Economic development: enhance abilities to contribute to family income,
access to credit and assets and reduce economic dependence.
Staff orientation: to adopt suitable approaches to address the problems and
encourage participatory development
Gender vigilance to ensure womens participation in all fronts and access to
benefits in training, entrepreneurship and activities of Panchayati Raj
Institutions (PRIs)

Creation of awareness among men could enlist greater support for women
participation in the various development programmes. In many regions, the men
have taken a path contrary to tradition, to empower the women.
In Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where Purdah system is in practice, the women
covered their faces in veil before their husbands and other elderly members.
However, they gradually started opening up after regular interactions with the
Extension Officers of BAIF. Nevertheless, they immediately put on the veil
whenever any elderly men attended such meetings. Realising this constraint, men
in many villages have decided not to come and sit in the front of the women.
Instead they prefer to sit at the back to enable the members of womens groups to
participate freely.
In Uttar Pradesh, some Village Panchayat Committees comprising of 5 men (Panch)
announced that all the women in the village should be treated as daughters and sisters,
thereby allowing them to remove their veils in the village. This gave a boost to
womens participation in various community development programmes.
In
Rajasthan, where many SHGs had decided to impose fine on members arriving late
for the meetings, many men encouraged their wives to attend the meetings on time by
taking the responsibility of cooking for the family on those days. A more pleasant
surprise was that these men did not mind sharing this information with their friends in
the village. Such a change could come about within a period of 2-3 years.
Capacity Building
Subsequently, building of capabilities to create awareness, improve their skills,
develop leadership and link with technologies, trade, financial institutions and local
governments can empower them to take active part in socio-economic development at
par with others. Such steps have led the community towards a literate and progressive
society, directly benefiting every family and helped to bring the rural women as key
players, into mainstream development.
With various women empowerment activities and training, there has been a
significant increase in the confidence of women. They have developed mutual trust,
social security, skills and access to technology and credit through their Self Help
Groups and various Peoples Organisations. The women groups have motivated the
entire community to take up hygiene, sanitation, family planning and health care
activities with the community. Several groups have established their grain banks to
ensure food security for their members. There has been increased awareness about
education for children, particularly, girls. Prevention of child marriage has been an
important agenda of many Self Help Groups which has been endorsed by the other
sections of the community as well.
Leaders in Community Development
The community has recognised the status of the women and their contribution in not
only managing their families, but also to the economic and social development of the
entire community. Women have shown their capacity to play a major role in
community development.

With such significant contribution to the society, most women are participating in
Gram Sabhas. Many active leaders of the Self Help Groups have contested and been
elected for various PRIs, co-operative bodies and other village level organisations.
The leadership of women has been recognised by the society. They are now able to
influence the Panchyati Raj Institutions to work for the benefit of the communities.
The dark days when they had to struggle for their rights and status in the society, are
vanishing.