Empowering Rural Women in Health, Literacy and Environment

The real implementation of women’s empowerment was more prominent from the 1990’s. The world conferences during those times on human rights and social development provided several opportunities and helped to build a consensus for women empowerment. A comprehensive document on the world’s commitment to women’s rights was drafted in Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. The 1990s brought international attention to issues of sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, and gender inequality.

Various Roles of Rural Women: The rural women play a wide variety of roles from that of taking care of family and also to earn livelihood to run the family. They participate in agricultural activities, off-farm activities and other community services. Now-a-days most of the women in rural areas are self employed or in low pay work to support the family. They also go for sales in semi-urban or urban areas for their living. One of the great disadvantages faced by rural women is the time limitation for them to be in the marketing or sales area.

Another problem faced by women, not only in rural India but also in other areas, include the uncounted works and responsibilities like taking care of the family, children, elderly and the sick people. They are not being paid for these duties but these form an important and necessary activity. The gender division of unpaid domestic work is remarkably resilient around the world and continues to shape the terms on which women are able to take up paid work. Role in Poverty Reduction: Several policies and legislations are brought into action to transform agricultural labor to International Labor standards and rights.

Also equal remuneration is to be provided for rural women so that they can also enjoy the benefits and take full advantage of the economic opportunities. This can be done only with the support of rural and other institutions. Such supports include recognizing and guaranteeing their rights to land and other productive resources and access to services. Though there are several policies and laws against discrimination on women, the new laws and policies are found to be difficult in practicing and enforcing.

Productive Employment of Rural Women: As known, the primary asset of rural women is their own labor. To ensure better rural employment, certain measures are to be taken. Decent work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The lack of decent work has been identified as the primary cause of poverty. Moreover, gaps in access to education are also a key determinant for women workers’ opportunities for better rural jobs (ILO 2009b). Policies are needed to provide rural women and men with a wider range of economic opportunities that involve decent and productive work to enable their economic empowerment. This must include policies and incentives that support decent agricultural and non-farm work. Measuring Empowerment: Most measures have only quantified the dimensions of control over resources and outcomes.

Women’s agency and process remain difficult to measure. Review of the ways in which control over resources and outcomes have been measured follows, and then focus on the challenges that remain in measuring agency and process. The most common indicators measure capabilities, education and health in particular, and control over economic and political resources and decision-making. Empowerment can be included in six dimensions: economic, socio-cultural, family/ interpersonal, legal, political, and psychological. Each of these dimensions is complex with various sub dimensions.

Women’s Empowerment Matrix that consists of six dimensions -physical, socio-cultural, religious, economic, political, legal – and six levels: individual, household, community, state, region, and global. The three main domains of empowerment are – capabilities domain, opportunities domain and security domain. The capabilities domain evaluates knowledge and health factors through indicators of education, health, and nutrition. The opportunities domain refers to access to political decision making and economic assets. The security domain considers violence and conflict matters.

Empowering Rural Women in Health: Among the three main domains of empowerment, the health division comes under the capabilities domain. Several measures have been taken by the government of India to enable educating the rural women on health aspects. Also so many facilities have been set up for the easy access of the rural people. As the quote goes educating a woman does not only educate an individual but also leads to the empowerment of the community as a whole. The various public health centres (PHC’s) being set up in each rural area is one such facility.

The PHC’s provide treatments to the rural people and they do not charge much. Other than the basic treatments, women are provided healthy meals on specific days of a week. This helps to maintain the health of rural as well as poor women who are not able to meet their needs. One example of empowering women on health in Haryana can be quoted as a live example. Many women in rural Haryana, especially poor women, have marginal control over their lives and little access to education and other government services. Haryana state has the lowest ratio of women to men in India, a testament to widespread female feticide.

The IDRF’s Women’s Self-Help Group program is a heartening story of empowerment. It is beginning to redefine the women’s roles and rights in this gender-biased region through a structured knowledge exchange and exposure program. The program addresses the core developmental issues of healthcare, family planning and economic independence for women. The grassroots partner, Arpana, has been recognized by the World Health Organization for its successful programs. IDRF began its collaboration with Arpana by providing mobile medical vans. Then, from 2004 to 2009, it supported family planning and rural health in 10 villages.

While Arpana paramedics worked with government health workers to provide medical services to expectant mothers, other staff trained women’s self-help groups to take responsibility for these services and to stand up against the prevalent practices of dowry and female feticide. The program yielded outstanding results – by the end of the second year, the target villages had achieved a rate of 67% contraceptive protection. In three years, these villages experienced a dramatic reduction in birth rates from 31% to 23%. IDRF helped Arpana expand this program to 40 villages with a renewed focus on gender parity.

Staff and self-help groups conduct trainings and rallies to enhance women’s knowledge and skills on gender issues, local governance, nutrition, family planning, and HIV/AIDs. Arpana encourages women leaders to train each other and streamlines knowledge-sharing. As a result of these efforts, the number of self-help groups and their net financial savings increased greatly. These self-help groups are now serving as role models for women in other villages. The program quickly expanded to 65 villages with an emphasis on business skills, leadership, and participation in male-dominated village governance.

The self-help groups’ businesses, like dairy cooperatives, are doing very well. Inspired by their leadership training, the women formed two federations of self-help groups to oversee group governance and accounting. In 2012, with additional IDRF support, Arpana expanded the program to 100 villages. Now the program also educates women about the needs and rights of disabled people. The long-term goal is to create self-help groups of disabled women where they can generate their own income, access government entitlements, and live free from the stigma of disability.

Empowering Rural Women in Literacy: Several programs are undertaken by the Indian government as well as other international organizations to provide education to the women of rural India. One such program is Sahajni Shiksha Kendra (SSK). Nirantar initiated Sahajani Shiksha Kendra (SSK) in 2002. ‘Sahajani’ in the local language means ‘one who helps women’. The programme broadly aims at empowering women and adolescent girls through literacy and education – an education that makes connections with their lived realities and rights, and enables them to develop analytical skills on gender, development and other issues.

Through its different activities, the programme reaches over 2000 women and adolescent girls belonging to the most marginalized communities like Dalits (Scheduled Castes – SC) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes – ST). SSK is a programme for empowering rural women and adolescent girls through education. This programme explores innovative ways of working with women on issues of gender and education. It is distinct in that all its strategies and programmes are women-centred and focus on adult literacy and women’s education.

SSK’s work on adult literacy, nurtured by Nirantar, becomes critical in a context where women’s literacy rates are as low as 20% in SC and ST areas and where there is a dearth of ‘best practices’ and models on adult literacy. Some of the highlights of the programme include an innovative ethnographic research on literacy-numeracy practices, developing and testing various packages and modules of thematic literacy and Continuing Education (CE), and linking issues of health, gender, violence, caste, right to work, etc, with the educational work.

The unique value of SSK is that it s focused on women’s empowerment. Today ‘adult education’ is used interchangeably with ‘vocational training’ or ‘functional literacy’, and there are very few initiatives that integrate women’s empowerment and social transformation within their educational work. Nirantar’s SSK programme foregrounds ‘literacy for empowerment’, by linking women’s lived realities to its educational initiatives – which take the form of camps, centres or the development of locally contextualised material for enabling and sustaining literacy. Environmental Awareness in Rural Women:

Though the rural women are less literate when compared to the women from urban areas, they are more aware on environmental factors because they rely on natural sources for their immediate necessities and hence take special care to sustain the availability of the same resources. The people may not be doing it because they are actually aware, but atleast they are aware of the fact that the natural resources need to be sustained. Unlike in urban areas, though people know the necessity for using environmental friendly products, they prefer to use the non- biodegradable products.

Hence we feel, if proper awareness are given to the rural people, especially the women, this can result in improved environmental literacy as well as effective awareness. The government and other organizations have taken several measures to provide this awareness among people. Some of them are discussed. The Barli Institute took initiative in introducing the method of solar cooking in the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh. Though they could not convey the exact message of being environmental friendly, people were attracted towards the other feature like reduced risk, no blackening of pots, easy to cook etc. The same way several other technologies can be implemented in the rural areas, especially to the women of the household, so that it will be widely accepted and used.

Conclusion: In spite of the various measures being taken, our country still lacks in equality in gender. Women of rural India have to be still more empowered and educated. They should be made aware of their rights. Also, women have to be provided safety. Only when safety is promised in the nation they can come out of home actively and work together with the men for the betterment of the nation.