From aspiration to empowerment: Impact of women's collectives
The study has been authored by the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAYNRLM).
In India, Deendayal Antyodaya Yogana-National Rural Livelhoods Mission (DAY-NRLM) is the largest government programme working exclusively with rural women, yet there remains the need to move from ‘working with women ‘to working with a ‘gender equality and rights approach’. Rural women face numerous structural and institutional constraints in realising their right to livelihoods, resources, decent work and social protection.
NRLM believes that gender mainstreaming should feature in its framework, systems, institutions and processes to achieve sustainable social, economic and political goals that have direct and indirect impact on the quality of life in a community. Gender mainstreaming can be adopted through a multiple-track strategy that combines both integrating gender in its operations, and a more targeted approach.
The gender integration approach focuses on shaping policies and programmes in all verticals of NRLM with a gender lens. For example, how can financial inclusion of women be promoted through promoting their individual ownership of bank accounts, or offering them customised financial products that address gender-specific vulnerabilities? How can women’s economic identity, independent to that of men, be strengthened? Can women’s control over economic resources be advanced through promoting ownership of assets in their name or women-led or women-owned enterprises? Or by imparting them skills, market information and technical know-how? Can women’s food security and nutrition levels, and those of their children, be improved through promotion of nutrition sensitive agriculture and kitchen gardens?
The other approach is a more targeted one, wherein NRLM through differentiated strategies, focuses on the most vulnerable – elderly women, those with disabilities, marginalised women including those belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups, trans-genders, Devdasis, those with HIV, single/widowed/divorced women, survivors of violence, trafficked women and so on. The idea is to recognise the extreme vulnerabilities faced by these groups, and ensure targeted use of funds such as the Vulnerability Reduction Fund (VRF) to address their needs.
To facilitate gendered social action at the grassroot level and as part of its gender operational strategy, the NRLM has also established several institutional platforms at the village level, which self-help group (SHG) members can approach in times of need. Prime among them, is the Social Action Committee (SAC), which is to be formed in each village, at the Village Organisation (VO) level, with 3 to 5 SHG leaders as its members. This is supported by a Gender Forum (a more informal body with SHG members) which is to support and guide the SAC. Together, the Gender Forum and the VO-SAC are to prepare a Gender Action Plan to resolve critical gender issues in the village, that may range from, say, prevention of child marriage, to containing alcoholism, strategies to increase participation of women in the gram sabha and ownership of women over assets. The VO-SACs and Gender Forums are also to set aside some funding from the VRF, monitor progress on actions and report on them to the higher Cluster Level Federation which aggregates agendas for all Village Organisations under them. The Social Action Committee in particular develops a social agenda and gender pledge based on the gender action plan; facilitates the Gender Pledge in every meeting of the VO; facilitates discussion on the social agenda and issues in all meetings of VO; and maintains records of discussions in the meetings, issues received and action taken at the VO level.
Since 2018, more From aspiration to empowerment: Impact of women's collectives 13 than 21,000 VO-SACs have been formed across India, focusing on issues as diverse as enrolment and retention of children in schools; asset creation in the names of women; prevention of violence against women; access to rights and entitlements; and ensuring food and nutrition security with a gender lens. A majority of these VO-SACs (nearly 18,000) have been trained in how to address gender issues.
This volume contains inspiring stories of VO-SACs from across states, in how they handled incredibly complex issues and furthered the agenda of gender equality in their villages. They range from how a Social Action Committee helped increase women’s access to rights and entitlements through engagement with public institutions; to how another increased women’s access to property by encouraging land ownership in their name.
One case study discusses how women’s access to common property resources can be increased through collective efforts. Besides these efforts, other economic issues covered by VO-SACs include addressing wage disparities between men and women in the village through collective action; addressing issues of drudgery through collective action; the labour rights of migrants; and lately, Covid-related gender issues. Some VO-SACs have done commendable work on the rights of the girl child, by working on prevention of child marriage, increasing girls’ retention in schools, and preventing child abuse. Case studies in this volume cover such cases as well. Finally, the compendium documents cases where VO-SACs helped women fight adverse social norms, practices and behaviours that affect them.
These include for instance tackling the scourge of alcoholism, the high incidence of domestic violence, and child abuse and human trafficking. In tribal dominated areas, where some women are labelled as witches, a case study discusses the vital role played by a VO-SAC in addressing the practice of witch-hunting. Broadly, the case studies highlight how VO-SACs have used multiple strategies including restorative justice, collective action, offering support to women (including psycho-social support) and sometimes even engaging with men to address issues that matter to women. They show how placing women’s interests first and putting in place platforms which women can approach easily and speak to, can provide a prompt source of action, a first port of call to poor marginalised women in villages. For the state, these VO-SACs also act as the eyes and ears of the village, and a public acknowledgement of the distress that rural women have been facing for long.
The study has been accessed by clicking here.
(The study has been authored by the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana- National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAYNRLM))