Empowering Rural Women. By Shobha Shukla

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A Regional Women Leaders' Convention is being held on 24-25 March 2011, in Mau, UP, as part of the Empowering Rural Women (ERW) programme, which has been operating in 253 Gram Panchayats (village councils) of 10 districts of UP, since December 2007. This is a unique programme as its key focus is on developing leadership qualities among rural women, particularly those belonging to the marginalized sections of society. It has an optimistic target of reaching out to 100,000 such women, and collectivizing them for realization of their rights by ensuring entitlements. The intervention is focused on the leadership development of women by providing them a platform in the form of community based organizations (CBOs) for strengthening women's informed participation in local governance and ensuring entitlements related to right to work/livelihood and right to food for the poorest of the poor.
The basic structure in the form of women's collective, namely Nari Sangh, has helped in layering the intervention with various other programs such as women's literacy, and the women’s independent initiatives for addressing social issues like alcoholism and violence against women.
So far, a total of 40,313 women have come together in the form of village level Nari Sanghs. These CBOs advocate their issues related to entitlements at village/block/district level administration. The action of these women has had a deep impact on the economic well being of their families. Some of the notable achievements of the program are:
1) 3030 women have assumed leadership to take forward the CBOs in their respective Gram Panchayats (GPs) to advocate the issues of entitlements and rights. These women leaders are characterized by their understanding of the issues, taking initiatives, giving strategic direction to the group and involving themselves in planning for development.
2) Nari Sangh women have activated Gram Sabhas (open meetings) in 225 GPs and raised issues related to their entitlements. Till date, 24,756 Nari Sangh members have actively participated in these open Gram Sabha meetings with written agendas.
3) 21,857 women have availed the job cards in their names through direct intervention of Nari Sanghs, out of which 20,983 have got jobs under MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act)—which is no mean feat, given the poor implementation of this excellent government scheme. The functioning of 216 Public Distribution System shops in the region have also been regularized.
4) Literacy classes cum resource centres running presently in 5 districts (Ghazipur, Pratapgarh, Varanasi, Mau and Azamgarh are adding newer skills to these women.
Members of the Nari Sanghs maintain a very cordial relationship with the local administration, and work in tandem with them. The block/ district level administrations also have started recognizing their laudable contributions for the uplift of the poorest of the poor, and cooperate in their efforts.
These women, along with the 13 partners who have initiated this program, deserve the commendation and cooperation of all right minded citizens. It is hoped that this movement will move from strength to strength and scale newer heights, bringing more women in its fold.
24th March also happens to be World TB Day and the Nari Sanghs would do well to address the issues of maternal and health care and integrate them in their existing programs. (CNS)


(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI).She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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