By Deboshri Chatterjee
The MDG on gender equality can be achieved by mainstreaming a gender perspective and promoting women’s empowerment.
Deboshri Chatterjee from CUTS Centre for Consumer Action, Research & Training tells us more about how her organisation is doing it in Rajasthan, India….
Rajasthan has almost become synonymous with the low status of women, patriarchal society, feudal customs and values, social polarisation along caste lines, high illiteracy and extreme poverty.
The secondary status of women in Rajasthan coupled with an oppressive caste system and grinding poverty has robbed the women of their rights and a life of dignity, which were envisaged by the framers of the Constitution.
The issue of gender equality has acquired a global character and therefore, there is a need for the Civil Society to actively participate and enable the women to fight for their rights.
The United Nations has included the issue of gender mainstreaming in the Millennium Declaration and ‘promoting gender equality and empowerment of women’ is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
As per the Declaration, progress will be monitored through promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal mortality.
Improved gender sensitivity could be achieved by adopting a proactive approach towards achieving gender justice. Therefore achieving gender equality requires two complementary approaches–mainstreaming a gender perspective and promoting women’s empowerment.
In addition the MDGs aim to eliminate the gender discrepancy in primary and secondary education by increasing opportunities for girls to attend school preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.
The notion of gender perspective as developed by CUTS
Ever since its inception, Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) is pursuing people’s sovereignty through community based action programmes at the grassroots level.
CUTS has picked up the issue of gender equality as one of the major concern. The development approaches initiated by CUTS seek to empower the weaker sections. The extracts of the success stories from the field is the best critique of the work done by this organisation.
The story of an illiterate, rural and backward caste woman, Ratni Bai, a living legend, who received the prize for women’s creativity in rural life by the Women’s World Summit Foundation based in Switzerland, explains it all.
Ratni Bai began her journey when she attended a chaupal baithak (meeting at the central place of a village) organised by CUTS. It was here, where she expressed her desire to be associated in the Rural Women’s Empowerment Project (RWEP).
Her advocacy efforts with government agencies and Panchayati Raj Institutions(PRI) have resulted in the “construction of a school in her locality, frequent visits by health personnel and regular as well as proper distribution of essential items in fair price shops (under public distribution).”
The organisation over the years has conducted training for the grassroots workers on the issues of gender equity, legal rights, reproductive health, generic community problems, and the process of sustainable development.
Apart from the above, training programmes were also conducted for educating the women about the PRIs, encouragement of girl child education and medical health care system.
Efforts have been made for sensitising the larger community about the prevalence of violence against women and girl child. The organisation has established good network links through Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that work directly at the grassroots level.
CUTS has endeavored to create new spaces and support systems to sustain the process of empowerment and transformation of the society as a whole.
Gender perspective must cut across all the operational activities and be integrated into strategies. CUTS presents a good example in strengthening women’s voice by approaching all the projects in relation to empowerment with a realistic expectation. Therefore it has been able to create a women’s space within the community.
On the basis of past experience on the issue, CUTS aspires to set a powerful agenda of bringing discrimination against women to an end, for global partnership to fight poverty, offering a shared vision of a better world by 2015.
Every community has its own traditions and culture, and maintaining their form and attaining gender equality is a difficult task. Therefore the organisation intends to adopt a proactive approach to reach the millennium development goals and focus its efforts on creating a better society.
Women of Rajasthan are viewed as an economic liability in natal home and a burden in the marital home. Invisibility of women’s work and lack of negotiating power has contributed to the perpetuation of negative image in the family, society and in politics.
Women will continue to experience the same kind of subjugation and injustice if they are not empowered to fight for their own rights.
CUTS has been working with women SHGs on micro credit for more than 12 years. In the year of 2004, CUTS initiated a project in partnership with NABARD on micro-credit through SHGs. This helped the women to improve their economic status and join the mainstream economic activities.
CUTS intends to incorporate a strategy, which will create employment opportunities, generate financial assistance schemes for encouraging small scale industries, sensitising women to fight for their rights through SHG’s activities at times with or without the support of state government machinery.
The real position of women in the society is reflected by their low participation rate in the legislative assembly of the state and Panchayat. Women can play a very important role with provision of 33 per cent reservation for them in Panchayati Raj and urban bodies.
But even when the women representatives are selected, by and large it’s the men who dominate the proceedings.
CUTS intends to play an effective role by organising training workshops, exposure visits/study tours and mutual learning networks to educate women about their role in understanding their rights.
At the same time, the personal experience of women who have made difference in elected bodies and in public institutions may also be highlighted. Such information could be publicised and success stories of poor women, who have created role models for others, should be brought to the notice of common mass.
Media can play a key role in fostering ideologies that support the vision of attaining gender equality as an essential goal of development. Hence CUTS intends to adopt a proactive stand to establish a balanced approach that acquires a mid way between ideologies of feminism and patriarchy. Therefore the organisation would help stem the tide against the prevalent society and hence equip women themselves to fight for their rights.
Social change is always difficult, particularly when the basic relations between men and women in families and societies are involved. The past several decades have seen greater attention and some progress towards the women empowerment.
There has been a growing recognition of how the rules governing men and women’s opportunities, social endowments and behaviour affect the prospects for accelerated development and justice. The government acknowledges that though there are good laws, but their implementation is the biggest problem.
There is also a need for gender specific resources and capacity-building efforts. Improved gender sensitivity could be achieved by adopting a proactive approach towards achieving gender balance within the social system. Societies need their own solutions, grounded in a vision of justice and gender equality and consistent with their cultures and conditions, to provide a better life for both women and men.
Deboshri Chatterjee works with CUTS Centre for Consumer Action, Research & Training (CART) based in Jaipur, India as a Young Professional under the YP scheme of CAPART (Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, under the aegis of Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India).
This article can also be read at: http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/94760/1/6726