Making Empowerment a Priority for Women (Pictures taken in the Thane district of Maharashtra)

The BAIF Development Research Foundation, in partnership with IDRC and nine Indian nongovernmental organizations, and with the financial support of the Canadian International Development Agency, has been exploring women's empowerment processes through a five-year, multi-institution, multi-state initiative, the Swayamsiddha project.

Swayamsidda (swayam, or self, and siddha, one who has proven capability or is empowered) embodies the project’s focus on improving the lives of women and girls in rural India, and empowering them to address their own socioeconomic and development needs. Since its inception, the project has reached more than 6 000 women and girls in 91 villages in six Indian states.

The images downloadable from the link below trace the project’s efforts to create and implement an empowerment-oriented model of development and research. Although Swayamsiddha was rooted in a particular place and time, its lessons and experiences are, we believe, useful models for others involved in participatory development research and programs.

(Click on link below to download PDF file containing pictures and more information. File size 2,470 KB)

Some examples and information from the PDF file

- men outnumber women in India: the ratio is 1 000 men to 927 women. Many women die before reaching adulthood because of gender-based inequities that translate into an imbalance of between 20 and 25 million fewer women.

- India has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, accounting for 12% of the deaths of rural women of reproductive age.

- Women have little control over their health and fertility and disproportionately suffer from malnourishment and anemia. Women are legally discriminated against in land and property rights. Throughout India, women receive lower wages than men for the same agricultural work.

Empowerment cannot be granted – it must be claimed. Swayamsiddha worked directly with 4 941 women and 1 133 girls from more than 600 community-based groups. Swayamsiddha teams worked with women to:
- expand their views of what was possible for their lives;
- build their capacity to claim and make these changes; and
- improve the environment for change.

Some examples:
For Mainaben, a 29-year-old woman from Mandvi Gujarat, empowerment meant standing up in the local gramsahbha (government) meeting to demand a ration card. Cardholders have access to essential commodities and food at subsidized prices. Cards are to be granted according to need, from a list drawn up by local officials of those living below the poverty line in the community. In practice, however, the system is often corrupt and the cards are distributed as “favours.” Mainaben took a stand against corruption by insisting that she be granted a card. She became a role model for others in her community.

In Karvi, Uttar Pradesh, strictly enforced gender biases against women exist, including mandatory veiling and limited presence of women in public spaces. One women’s group involved in Swayamsiddha held a children’s fair to emphasize the importance of eliminating gender discrimination from schools. Holding such an event in Karvi was a tremendous step forward. As one of the women involved noted, before the event “we would be afraid to talk to men, or meet them in public.”

Published: 16 Mar 2006

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