A central component of effective strategy must be the empowerment of women in ways that enable them to achieve improvements in all key areas that affect their lives and of their families.
Women are the key: Uttar Pradesh state suffers the highest rate of malnutrition in India, in large measure because of the low social status of women. Beginning at a meeting celebrating the International Women’s Day in 2004, The FFLV project has made the empowerment of grass root women leaders its highest priority.
Food for Life Vrindavan is also collaborating with the Savitri Polytecnic Insititute for Women, New Delhi.
A comprehensive survey of the villages was conducted and village-level strategy meetings were held with all voluntary workers. General breakdown and corruption in existing local social structures is a major problem. Awareness and training camps for village counsel members have been launched to correct these issues. Self-help groups have been formed. Women have been selected for vocational training at our centre, and will then return to train others.
International Women’s Day 2007
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, FFLV organized a legal awareness workshop. The event took place in Nangla Behari village and hundreds of women from nearby villages participated. Supreme Court Advocate, L.K. Thakur, addressed the women on their rights and answered many questions on the subject. The event was concluded by giving awards to women for their outstanding performance in helping their fellow women in the village throughout the year.
The extreme contrast between urban and rural India has led to the observation by some experts that there are “two Indias”: one of wealth and splendor, and another of grinding poverty and chronic hunger.
The villages around Vrindavan present a grim picture of the latter. Poverty, which in itself is a gigantic problem, breeds many other problems like illiteracy, over-population, child abuse, ignorance, malnutrition etc.
The villages face these problems because their women are uneducated, unaware of their capabilities and are denied of their rights. It is so strange that where women bear traditional responsibility for virtually all areas of life – family health, education and nutrition – they are literally denied the information, skills, resources and freedom of action they need to fulfill those responsibilities.
Transforming their mentality by providing them training in skills, and making them self-sufficient is our highest priority.
Tailoring courses have been conducted in Bari Atas, where forty women completed the training. At present, similar courses are being held at Sandipani Muni Secondary School. More than 100 unmarried girls and women are participating. These courses lasted 6 months, after which the participants were guided in starting their own business to generate income for their family. The Sunrakh group is now operating an cooperative society in making ready-made garments and the Ramtal group in making Deity dresses.
Sewing Class Graduates have a future
After completing our sewing course, twelve women have been employed in our school sewing uniforms for our children. Before taking the course, these women had few prospects for gaining employment. Now they have a stable source of income with which to support their families.
Self-help groups / Microcredits
Women and girls are the most affected by hunger and poverty. Traditionally, women bear the primary responsibilities in the most relevant areas – food production, nutrition, family planning, primary health and education. Ironically, most development inputs continue to go to men. Traditionally, boys are seen as assets to the household whereas girls are seen as liabilities.
Food for Life Vrindavan gives the poor the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty, providing opportunity through microfinance. With tiny loans and financial services, we help the poor, mostly women, start businesses and escape poverty.
Our network of microfinance has already reached more than 1,000 families in 26 villages.
FFLV has been working with the NABARD banks to set up saving schemes. Women deposit their monthly savings in their local bank (some groups have more than 100,000 rupees.) In an emergency, she can approach the bank and borrow from her group’s savings to manage the household and improve life. Thus she is spared the all too common mistake of resorting to a loan shark.
The present projection is to promote cooperation amongst the individual Self Help Groups by forming into Clusters (amongst other villages) and Federations (involving the Government Village Administration).
Female Farmers’ Land Rights.
90% of women farmers in the state of Uttar Pradesh do not have any legal rights to property. Joining a statewide campaign for women’s rights, FFLV conducted rallies in five villages to raise awareness of the need to recognize a woman’s legal right to a share of her family’s property.
Shantidevi, Phoolvati, Kirandevi – widows with no one to look after them, sometimes work in the fields, but if there is no work, they starve or… survive at the mercy of other villagers.
Muni, Seema, Sita, and many more like them of 8 to 13 years of age all married, when asked if they are happy being married they replied: “our parents are.” Early marriage robs a girl of the opportunity for full physical, emotional and psychological development.
Moreover, decades of research show that child marriages contribute to countless social problems: soaring birth rates, poverty and malnutrition, high illiteracy, infant mortality and low life expectancy. Still the villagers don’t understand this.
Sundrakh village is a typical Vrindavan village. About sixty-five percent of females are illiterate or had minimal schooling, and ninety percent of the women were married between the ages of thirteen and fifteen. There is no basic health service available in the village. With a view to assist the villagers improving their social situation, FFLV has initiated several ongoing programs around Braj to provide vocational training in sewing, knitting, handicrafts, beadwork, block printing and to assist women in trade and small business. As well as providing basic education in reading and writing, these programs also educate the women in basic hygiene, primary health care, nutrition, first aid, family welfare, prenatal care, etc.
FFLV has worked hard in the field of adult education in Vrindavan villages. During 2006, more than 200 women have learned to read and write. Seminars were conducted on health care, cleanliness and hygiene, child care, nutrition, and HIV awareness and prevention. FFLV is also running sixty-seven self-help groups. Ten of these groups have received bank loans for a total of Rs. 250,000.