February 20, 2019

Balance for Better - The ACF Way

ACF places a large focus on 'gender balance' across its programs. Whether it is ensuring women farmers are engaged in their Agricultural Livelihoods program or breaking gender stereotypes through Skill Training, ACF has worked hard to create a balance for women across its programs.

In the lead up to International Women's Day, ACFs Chandrakant Kumbani highlights the importance of gender balance and how ACF is working towards it in its programmes.

The Benefits of Empowered Women

"The full participation of women to all levels of decision making is a basic human right": Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General, United Nations

Ever since 1975, when the UN began celebrating International Women's Day, the world has slowly been waking up to the benefits of the empowered woman. Today, more than ever, there is recognition of the social & economic transformation that women can bring about in society & hence the call for better balance in terms of access to opportunities.

In India, while women account for half the population, carry out two-thirds of the work and are responsible for half the food commodities produced, the wages paid are only one-third of what their male counterparts would earn. Additionally, they account for only 10% of the total property owned in the country. It is an imbalance that indicates a feminization of poverty that transcends classes and regions. 

In rural India, this imbalance is even more acute. On almost every major issue, rural women lag urban women and rural men, including food security, education & healthcare. This despite the fact that rural women play a key role in supporting their households and communities to generate income, food & nutrition security & improving livelihoods. It is indeed, unfortunate that in a country that reveres goddesses like Durga & Kali, there is still a long way to go to balance the gender divide that exists today. 

To achieve gender balance, it is crucial that women are empowered with appropriate skills & training and are provided with income generating opportunities that gain them social recognition. This, in fact, is the bedrock of ACF's approach in achieving gender balance. 

Women in rural India, just like their urban counterparts, need productive employment, social security, childcare, maternity benefits, healthcare and better working conditions. In every village that ACF adopts, the starting point involves getting the women to participate in Self Help Groups (SHG), building their confidence through education & training and then assisting them with opportunities to fulfil skill gaps in the village or district. This leads to them eventually gaining respect & recognition in the family & community, empowering them to break gender stereotypes & move towards creating a better gender balance. 

The process is long drawn but rewarding. Initial resistance from the community is usually high and it takes multiple rounds of dialogues and discussions to eventually gain their trust. The mobility of women is also restricted & it takes a fair amount of convincing to address this. 

While an SHGs' primary purpose is savings & financial assistance, it also plays an equally, if not more, important role of a platform for grievance sharing among its participants. Moreover, ACF promoted SHGs have a strong emphasis on imparting skills that can take women, families and communities out of the clutches of poverty. In each region, economic opportunities are identified, and the women are formally trained to capitalize on them. Each of these economic opportunities also has strong linkages to the program areas that ACF focuses on, to offer holistic 360-degree development to the community.

Program Areas & Gender Balance

Agriculture & Livelihoods: From sowing to harvesting, women are an integral part of the agricultural workforce in India. Further, they also contribute by managing livestock. However, their efforts go largely unrecognized and are often deprived of formal training for the betterment of their practices and methods. ACF's efforts are centred around recognizing women as farmers & contributors to rural livelihoods. Through its promoted SHGs & Women Federations, women are formally trained in agricultural practices and livestock health & management, who then share this learning with the community, gaining them respect & recognition in society. Moreover, the women are equipped with credit planning, regular recovery & record keeping skills which aids them in setting up their own entrepreneurial ventures. The contribution to the family & community's economic development helps the community move towards a more desirable gender balance.

Read how Vimalbai has been able to help farmers in Chandrapur through her formal training as an Agricultural Extension Officer

Read about Shanta Sharma's tryst with veterinary sciences & how it's enabled her & other women in Himachal Pradesh to create a milk cooperative

Read how a homemaker turned entrepreneur has become a change maker in her family, and her village

Water: The onus of household water has traditionally been the responsibility of women in communities. However, without any training in supply & management of water for domestic use, women are subjected to backbreaking work of fetching water from sources that may be as far as 8 km away. In its interaction with communities, ACF realizes that sourcing water is the most important issue for women. To address this, ACF's efforts in Rain Water harvesting has centred around women, freeing up precious time to pursue other opportunities. Furthermore, the supply of potable water could offer lucrative business opportunities for the women, as was realized with a water ATM that ACF helped set up in Chandrapur, Maharashtra.

Skills: Training young women with skills that can serve the industry is a vital area of focus for ACF. Through its' Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institutes (SEDI), ACF has been training both men & women in skills such as Nursing, Hotel Management, Welding, Mobile Repairing, Retail Management etc. While convincing families to send their daughters for training might be a delicate affair, the gender agnostic approach towards training is helping women choose trades that were traditionally male-dominated. Today, 40% of the graduates from SEDIs are women & successful placement in trades such as electrician training & welding is breaking gender stereotypes across the industry.

HealthGender imbalance, perhaps, is most felt in the context of health care access. While men can avail of healthcare facilities in nearby towns & cities, it is a challenge for women to travel alone to nearby towns. This inconvenience has led to women neglecting not only their own health but the health of their children as well, thus being left out of community health initiatives. Here is where the role of community health workers is underscored: taking health to the home. ACF trains local women as Sakhis, who play a critical role in promoting & addressing health in the community, primarily focussing on Maternal & Child Health.

Read the story of how ACF's Sakhis are taking care of expecting mothers & children in villages

Education: Multiple pieces of research on education point towards girls being considerably disadvantaged in comparison to boys. Girls are much less likely to go to school and much more likely to drop out of school in comparison to boys because of social obligations. Given this context, ACF works towards convincing communities to send their girls to school and ensures that they remain in school. Adequate facilities in school, including gender-specific sanitation facilities, are provided. ACF also trains local women as 'Balmitras', who work with the children, especially the slow learners & help them with their education. Periodic training is provided to the Balmitras & teachers to ensure that the best possible learning can be provided to the students.

As of date, ACF promotes 1917 SHGs with more than 22,478 women participants and 4 women federations who are ushering in a change to rural India. For ACF, Better Balance is best achieved by nourishing the roots of this great nation.

Tags: Women
February 20, 2019

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