This is Clare Rutz reporting from Chennai, India.
India is a paradox. There is the modern, wealthy, and educated side, but then there is the side where women are married off at the age of fourteen, living in slums, and allowed to leave only in their husband’s company. I managed to experience both extremes of India, but the latter version was the bit that added some shock value to my trip. I will never again under appreciate the Women’s Rights Movement and what was accomplished in order for me to be viewed as an equal.
In India too there are those who are making vital efforts to give women their rights, while creating awareness about gender issues. Domestic violence is not uncommon in India, and as I was trying to dig a little deeper into this societal issue, an Indian woman fighting to stop abuse explains to me that, “India’s culture holds family as a sacred thing, so women understand that violence is wrong, but when her husband hits her its not something that you go against”.
I met this woman and many others working towards the same mission at The Center for Women’s Development and Research. The non-profit rents out an apartment in Chennai and somehow cram a staff of more than twenty into the tiny space. The Center works with the women in fishing villages outside of the city where loans are allocated to start businesses and vocational training is also provided. I was invited to attend a meeting where a handful of the women affected by these programs come and talk about their progress and obstacles. We meet in a small room with three computers lining the wall which the women take classes on to learn basic computer skills.
The discussion begins, and they look to me for a question. GlobalGiving funded a project that provided services to the children of these women in this room after the tsunami hit. So I ask, “How has your life today changed because of the tsunami?” Apparently I just asked an easy question. They all begin answering at the same time, but the translation encompasses all their concerns. “The fish are gone. We have no work.” Donor countries respond quickly and generously to a crisis, but after that initial relief we often forget how lasting the effects of such a natural disaster can be.
The vocational training became an instant success after the wives could no longer sell fish at the market. The women needed to create a good that could be sold in order to fill that void created by the tsunami. That’s where The Center for Women’s Development and Research comes in. We continue to talk about the crafts they’ve learned and why the computer classes are beneficial, but the more interesting bit came after the official meeting was over.
All the women gathered around the door trying to speak with the director. The voice of the group began in a confrontational tone, and so I quickly asked my translator what she was saying. The products were being made, but the demand for handmade paper bags was just not there. “Why can’t we export?” was the question that needed answering. Without the issue being thoroughly addressed we all piled back into the van and I asked the director, “So why can’t you export?” Turns out there are lots of reasons. Firstly, the consistency of quality is lacking and a much larger quantity needs to be produced for the goods to be exported.
Microfinancing has received an overwhelming positive response from the developing world, but with every new policy there are flaws. Flaws that fortunately can be addressed, but many new projects are only now introducing microfinancing because of the buzz, and the details haven’t been worked out quite yet. These women are willing to work hard and responsibly, but to have a vocational skill is one thing, and to have the skills of an entrepreneur is another. Is it the new expected role for these non-profits such as The Center for Women’s Development and Research to act as a business by collecting their goods and distributing them where there is a demand?
The Center’s accomplishments are clear in regards to gender rights, but it has also left me with many thoughts about the much talked about microfinance boom. We’re on the right track by giving tools rather than food, but the details that will vary in every community need to be addressed.
When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Clare said: "Good project."
Centre for Women’s Development and Research- CWDR
Education to Empower 500 Women and Adolescent girls
Update May - December 2008
This is an important period for us in our attempt educate and empower women and adolescent girls from Tsunami affected area. We could able to achieve our objectives in spite of the hardships like getting enough funding support to continue our work. During this period there was a shifting of focus from rehabilitation work to more of gender issues, women’s development, girl children’s education. In general we are happy about our achievements. The major change happened in the process of rehabilitation work is women from fishing community got visibility and importance in their community. They have been consulted by NGOs and Government, they were meeting often to discuss about their issues and development of the community. We are really happy that we have also contributed in that rebuilding process. Women themselves have proven that they have an important role in disaster management and rebuilding families and communities. During this period 150 women, out of that 100 are single women(widows and destitute women), and 200 adolescent girls benefitted from our activities.
Income generation programme for women: We have organized income generation programmes for women. We have organized trainings in mushroom growing, nursery raising, food processing and entrepreneurship skills. 150 women participated in these trainings, out of which 100 single were given seed money loans to start their own business or to strengthen their present business like selling fish, food items, vegetable. In addition to that we have also organized leadership skill trainings in all our 12 fishing villages, 160 women participated in these trainings. We have also organized health camps and health education of programmes for women in 12 villages.
Lifeskill, sexuality and vocation skill trainings for adolescent
One of the neglected group in Tsunami rehabilitation work is adolescent girls, Not many NGOs and other international agencies were focusing on adolescent girls, so our contribution was unique and helpful for the girls. Through our weekend workshops we could able to reach out to nearly 200 adolescent girls. Now they openly discuss about sexuality and reproductive health in our meetings, among themselves and with their others. But of course the marriage below 21 years is common and another major issue is the dowry system in the fishing community. These decisions are made by their parents and may we have to educate the parents, in the coming years.
We have been providing vocational skill training for adolescent girls, Computer skill training and tailoring is given ongoing in our Paniyur and Thiruvanmiyur centres. In addition to that we have also organized short term vocational skill trainings in paper and jute product making, embroidery, fancy jewel making, palm leaf product making. In addition to they were given information about different short term skill trainings organized by other organizations, information about Open University courses. They were also taken for exposure visits to learn about different vocations. Nearly 200 girls benefitted from these programmes. All most all the girls who attended these programmes continue their education without discontinuing. Actually it is through vocational skill training we get girls for our lifeskill and sexuality education. During this period we have also organized trainings in folk dance, music and street plays. A group of girls were trained in street play and they were involved in 16 days activism to eliminate violence against women from 25th November to 10th December. They performed street plays, distributed hand bills, organized signature campaigns to educate the public about the importance of eliminating violence against women.
Constraints and future plan:
Apart from funding problems to implement our programmes we also face acute power shortage to run the computer training centre because of the power cut announced by the government. Officially there is a power cut of two hours in the city and 4 hours in the villages. So it is become very difficult to run the computer training centre. According to government announcements the situation will change only during 2010. So we are planning to install solar power system to run the computer training centre at Paniyur village, we need Rs.150,000 (US $ 3333) to run 2 computers, a printer, two fans and two lights. We request the support of friends, well wishers, philanthropists, those who are concerned about girl children’s education, environment to support us in this regard. In the coming months we are also planning to work with the men and boys to educate them about he gender issues and how they can help in creating gender just society.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
Let’s Together Make it a Reality
Three years have gone after Tsunami and for most of the outside people it is very distant in their memories, moreover people think the rehabilitation work is over; new houses are built, boats and nets are given to people, normal life is returned. But there are hundreds of Devis and Sundaris in Tsunami affected villages, where people think girls are burden on families, so they are stopped from schools after puberty and married off, even to marry most of them take huge loans or sell their assets to give dowry. We just want to change this situation educate the community that girls are not liabilities but assets of the family and community