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International Women”s Day 2013: Empowering Rural Women to Fight Hunger & Poverty [Part-1]

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By Dr. Amrit Patel:

Women’s potential to overcome poverty, hunger, malnutrition, fight climate change, start their own businesses through savings and lending groups, among others, has been significant and acknowledged in developing countries. Since International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8, 2013, it should be the endeavor of all of us that should support women’s efforts to claim their legal rights, live free from violence, earn a decent income, get an education, grow food for their families, and make their voices heard in their communities and beyond.


It is heartening that our Finance Minister, while presenting Union Budget for the year 2013-14, recognizing the fact that women are at the head of many banks today including two public sector banks, was overwhelmed to set up India’s first Women’s Bank as a public sector bank that can exclusively serve women, lend mostly to women and women-run businesses, support women’s Self-Help-Groups and women’s livelihood, employ predominantly women, and address gender related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion. The Finance Minister, further, dwelt upon saying that we have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women and pledged to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure. To accomplish these objectives, he proposed to set up a fund to which the Government will contribute Rs.1,000 crore and the Ministry of Women and Child Development and other ministries concerned will work out the details of the structure, scope and application of the fund. This paper briefly highlights women’s role in India’s agriculture, need for empowerment and suggests issues that need focused attention while designing policy and programs for women’s empowerment in the Twelfth Plan.

Women’s participation in economy:
According to various studies and reports following is the status of women’s participation in country’s economy.

– The workforce participation rate of females in rural sector was 26.1% in 2009‐ 10 while that for males was 54.7%. In Urban sector, it was 13.8 % for females and 54.3% for males. Among the States/Union Territories, workforce participation rate of females in the rural sector was the highest in Himachal Pradesh at 46.8% and in the urban sector it was the highest in Mizoram at 28.8%.

– In the rural sector, 55.7% females were self‐employed, 4.4% females had regular wage/salaried employment and 39.9% females were casual laborers compared with 53.5%, 8.5% and 38.0% males in the same categories respectively.

– A total of 20.4% women were employed in the organized sector in 2010 with 17.9% working in the public sector and 24.5% in the private.

– The labor force participation rate of women across all age‐groups was 20.8% in rural sector and 12.8% in urban sector compared with 54.8 and 55.6 for men in the rural and urban sectors respectively in 2009‐10.

– The unemployment rate for women of all ages was 2.4% compared with 2.0% for men in the rural areas in 2009‐10. It was 7.0 % for women and 3.1% for men in urban areas during the same period. Among the States/Union Territories, the highest unemployment rate for women in rural sector was observed in Chandigarh (51.1%) and in the urban sector in Dadra and Nagar Haveli (60.0%) in 2009‐10.

– Of the total job seekers registered with employed exchanges, women constituted 32.5% in 2009.

– The female share of total Central Government employment stood at 10.0% in 2009.

– The share of female employees in the scheduled commercial banks was 15.9% in 2009 which rose slightly to 16.6% in 2010.

– In 2009‐10, the average wage/salary received by regular wage/salaried employees of age 15‐59 years was Rs.155.87 per day for females compared with Rs.249.15 per day for males in rural areas. For urban areas, it was Rs.308.79 and Rs.377.16 per day for females and males respectively.

– In 2010, the number of accounts operated by females in all commercial banks was 153.18 crores compared with 487.37 crore accounts operated by males. The deposit amount was Rs.517209.74 crore for females and Rs.1838826.25 crore for males.

– In 2011-12, women exclusively accounted for 62.99 lakh SHGs [79.1%] and loan of Rs.5,104.33 crore [77.9%] of the total under the SHG-Bank Linkage Microfinance Program.

– In 2011‐12, the share of women swarojgaris (self-employed) in the total swarojgaris assisted under the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgaar Yojna stood at 69.4%.

– The share of women in the person days employed through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme stood at 48.3% in 2011‐12 (all districts with rural areas).

– According to the pilot Time Use Survey conducted in 18,620 households spread over six selected States, namely, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Meghalaya during the period June 1998 to July 1999, women spent about 2.1 hours per day on cooking food and about 1.1 hours on cleaning the households and utensils. Men’s participation in these activities was nominal. Taking care of children was one of the major responsibilities of women, as they spent about 3.16 hours per week on these activities as compared to only 0.32 hours by males.

– According to National Family Health Survey—III (2005‐06) in the rural sector currently married women take 26% decisions regarding obtaining health care for herself and 7.6% in case of purchasing major household items. 10% decisions are taken by females in respect of visiting their family or relatives. For urban areas, these figures are 29.7 %, 10.4 % and 12.2 % respectively.

In the age group of 15‐19 years, 46% of women are not involved in any kind of decision making. In the rural sector, 23.4 % females are not involved in any decision‐ making while, in the urban sector, only 13.9 % of urban resident women are not involved in any decision making. It is found that 32.7% illiterate women, 21.6% unemployed women are not involved in any decision making. For the country as a whole, 59.6% have access to money.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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