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Employment Or Empowerment? The Ground Reality Of Worksites For Women In MNREGA

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

During the time of the pandemic, one act that was in news for boosting rural economy was Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The act aims to provide a minimum of 100 days of guaranteed employment to every registered household. Another aim of the act is to create durable assets for households in rural areas. The act clearly mentions the type of structure, financing patterns, and monitoring and evaluation required to create durable assets and to generate sustainable livelihood. 

Apart from these things, the act aims at providing employment to the people of vulnerable groups and marginalized communities. In addition, the primary beneficiaries stated in the act should be people from vulnerable and marginalized communities. Interestingly, the act clearly spells out measures to ’empower’ the women and other groups through this act. The empowerment through fixing quota for women and giving child care facilities are to name the few. 

Women Participation In The MGNREGA

The Act gives priority to women’s participation in the workforce. It has given special attention to the needs of the women working at the worksite. Some of the basic provisions for women working under MGNREGA are: provision of child care at the worksite, vulnerable women ( widowed, deserted and living in poverty) should be given special attention and therefore, special work which is close to their home should be formulated and implemented. 

The act encourages women participation and thus has mandatory one-third participation of women. Due to the special focus on women, it has given the scope of employment to women within their villages and an option to earn their livelihood. 

Further, due to the migration of men to urban spaces as a source of livelihood, a lot of women take up work through MGNREGA. The migration of menfolk, at times, gives women an opportunity to work and earn livelihood in their villages for their family. This is true only for the women coming from low-income households in the villages.

Ground Reality And Gaps 

Although the act has tried to give special provision to women yet, it has clearly missed out on the other provisions which would help to ensure women’s participation. In addition, the provisions mentioned in the act are not in place on the ground. Drawing from my experience and observation from a few villages of district Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh. The provision of child care at the worksite is quite missing. 

In addition, the act has a broader perspective and provision to ensure the ’empowerment of women’. It does not talk about the basic amenities like toilets and sanitary pads in first-aid boxes to ensure the participation of women.

Drawing from the conversation I had with a few women, they mentioned how during menstruation, they either have to miss out on work or work at the site, taking frequent breaks to come back home to change the sanitary pads.

The shyness and taboo around menstruation often force them to stay at home during menstruation. Further, the lack of basic amenities during menstruation also makes it difficult to work. While discussing with the members of Panchayat, they put across the issue with the toilets. As the worksites are not a fixed location, it is not feasible to get a washroom made. Although, in my opinion, a makeshift toilet with water and safe disposable would suffice at the worksite. In addition,  movable toilet vans if adopted by panchayats through state governments can ensure the issue of sanitation. Further, community washrooms in and around villages can also help to tackle the issue of sanitation. 

Empowerment Is Much More Than Just Providing Employment 

In the development sector, most of the projects and programmes are around financial independence and put greater focus on financial inclusion. The point which usually gets missed is the conducive environment which women need to work effectively and efficiently. Worksites usually do not cover basic amenities which gives liberty to women to work without much hassle. Although the act has covered a lot of provisions for women yet, it fails to translate on the ground. 

Further, the women are yet not aware of rights covered under the act which makes it even worse for them to demand their rights and entitlements. The problem further aggravates due to lack of support and help from Panchayat and other departments. I believe, if the awareness around MGNREGA is spread in the community, it can help to bring significant change in the community.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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.

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Read more about her campaign.

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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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