Posts Tagged ‘women’
There have in 2016 been several occasions when the work of the Ministry of Women and Child Development has come into the public glare. Not for reasons concerned with the welfare of women and children but instead for the words and actions of its minister, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, on matters such as abuse of women in social media and paternity leave.
It is however with regard to the subjects that this ministry is concerned with – women and children of Bharat – that the most serious questions arise. As a separate ministry it is only a little over ten years old, having earlier been a department in the Ministry of Education (as the Ministry of Human Resources Development was earlier known) and with the department having been created in 1985.
What does this ministry do? In its own words: “The Ministry was constituted with the prime intention of addressing gaps in State action for women and children for promoting inter-Ministerial and inter-sectoral convergence to create gender equitable and child-centred legislation, policies and programmes.” The programmes and schemes run and managed by the ministry deal with welfare and support services for women and children, training for employment and the earning of incomes, gender sensitisation and the raising of awareness about the particular problems faced by women and children.
The ministry says that its work plays “a supplementary and complementary role to the other general developmental programmes in the sectors of health, education, rural development etc” so that women are “empowered both economically and socially and thus become equal partners in national development along with men”.
In my view there are several problems afflicting this ministry, not only in terms of what it says its work is, but also in how it goes about its work. As was the case in other countries that were once called the Third World (later called “under-developed” or “developing” countries and now called “emerging markets”), the creation of such departments or ministries came about as an adjunct to the worldwide concern about population growth, and which in Bharat had been through a particularly contentious phase in the 1970s.
That in our case a department was turned into a ministry needs to be considered against a background that has become very relevant now, for the year was 2006 and the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) had gone through their first set of comprehensive reviews and ‘corrections’. It is relevant because the problems concerning how the Ministry of WCD is now going about its work has to do with the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Looking back even only as far as recent weeks, the view, conduct and agency of this ministry calls into question, in my view, the need for it to continue as a separate ministry. Do read TS Ranga who provides a trailer into the bewildering whims and fancies of the minister. And here is a short list of the very substantial problem areas:
1. “Healthy Food to Pregnant Women-Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)”. This means provision of supplementary nutrition to children (6 months to 6 years), pregnant women and lactating mothers. A variety of measures are needed to ensure provision: ‘Take Home Ration’, a conditional cash transfer scheme to give maternity benefit, ‘Village Health and Nutrition Days’ held monthly at anganwadi centres, tackling iron deficiency anaemia, a national conditional cash transfer to incentivise institutional delivery at public health facilities.
2. “Universal Food Fortification”. Fortification of food items like salt, edible oil, milk, wheat and rice with iron, folic acid, Vitamin-D and Vitamin-A “to address the issue of malnutrition and to evolve a policy and draft legislation/regulation on micronutrient fortification”.
3. “Beneficiaries of Supplementary Nutrition Programme under ICDS”. The increase in the number of beneficiaries is linked to the “Development Agenda for 2016-2030 of the United Nations” (the SDGs). The ministry delivers three of six ICDS services through the public health infrastructure under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
4. “National Plan of Action for Children 2016”. The draft plan is based on principles contained in the National Policy for Children 2013 and categorises the rights of the children under four areas. The draft is being developed by ministries, state governments, and civil society organisations.
5. “ICDS Being Completely Revamped To Address The Issue Of Malnutrition”. The ministry is undertaking a complete revamp of the ICDS programme as the level of malnutrition in the country continues to be high. The digitisation of anganwadis is being taken up for real-time monitoring of every child and every pregnant and lactating mother. The ministry wants supplementary nutrition to be standardised through both manufacturing and distribution.
6. “WCD Ministry and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sign Memorandum of Cooperation”. The memorandum is for technical support to strengthen the nutrition programme in Bharat and includes ICT-based real-time monitoring of ICDS services. The motive is for national and state capacities to be strengthened to deliver nutrition interventions during pre-conception, pregnancy and first two years of life. There will be technological innovation, sharing best practices and use of data and evidence.
7. “ICT enabled Real-Time Monitoring System of ICDS”. The web-enabled online digitisation “will strengthen the monitoring of the service delivery of anganwadis, help improve the nutrition levels of children and help meet nutrition goals”. This will help draw the nutrition profile of each village and address the problem of malnutrition by getting real-time reports from the grassroot level. It will start with a project assisted by International Development Association (IDA) in 162 high burden districts of eight states covering 3.68 lakh anganwadis.
8. “Draft National Policy for Women, 2016”. The policy is being revised after 15 years and is expeceted to guide Government action on women’s issues over the next 15-20 years. “Several things have changed since the last policy of 2001 especially women’s attitude towards themselves and their expectations from life”.
9. “Stakeholders Consultations Held For Policy On Food Fortification“. A consultation with stakeholders was held to evolve a comprehensive policy including draft regulations on micronutrient fortification.
What do these tell us?
a) The ministry does not consider either women or children to be part of a family, or an extended family, or a joint family, nor are they part of a village community consisting of peers and elders. The extremely essential months during which women conceive, the post natal period, and the life of the infant until the age of two or three is – under this view – to be monitored and governed by the ministry and its agents. There is in neither of the draft plans mentioned in the points above the briefest mention of culture or community.
b) Such a view, distasteful and profoundly disruptive as it is to the institution of family, has come about because of the influences upon the ministry. Women and children are seen in this view as factors of consumption even within the family, and the decisions pertaining to what they consume, how much and when are to be controlled for lengthy periods of time by implementers and partners of the ministry’s programmes and schemes, which themselves are shaped by an international list called the SDGs in whose framing these women, children and their families played no part.
c) Sheltering behind the excuse of delivering the services of the ICDS, the ministry through its association with the Gates Foundation plans to collect at an individual level the medical data of millions of infants and mothers, for use as evidence. By whom? By the partners of the Gates Foundation and its allies which are the multi-national pharmaceutical industry, the multi-national agriculture and crop science industry and the multi-national processed foods industry. Hence we see the insistence on biofortification, micronutrients, ready-to-eat take-home rations and the money being provided (by the government through cash transfers) to buy these substances. The ICDS budget for the duration of the Twelfth Five Year Plan which ends in March 2017 is Rs 1,23,580 crore – a gigantic sum distributed amongst several thousand projects with a few hundred local implementing agencies including NGOs.
d) These objectives alone are reason enough to have the officials concerned, including the minister, immediately suspended and charge-sheeted for conspiracy against the public of Bharat. It is far beyond shameful that the valid reasons of malnutrition and gaps in the provision of essential services are being twisted in a manner that can scarcely be grasped. The 10.3 million children and women that are in the ICDS ‘supplementary nutrition’ net today form potentially the largest legitimised medical trial in the world, but with none of the due diligence, informed consent and independent supervision required for such trials in the so-called developed countries.
e) The ministry is entirely in thrall to its foreign ‘development partners’ – UNICEF, World Bank, DFID, WFP and USAID. For this reason the ministry has had the closest and cosiest of arrangements, from amongst all central ministries, with non-government organisations (NGOs) foreign and national. The international bodies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) and the large national aid agencies (Britain’s DFID and the USA’s USAID) provide programme funding to NGOs international and national who work with and advise the WCD ministry. In the 2000s this was in order to comply with the Millennium Development Goals, now it is for the SDGs, and this is why the policy view of the ministry aligns with the UN SDGs rather than with the needs of our families whether rural or urban.
What is the remedy? The ministry manages several programmes that are critical for a large number of families all over Bharat. However these are programmes that have much in common with the aims and programmes of three ministries in particular: the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and the Ministry of Human Resources Development (for matters pertaining to regulation and policy, the Ministry of Law and justice). These three ministries become the natural recipients of the responsibilities borne thus far by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and when such a transfer of allied duties is effected, some of the most important years in the lives of the children and women of Bharat will not become data points and consumption instances for corporations but return to being families.
It must be difficult to be a senior official in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN these days, especially if the official is above 40 years old and has spent the last two decades working “in the field” (which usually means away from some capital city somewhere, in discomfort that is amusingly relative to most of us proletarian toilers). For, I do think that there is still a majority of folk in the FAO who care about their work and the aims of the organisation, muddled though these get when 190-odd member states each bring their own version of reality (and ambition) into the proceedings.
More difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is being shepherded more closely into the embrace of the OECD, the World Bank-International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation embrace, with its murmuring old boys’ clubs all shadowy in their suits, adept at facilitating the trade of political positions for corporate board seats. And more difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is scrutinised every day by NGOs and civil society groups that have successfully ensured that negotiations called ‘multi-lateral’ must be open before public gaze and can no longer hide behind empty principles when hunger – FAO’s single problem – stalks the planet.
Perhaps that is one reason why the FAO has called this year’s World Food Day ‘Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition’ – and notice the addition of ‘nutirion’, there’s no getting away from the N-word these days, so loaded has it become. The theme, to borrow from the typically bland FAO pronouncement, “gives focus to World Food Day observances and helps increase understanding of problems and solutions in the drive to end hunger”. Well said, for the umpteenth time.
But there have been departures from the corporate script lately which are surprising. On 2013 October 04 the Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, formalised a tie with La Via Campesina, recognising it as the most important voice of small food producers worldwide. This is seen by Campesina as “yet another welcome step in a series of ongoing reforms of the FAO, which have created a unique and unprecedented space to collaborate with civil society and democratize the arena of global food policy”. Easier wished for than done, as Campesina well knows, because the financiers and bankers, agri-commodity trading oligopolies and mafioso, the crooked politicians in the European Union and their willing partners in the ‘developing’ world are not going to quietly let this happen.
These reforms are aimed at giving the FAO not just more political legitimacy by becoming more inclusive, but also at reviving it as the cornerstone for international cooperation in the area of food security, starting to take such policy decisions out of the hands of the World Bank (WB) or the World Trade Organization (WTO.) While these developments are welcome, the global peasants’ movement remains realistic about the amount of energy that should be put into the UN, maintaining its greatest strength on the ground mobilizing farmers and building alternatives.
In 2012, at the 39th session of FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS), the G20 approached the CFS and asked the Committee to agree with what it said on price volatility in agricultural commodities, which since 2007 has dragged tens of millions of households in South and North into hunger and debt. When that happened, and when a compromised CFS agreed, the civil society delegation to the session walked out. The NGOs, social movements, representatives of peasants’ federations and associations who were present had, on the contrary, demanded strong regulation of the commodity futures markets that fuel price volatility and the food insecurity of the poorest. But the G20 (and that means the investors in a global agribusiness industry) won that round.
With the help of the CGIAR, what for the sake of convenience we call the G20 will want to win every time. The CGIAR is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research which runs 15 centres around the world that are described as “independent, non-profit research organizations, innovating on behalf of poor people in developing countries” and as being “home to almost 10,000 scientists, researchers, technicians, and staff working to create a better future for the world’s poor”. The descriptions about ‘independent’, ‘non-profit’ and ‘for the poor’ are lies, as they have been for every single one of the 40 years of this plague called the CGIAR. But the CGIAR system is large, powerful, almost invisible and little understood except by those in agricultural research systems (such as those in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research) in ‘developing’ countries.
And that is why the release, a few days ago, of the ‘Global Hunger Index’ 2013 needs to be interpreted for what it is, because it is the product of one of the CGIAR centres, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The annual index offers a ranking of hunger, or food insecurity/security for many countries but not all (see the image of the map and its caption). The IFPRI functions worldwide as a motivated think-tank that commissions carefully scripted research to fulfil pre-determined outputs that serve the interests of those who profit from the industrial agricultural system and retail food system.
That such an obvious fifth column finds residence and a willing ear in India ought to be a matter of shame to us. Here is a small example why. The IFPRI, in the 2013 Global Hunger Index, has distributed its ‘recommendations’ which are from the typical neo-liberal charter of subjugation of the working classes and the denial of choice, all camouflagued by whichever development jargon is found to be currently in vogue.
Hence “broader policy coherence for development is also a key requirement for efforts to strengthen resilience. Policies that undermine resilience must be revised. To foster resilience to undernutrition, policies should be designed with the intention of improving nutrition outcomes and realising the right to adequate food” in fact means – do away with policies that still see a role for the state and the public sector, hide this behind trendy concepts like ‘resilience’ and ‘right to food’, but include nutrition (which I mentioned earlier) because that is the route the MNCs have successfully used.
Hence “encourage and facilitate a multisectoral approach to resilience (as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement encourages a multisectoral approach to nutrition, for example), coordinating plans and programs across line ministries” in fact means – phase out your thinking and replace it with ours, which comes with a United Nations endorsement and which places private business at the centre of policy and its implementation.
Hence “adjust policies and strategies that undermine the resilience of poor and vulnerable groups, such as the low import tariffs or the structural neglect of smallholder agriculture in Haiti” in fact means – remove barriers to food imports, stop subsidies and subventions that the poor, marginalised and vulnerable have a right to in your country (consider the ruckus the World Trade Organisation has been making about India’s new National Food Security Act) and spout righteous claptrap about ‘neglect’.
Hence “ensure that policies and programs draw on a wide range of expertise such as collaborative, multiagency, and multisectoral problem analysis. National governments should support the emergence of multistakeholder platforms and make active use of such forums” in fact means – the expertise will be foreign and provided by the CGIAR and its numerous allies in all garbs, these ‘multi’ platforms will be public showcases to conceal an agenda already set.
[The full IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 report is here. The ‘issue brief is here’ for those who want a condensed dose of dangerous neo-liberal vitamins. And the obligatory data set used to support the well-set arguments is here.]
There is no comparison between the IFPRI propaganda and the annual report of the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2013, the sixth edition of which was released in 2014 October. The Watch identifies a number of policies that generate hunger and malnutrition instead of reducing them. The Watch insists on the need for meaningful participation – at every level – of people and communities in the development of those public policies which affect their lives.
You will find here national case studies and analysis that show (1) policies that foster violence and discrimination against women with regard to equal access to natural resources, inheritances, equal wages and political decision-making, (2) policies that systematically limit and exclude large groups, including peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolks, pastoralists and indigenous peoples from participating in those decisions that affect their very livelihoods and (3) policies on a global level that facilitate land grabbing, concentrated ownership of natural resources and the commodification of public goods that deprive smallholders and other people of their food resources.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The day was commemorated for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, following its establishment during the Socialist International meeting the prior year.
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The UN system in general and UN Women in particular have planned events and campaigns for this 100th year of International Women’s Day, and the news and events page is a good way to follow these.
Unesco has lined up events and programmes to celebrate International Women’s Day. The 2011 edition of Women Make the News, which is designed to promote gender equality in the media, will also start on 2001 March 08, International Women’s Day. The theme for this year, Media and Information Literacy and Gender, aims to improve understanding about gender perspectives in the media and information systems.
A special issue of UNESCO’s Courier magazine will also be published to mark the occasion. Speaking for the Voiceless: Five Women in Action features interviews with Michaelle Jean (Haiti), Sana Ben Achour (Tunisia), Aminetou Mint El Moctar (Mauritania), Sultana Kamal (Bangladesh) and Monica Gonzalez Mujica (Chile).
The development news agency, IPS, has a number of reports and features focusing on gender.
In ‘We Denounce the Militarisation of Our Lives’, Patricia Guerrero, founder of a leading human rights group, is interviewed about paramilitary cadres in Colombia which continue to threaten, harass and violently attack women’s rights activists. Guerrero helped found the ‘City of Women’ outside Cartagena in 2003, a space where women displaced by the fighting could evolve from victims to agents of change. Altogether, some 5.2 million people were forced to flee rural areas of this South American country between 1985 and 2010, according to a report released in February by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement.
In ‘No Quiet Old Age for South Africa’s Grannies’, IPS reports on how grandmothers are indispensable in South Africa. They may have been hoping for a restful old age, but the AIDS epidemic has seen them taking on motherhood for a second time, caring for grandchildren whose parents have died of the disease. The 76-year-old Thandiwe Matzinga raised nine kids of her own, three of whom have died of AIDS. She’s one of South Africa’s many grannies who care for their grandchildren.
Thousands of women farmers in Brazil have demonstrated against the use of toxic weedkillers and pesticides on crops and in favour of agricultural techniques that protect their families’ health. According to the Brazilian Crop Protection Association (AENDA), which represents producers of farm chemicals, Brazil uses more than one billion litres of agricultural chemicals a year, making it the top consumer country since 2009 of weedkillers and insecticides. Amanda Matheus, a national coordinator for the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), told IPS that the use of agrochemicals “is driven by an alliance between large landowners and transnational corporations that gain control of the land and invest in monoculture plantations, such as sugarcane and eucalyptus”.
Premlata is one of several successful women PRI (panchayati raj institution) representatives Orissa has produced. The 73rd amendment of 1993, providing reservation for women at the grassroots level, has gone a long way in the empowerment of Indian women. A report on Infochange India, “Orissa’s wonder women’, explains more about this social transformation and the difference it has made in rural Orissa.
Observations from Orissa suggest that the journey involved several phases, starting with awe and fear at the inclusion of women in party politics, characterised by ‘proxy rule’ by male relatives of the female representatives and dominance of male members and senior officials in decision-making, etc. Litali Das, a social activist who works with women’s issues, cites some instances. “In 2009, in Nuapada district, some women sarpanchs in Boden block wanted to convene a gram sabha. But the BDO was not convinced. The ladies then showed him the Orissa panchayati raj manual that stipulates the mandatory holding of gram sabhas at least four times a year. The BDO capitulated.”
In another instance, Sangeeta Nayak, sarpanch of Borda gram panchayat in Kalahandi district, mobilised around 3,000 people to block the collector’s path. They got a doctor appointed in the village primary health centre that had not seen a doctor for years. Similarly, Nayana Patra, a lady ward officer in Baruan gram panchayat in Dhenkanal district, has set an example in improving the education system in her village (the school dropout rate has since declined considerably), and in protecting local forests.
Consultations have always accompanied the lengthy drafting process which culminates in a five year plan document. Since the 1990s, these have become more “inclusive”, to borrow a catch-phrase that is now much in vogue with Government of India policymakers. Even so, the inclusion has been restricted to academic institutions, trade unions (not any more, sadly), industry associations and trade representations.
The Indian polity, in whose name these Plans (capital ‘P’) are drafted and debated and approved, have never been a part of this vast, slow process. From the approach paper to the Twelfth Plan however, the Planning Commission has found it scores points by inviting suggestions and comments from anyone interested. Email ids were given out on the website, consultations were held open for public comment via downloadable drafts.
Now the Commission has gone an ambitious step further. A Facebook page, a dedicated website for online consultations and a discussion forum to debate the Commission’s 12 “challenges” – that is the engaging approach taken by India’s primary planning body for social and economic development.
This approach is still too raw and new to determine whether it can make a difference to the actual drafting of the Five Year Plan. Participatory planning for land and natural resource use has not been encouraged by the central and state governments, and it would be naive to imagine that this situation will change concerning the fundamental planning document for India. Still, it is a beginning, and it is up to those concerned enough to contribute to widen this space.
“The Planning Commission has started the process of preparing an Approach to the 12th Five Year Plan and is adopting a new and more consultative approach. In addition to consultations conducted across the country by organizations representing various citizens’ groups e.g., women, dalits and youth, the Planning Commission has for the first time adopted consultation from interested stake holders via the Commission’s web-site,” said the deputy chairman of the Commission.
“Based on an intensive process within the Commission, ‘Twelve Strategy Challenges’ [I’ve listed them below] have been identified to initiate these consultations. The ‘strategy challenges’ refer to some core areas that require new approaches to produce the desired results. These should not be viewed as chapters of the Twelfth Plan, nor the layout of the Approach Paper, which will be decided only after the consultations are complete. They are only a way of organizing thinking in critical areas.”
“To give a few examples, the management of water resources is a critical area and is mentioned under the strategy challenge ‘Managing the Environment’. There is an obvious overlap with other challenges such as Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture. Similarly ‘Social Justice’, which is a critical challenge, will be met in a manner in which many of the other challenges are addressed. Therefore, if a challenge is not highlighted separately, it may be because it is wide enough to be covered by several other challenges. However, we recognize that such cross-cutting challenges must not be lost sight of and they must be adequately recognized and addressed in the Approach Document.”
The ‘Strategy Challenges’ are: Enhancing the Capacity for Growth; Enhancing Skills and Faster Generation of Employment; Managing the Environment; Markets for Efficiency and Inclusion; Decentralisation, Empowerment and Information; Technology and Innovation; Securing the Energy Future for India; Accelerated Development of Transport Infrastructure; Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture; Managing Urbanization; Improved Access to Quality Education; Better Preventive and Curative Health Care. The Strategy Challenges are listed in full here.
The web-based innovation notwithstanding, it is useful to look at the intention through a historical lens. “The — Plan represents the first phase in a scheme of long-term development extending over the next fifteen years or so, the preparation of which will now be taken in hand. In the course of this period, India’s economy must not only expand rapidly but must, at the same time, become self-reliant and self-generating. This long-term approach is intended to provide a general design of development for the country’s natural resources, agricultural and industrial advance, changes in the social structure and an integrated scheme of regional and national development.”
“The size of the task and the many-sided challenge should not be underestimated. The greatest stress in the Plan has to be on implementation, on speed and thoroughness in seeking practical results, and on creating conditions for the maximum production and employment and the development of human resources. Discipline and national unity are the very basis of social and economic progress and the achievement of socialism. At each step, the — Plan will demand dedicated leadership at all levels, the highest standards of devotion and efficiency from the public services, widespread understanding and participation by the people, and willingness on their part to take their full share of responsibility and to bear larger burdens for the future.”
Which Plan document does this extract – from the introduction – come from? India’s Third Five Year Plan, whose preparation commenced towards the end of 1958 and was carried out in three main stages. The first, leading to the publication of the Draft Outline early in July, 1960, comprised detailed studies by working groups set up at the Centre and in the States. Parliament gave its general approval to the Draft Outline in August, 1960.
This book is as much about the lives and times of ordinary people as it is about social medicine. It is a doctor’s story about her practice, which lets her extrapolate about the realities of rural India for all Indians. Set in Gadchiroli, a district in central India, known for being an underdeveloped and backward area.
The introduction to ‘Putting Women First: Women and Health in a Rural Community’, tells us that this district is where Dr Rani Bang and her husband, Dr Abhay Bang, set up the clinic for the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) and practised medicine that explicitly catered to the Raj Gond, Madiya Gond, Pardhan and Halibi, the dominant tribal groups, along with non-tribal poor people who live in the area.
This settlement goes back to prehistory and is a part of the ancient Dandakaranya forest mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Rani Bang’s research found that 92 percent of women in this region had no access to treatment for gynaecological disorders in the absence of women doctors. Such neglect was exacerbated by ‘development’ since rural families were, and remain, unprepared for the rapid changes wrought in the spheres of education, information, material enhancement and changes in lifestyle, which impact on relationships and health.
The book plays many roles: a commentary on the ‘chronic myopia’ of a planning process that refuses to see millions of Indians or to think of the ways in which their lives could be bettered; careful observations on the enormous social changes that impact on tribal society where traditional kinship and ecological systems being sorely stressed; and a logbook of case medicine.
In their own way, the Bangs have set in motion a type of revolution that equips people, communities and administrators with the tools to ‘build an indigenous expression of development, one in which the fundamentals of healthcare, interdependence and sustainable economics are paramount’. The last chapter of the book summarises the author’s views on recommendations for policy makers.
I was associated in a small way with the early work that went into ‘Putting Women First: Women and Health in a Rural Community’, and was then asked to write the foreword, a signal honour. I have extracted a few paragraphs of the foreword below, and you can read the full foreword [pdf] here. You can order the book directly from the publisher, Stree Samya, here.
From the foreword:
In shifting to another section of the Gadhiroli (and indeed of the rural Indian) canvas, ‘Putting Women First’ speaks sagely of the manifold aspects of the care our population needs: of regional disparities and critical gaps in the health care delivery system, of infant mortality, obstetric care, maternal and child health, of ‘dais’ and anganwadis, medical termination of pregnancy, and the desperate need for better-staffed primary health centres. “Meeting health needs of women through a system that is sensitive to the differential needs of men and women and their differential access to health care also needs to be taken into account,” recommended the National Commission on Population. Bang-bai’s clinic practices that sensitivity, day in and day out.
The differentials that Search grapples with routinely are daunting. The very premise of girls’ education, especially education of poor girls, is based on an understanding that education is critical to social development, that it leads to lower fertility rates and better child-rearing practices for example. On the one hand, the benefits of women’s education are compelling yet all too often, the struggle for the right of girls and women to education gets reduced to issues of access alone. In general, it has been easier for women’s groups and voluntary groups to work with girls outside the system of formal education, especially the government system of education which is notoriously inflexible.
If one was to describe a large circle around the Search campus, of say 50 kilometres, one would see in the nearby settlements of Aheri, Brahmapuri and on the Raipur road the assembly-line blocks that in rural India purport to be schools. What does it mean to be ‘schooled’ in one of these miserable containers? Conditions in these schools are hardly conducive to meaningful learning – none possesses the very basic set of facilities such as adequate classrooms, toilets and drinking water, teaching-learning materials and libraries. As is the case elsewhere in India, physical inaccessibility, irrelevance of curricula, repeated ‘failure’ and harsh treatment in schools contribute to children dropping out or never enrolling. According to a National Sample Survey Organisation survey (1998), about 26 per cent of those who had dropped out of government schools cited reasons other than poverty – unfriendly school environment, doubts about the usefulness of schooling and an inability to cope with studies. Among girls in rural areas these factors accounted for over 75 per cent of dropouts.
Unctad has released its Information Economy 2010 report which is titled ‘ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation’. The report carries very useful analyses of the growth of mobile communications in Asia and South America, and examines how well – or not – information and communications technologies (ICT) are doing for the poorer sections of developing societies. Among the case studies is this one, one a rural business process outsourcing business in India’s Rajasthan state. This is what the report said:
Growing demand for business process outsourcing (BPO) services in India is generating new jobs outside metropolitan areas. In the north-western state of Rajasthan, rural women with modest education are earning new income from employment opportunities in the BPO industry. Since 2007, the company Source of Change is providing ICT-enabled services to clients in other parts of India as well as abroad.
Source for Change was founded on the idea that social values can be achieved through the private marketplace. It provides BPO services from its data entry centre in Bagar, a town of about 10,000, most of whom speak only Hindi or Rajasthani. Bagar has one of the lowest rates of female school attendance in India. This all-woman, rural enterprise addresses both business and social needs. For its clients, it competes in the marketplace with high-quality services, such as data entry, web research and local language call services. It has given some rural women the chance to gain technology skills and employment in a location with few similar options.
The company interviewed 27 women, of whom the 10 best candidates were hired. Following two months of training in English and computer skills, they began working as business process associates. For admissions into the training programme, candidates had to have completed 10th grade at school. They also needed to pass a test related to English writing, critical thinking, problem-solving and professionalism.
There are 25 computers and a server in the office. Internet services are provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), through which the company enjoys broadband access to the Internet at the speed of 1.2 Mbps. The company has reliable electricity for 20–22 hours per day. If the electricity is out during work hours, a generator ensures uninterrupted work flow. As of early 2010, the operation had grown to 25 employees in Bagar, and there are plans for further expansion. Source for Change aims to have about 500 employees at the end of 2012. But one day it hopes to offer various IT-based careers to some 5,000 women in rural India. The idea is to set up more small centres in other rural areas. The company intends to develop a ‘hub and spoke’ system comprising centres with 30–50 employees. With the planned configuration, different centres should be able to share resources. For instance, an IT specialist may serve multiple centres.
The success of Source for Change has led people in Bagar to accept the radical notion of rural women producing high-quality IT services. A challenge for the company has been a general lack of trust among urban-based corporate clients in high-quality BPO services being provided from a rural location. In spite of this scepticism, some clients have been found both inside India and abroad. As of 2010, the main clients of Source for Change included Pratham (India, a large NGO working to provide quality education to underprivileged children in India), the University of California Los Angeles (United States) and Piramal Water (India, a social enterprise that develops sustainable drinking water solutions for rural and urban populations in India).
For the women concerned, working for Source for Change has led to a stronger social standing in their families and communities. Initially, local people in Bagar were sceptical to the idea that women would be able to perform the required IT-enabled work. Those employed soon rose from the status of oddities to community leaders. Women are often also more likely than men to invest their incomes to the benefit of their families. The experience of Source for Change suggests that there is scope for more BPO based in rural areas. Policymakers should identify existing bottlenecks to be removed to foster further BPO dissemination in rural areas.
The new issue of Infochange India’s journal, Agenda, is about India’s new agricultures. I’m delighted to have edited and compiled this volume, the contributions to which you can read on the Infochange India website. It is in my view a nicely balanced volume, with insight and knowledge from practitioners and academics, government officials and activists. Here are the contents:
Towards a new agriculture – With roughly 45,000 certified organic farms operating in India, there is finally a rejection of resource-extractive industrial agriculture and a return to traditional, sustainable and ecologically safe farming. All over India rural revivalists are rejecting the corporatised, programmatic, high-input model of agriculture and following agro-ecological approaches in which shared, distributed knowledge systems provide ways to adapt to changing climate and a shrinking natural resource base. Rahul Goswami explains.
An evolutionary view of Indian agriculture – Farmers work with knowledge systems that evolve with time and circumstance. They learn and unlearn, choosing the appropriate knowledge in their struggle to earn a livelihood. While scientists rely on averages, the knowledge of local people is dynamic and up-to-date, continually revised as conditions alter, writes A Thimmaiah. The integration of scientific knowledge systems with indigenous knowledge systems is vital to make agriculture sustainable.
Tamil Nadu’s organic revolution – With chemical farming becoming uneconomical and grain yields declining, more and more farmers are switching to organic agriculture, says natural scientist G Nammalvar in this interview with Claude Alvares. Nammalvar has been training organic farmers and setting up learning centres in Tamil Nadu for three decades. Trainings sometimes need to be held in marriage halls in order to accommodate up to 1,000 farmers.
Return to the good earth in Sangli – Jayant Barve used to market chemical fertilisers and pesticides and practise chemical agriculture himself. In 1988, he switched to sustainable agriculture, and has never looked back since. In this interview he emphasises that despite much lower input costs, organic farming does give the same yield as chemical agriculture, sometimes even more. An interview by Claude Alvares.
The new natural economics of agriculture – Farmer Subhash Sharma watched the decline of his soil and agricultural yields before he let nature be his teacher and understood the agro-economics of agriculture. He abandoned insecticides and chemical fertilisers and relied instead on the cow, trees, birds and vegetation.
Climate change and food security – Rice production in India could decrease by almost a tonne/hectare if the temperature goes up 2 C, while each 1 C rise in mean temperature could cause wheat yield losses of 7 million tonnes per year. A recent national conference on food security and agriculture deliberated strategies to protect agriculture, food and nutrition security in the time of climate change. Suman Sahai reports.
Local solutions to climate change – In developing countries, 11% of arable land could be affected by climate change. Indeed, farmers are already facing the impact of climate change. The need of the hour, say Sreenath Dixit and B Venkateswarlu, is not to wait for global agreements on mitigating climate change but to act locally, intelligently and consistently, as is being done with water harvesting solutions for rainfed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh.
Tackling climate change in Gorakhpur – The people of Gorakhpur district, UP, have come to expect heavy rains followed by long dry spells as a consequence of climate change. But they are no longer allowing climate change to affect their crops. At shared learning dialogues, they are learning about the benefits of multi-cropping, alternative farming, soil management and seed autonomy. Surekha Sule reports.
Agriculture at nature’s mercy – In recent decades, market forces have prompted farmers in the Sunderbans to choose modern, high-yielding varieties of paddy, oblivious to their sensitivity to salt. Cyclone Aila, which caused a huge inundation of salt in the fields, proved that this was a costly mistake: every farmer who sowed the modern seed ended up with no produce, while those who planted traditional salt-tolerant varieties managed to harvest a little rice. Sukanta Das Gupta reports.
Resilience of man and nature – Cyclone Aila seemed to have broken the back of agriculture in the Sunderbans. Most observers, including Santadas Ghosh, felt it would be years before agricultural activity got back to normal. But just three months after the cyclone, salinity notwithstanding, seeds were sprouting and the freshwater ecology stirring with life.
Animal farms – The Green Revolution impacted livestock-rearing as well as agriculture. Farmers were encouraged to shift from low-input backyard systems to corporatised capital-intensive systems. As a result, write Nitya S Ghotge and Sagari R Ramdas, there was an artificial divide between livestock-rearing and agriculture, leading to the further crumbling of fragile livelihoods of small and landless farmers. Organisations such as Anthra are now working with communities to revitalise and re-integrate livestock and agriculture.
Women farmers: From seed to kitchen – Women contribute 50-60% of labour in farm production in India. There is evidence to suggest, writes Kavya Dashora, that if agriculture were focused on women, outputs could increase by as much as 10-20%, the ecological balance could be restored, and food security of communities improved.
Empty claims of financial inclusion – Government has been broadcasting its success in doubling institutional credit to the agricultural sector. But these numbers have little meaning: 85% of accounts opened were inoperative, 72% had zero or minimum balance, and only 15% had a balance over Rs 100. It is paradoxical, writes P S M Rao, to talk about ‘inclusive growth’ when our policies and practices tread the path of exclusion.
Natural farming, tribal farming – In major parts of India, agriculture is in crisis, with very low returns and large-scale destruction of cropped lands. Conservation agriculture can help small and middle farmers escape the downward spiral that impoverishes them even as it destroys the soil and ecosystem, writes Vidhya Das. Tribal farmers in particular have an intuitive understanding of natural farming techniques, Agragamee discovered during its nascent initiatives in organic conservation agriculture with tribal farmers in Orissa.
The home gardens of Wayanad – Wayanad, which has been in the news for the high number of farmer suicides, is also known for widespread homestead farming. A typical home garden integrates trees with field crops, livestock, poultry and fish. Home gardens form a dominant and promising land use system and maintain high levels of productivity, stability and sustainability, say A V Santhoshkumar and Kaoru Ichikawa.
Small farmer zindabad – More than 80% of India’s farmers are small and marginal farmers. It has been empirically established that small farms produce more per hectare than their larger counterparts. It is therefore imperative to protect the interests of small farmers through measures that help promote and stabilise incomes, reduce risks, and increase profitability, and at the same time improve availability and access to inputs, markets and credit. Extract from the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), ‘The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective’ (2009).
The tired mirage of top-down technology – India’s large and complex public agricultural research and extension system, obsessed with the area-production-yield mantra, is geared towards harnessing technology to close the yield gap, while overlooking ago-ecological approaches entirely. This has been an error of staggering proportions, says Rahul Goswami.
The gap between field and lab – In India, publicly-funded research shapes the choices available to farmers, food workers and consumers. But farmers and consumers are only at the receiving end of agricultural research, never involved in it, says Anitha Pailoor. Raitateerpu, a farmers’ jury in Karnataka, wants to ensure that citizens are involved in decisions around science, technology and policymaking.
Kudrat, Karishma and other living seeds – Prakash Raghuvanshi has developed dozens of high-yielding, disease-resistant, open pollinated seeds, distributing them to 2 million farmers in 14 states. He also trains farmers in the basics of selection and plant breeding at his small farm near Varanasi. His aim is clear: to conserve and protect desi (indigenous) seed varieties, thereby freeing the farmer from the stranglehold of foreign seed companies and the cycle of debt and dependence. Anjali Pathak reports.