Gender disparity manifests itself in various forms, the most obvious being the trend of continuously declining female ratio in the population in the last few decades. Social stereotyping and violence at the domestic and societal levels are some of the other manifestations. Discrimination against girl children, adolescent girls and women persists in most parts of the country.
This is all the more important for the Rajasthan state, where the society is of conservative, male dominated and segmented nature, with gender and caste factors playing major roles in social interaction, bounded by age-old traditions, pervading all other issues. This is because, the status of women is low in the prevailing patriliny-patrilocality-patricentricity system; the attitude of men towards women is discriminatory; and prevailing socio-cultural malpractice are adversely affecting the lives of female population. All these factors have created a lop-sided scenario for the fundamental status of women and girl children.
With this as a backdrop, CUTS decided to implement a project called Rural Girls Empowerment Programme in five blocks (Nimbahera, Kapasan, Chittorgarh, Gangrar and Bhadesar) of the Chittorgarh district and one block (Banera) of Bhilwara district with the support of ‘Save the Children UK-India’ to contribute to protection, development and welfare of children. Launch workshop of the project was organised on 7th and 8th of January 2002 in the premises of the CUTS Centre for Human Development (CUTS-CHD) at Chittorgarh.
The overall objective of the project is to build constituencies and capacities of rural girls in the project area, with the purpose of creating a questioning society, in addition to sensitising other stakeholders – the family, the society, the police and others on the whole issue of prevention of violence against girls.
Structure & proceedings of the Event
The two-day workshop had three sessions: the first one intended to brief the various stakeholders about the project, sensitise them on the problems of girl children and solicit their participation to mitigate the problems; the second session aimed at the direct and principal beneficiaries (the children) endeavoured to identify the issues affecting the lives of children and strategies to seek their active involvement in the project implementation; & in the last one strategies and activities of the project were discussed with select children, the grassroots stakeholders and networkers.
The launch workshop was inaugurated by Mr. Matadin Sharma (Additional Collector-Administration, Chittorgarh). 165 people, including girls and boys (students and non-school-going), government officials, people’s representatives (ward panchs, sarpanchs, members of Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishad), social activists, lawyers, school teachers, community leaders, women members of SHGs and project networkers participated in the event. Among the other distinguished guests were, Ms. Bhagwati Devi Jhala (social activist and member of Zilla Parishad, Chittorgarh), Dr. Yashpal Singh (District RCH Officer, Bhilwara), Mr. Pratap Singh (Deputy Superintendent of Police, SC/ST & Women’s Cell, Chittorgarh), Dr. Kamal Bhargava (Medical Jurist, Chittorgarh) and Mr. Motha Singh Chundawat (Block Education Officer, Bhadesar). The girls and boys of the project area greeted the guests and sang the welcome song. Ms. Lehri Bai and Mr. Madan Lal, two children presided over the inaugural session.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Matadin Sharma emphasised on: reduction of prevailing socio-cultural malpractice; need for wider publicity of government welfare measures meant for the development of women and girls; proper healthcare and nutrition of girls; and ensuring complete enrollment as well as retention of girl children. Lauding the role of CUTS for this commendable initiative, he told that community cooperation, which is the strength of the Centre, would be key factor to the successful implementation of the project.
Ms. Bhagwati Devi Jhala called upon every one to: check child marriage; reduce gender disparity; facilitate self-reliance of women; ensure women’s inheritance of property; and encourage participation as well as representation of women in the polity. She advocated for greater role of the mothers to bring in the necessary systemic changes.
Expressing his concern on female feticide and its long-term impact on the society, Dr. Yashpal stressed for government and societal controls on the institutions and people involved in this heinous act. Briefing on the role of women’s cell of police department to control violence in cases of child marriage, dowry, nata pratha etc., Mr. Pratap Singh mentioned the importance and necessity of active interest and participation of community to eliminate these social evils. That it is everyone’s responsibility to, contribute to the reduction of violence against women and girls; ensure equal access, rights, opportunities, and legal protections for them, were said by Dr. Bhargava.
The event ended with illumination of candles by the children to mark progress from darkness to enlightenment. Coverage of the event was done by the All India Radio, Chittorgarh and the print media.
Focus of the group exercise by the children involved discussion on generic village issues and social practices or customs directly or indirectly contributing to the drudgery of women and girls. The broad outline was: revisiting the pre-project launch discussions (Balika Sangam) held at Raila (Bhilwara) and Chittorgarh; sharing of experiences of that event with the children newly associated; and contemplation on the scenario of their family and village environment, specially focussing on positive and negative factors.
The children were divided into eight groups in an innovative way with suitable distribution of participants of the ‘Balika Sangam’ event and those freshly associated. Symbolic naming (e.g. Azad meaning freedom, Pratap meaning power) of the groups was done by the children themselves. Child marriage was the frequently cited problem issue, whereas education was identified as the comprehensive remedy. Menace of alcoholism, disproportionate workload on girl children, burgeoning population, unequal distribution of nutrition, and scarcity of potable water were the other issues referred to by the children. They also deliberated on the possible mechanisms to reduce these problems, such as: interaction with the members of the PRIs, intervention of grassroots social action organisations, and organised effort by formation of groups of children.
Interesting features of the group exercise were: enthusiastic and joint presentation by girls as well as boys; and drawings on the chart paper depicting their concern for environment. Prior to the group exercise, the children interpreted the name of the project for their own comprehension. During the group activity some girls and boys sang patriotic and motivational songs as well, the girls leading the way.
Planning meeting with children, grassroots stakeholders and networkers
The planning meeting with select children, grassroots stakeholders and networkers contemplated on: activities for the development of children, probable obstacles and mechanisms to ensure proper implementation of the activities.
The broad activities selected were: contacting parents; interaction with formal (institutional) and informal (traditional) leaders; increase reach of the child welfare programmes of government; establishment of model villages; and formation of bal panchayats. Some of the key activities discussed were: appropriate approaches for school-going and non-school-going children; 2 boys and 2 girls as leaders of each group of children of 10-18 years age; compilation of information on each village; and dissemination of information about legal and police establishments (the most vital being their location) among the community.
Lack of interest and involvement of community; schedule of the schools affecting participation of school-going children; workload on children (especially girls); non-involvement of children if activities would be conducted during night; neglect of the animator/motivator by the community; absence of schools in villages, were classified as the probable obstacles.
The major strategies identified were: child sensitive approach; interaction with key government agencies (such as education, women & child development, health, police, judiciary) and local people (especially community leaders, dai, women); and adoption of various forms of traditional and local IEC (information, education & communication) options. The structural aspects involved, formation of Prerak Dal (team of motivators) and group of community leaders etc.
Comments of two children
Ms. Nitu – ‘Dono (ladka aur ladki) ki sahyog se pariyojana aage badhegi’ (The programme will move forward with equal participation of both boys and girls)
Mr. Nandkishore – ‘Desh ki bhalai chahte hein; ladka-ladki mein koi bhedbhav nehin’ (We are interested in welfare of our country; there should not be any differential treatment for boys and girls)