Conditioned by years of subservience, women subscribed to the notion that their only sphere was the home and all outside dealings were better left to men (even getting provisions for the home). Society was marked by high rate of illiteracy, with girls’ participation in schooling even less than boys.
Self-help Groups & Networks Groups
Mini-Banks and the Women Development Fund
Occupational mobility through Vocational Training
Sensitisation on Discrimination and Violence
The discrimination against women is endemic in all spheres- social, economic and political and results in a lack of control over their own lives in general, and their health, education and income in particular, which are indicators of their socio-economic status. Women were usually home bound and a few of them who did work as farm labourers and house help with well-off landlords, were discriminated against by being paid much less than their male counterparts. Women were also victims to superstitions and sexist practices such as child marriage, or being married off as a child to a temple deity (thereby making her a divine child-bride, a Basavini- which often times translated to servitude and sexual slavery to the temple authorities.)
SHGs (Sanghams) with enhanced managerial and leadership skills will become more functional and empowered, and work with a spirit of mutual co-operation and support with other groups within and outside the village. This will help in collectively fighting for the rights and integrity of women and girls, mobilising resources, accessing services from both government and non-governmental organisations, and managing programmes concerning their welfare and development.
Girls’ age at marriage will be above 18 years due to a positive change in parents’ mindset, improved literacy status of girls and women, concerted efforts of SHGs/CBOs and strict implementation of acts/policies by government preventing early marriages.
Girls will continue their education at least up to the intermediate level due to the collective efforts of CBOs, implementation of government policies and programmes for promoting girls’ literacy, positive impact of first generation learners in the family and widespread awareness and support for girls’ education.
Women will be protected from domestic and gender violence due to positive changes in the values and attitudes of both men and women concerning gender discrimination. Improved facilities in the form of shelter homes and counselling centres, legal guidance, police protection, and strict implementation of laws penalising convicts will ensure protection and safety as well as justice to victims.
Rural women will have improved managerial and leadership skills to run their own income generating enterprises. They will access and manage their own finances/investments, play an equal role in decision making in the family and improve their self-confidence and respect both in the family and society.
A widowed woman was subject to a different spectrum of abuse, being regarded as highly inauspicious, her movement was severely restricted and a re-marriage was unheard of. Menstruation was regarded as an unclean activity and women were quarantined and fed poorly during this time.
Human trafficking was a grave problem as well. City migration for better opportunities was high wherein some cases, women used to migrate to other places with their husbands while a lot of them were left behind to take care of the home, aged in-laws and children. Girls were largely kept uneducated or poorly educated with enrolment rates as low as 2%. Most girls used to stay at home to take care of their younger siblings and help their mothers with the household work.
Child marriage was a particularly vile practice owing to the multi-fold adverse effects it had on the girls in question, and women and society at large. The seriousness of the situation can be estimated by the spine chilling fact, that India has lost 3 million girls to infanticide and about 12 million selective abortions took place in the past three decades. In 2007-08 alone, 48% of married women in the age group of 20‐24 were married before the age of 18. According to a National Family Survey, 56.2% of Indian women have anaemia and 33% conceive when they are not physically and mentally healthy to undertake a pregnancy.
The lead cause for child marriages was that girls were seen as a burden to her parents’ family, and an early marriage meant that she would become someone else’s responsibility. In their in-laws place, these newly wedded ‘brides’ were usually overburdened with household work and were also mistreated. Women were kept out of family planning decisions leading to early pregnancies being the norm (as young as 15-16 years); and in matters of reproduction, beyond a basic awareness about pregnancy, especially with such young girls becoming brides, there was no understanding of pre-natal and post-natal care. Also the strong preference for a male child meant that women conceived early and often, had unmonitored pregnancies by unqualified dais in unhygienic conditions, and the cycle would repeat until she delivered a boy. Gross anaemia was rampant, and made worse by the secondary status of women to all other household members, which led to them eating the least out of all.
Villagers had no awareness of, or access to healthcare. An unwell woman in particular would not raise her voice or be ignored until she could not work for the family and by that time, travelling kilometres to a government clinic was too little, too late. Moreover, she neither had the money nor the confidence to step out of the home for herself. Education was deemed unnecessary since it came in the way of subsistence activities, and having more children translated into more hands to work. The eldest girl child in a large family would share in her mother’s activities from as young as the age of 5. In short, women’s lives were of complete servitude; even interactions with other women were limited owing to distances and control over her movements.
RDT started its work with the poorest of the poor on matters of basic subsistence. Its early efforts to even speak with women were unacceptable to the men from the settlements and the women too didn’t see why they needed to interact directly with outsiders. In small degrees, RDT’s women workers were able to meet community women in their homes and get a first-hand experience of their environments. They had no awareness of personal and home hygiene, food was kept uncovered, they were mostly unbathed and dusty (children too), lice were abundant and they possessed one or at most two saris as their only clothing. Alcoholism was rampant (to a limited extent among older women also), men were indulged in smoking Beedis (locally-made cigarettes), gambling and even illicit affairs with other women. Women suffered abuse at the hands of their community men and at the hands of landlords if they worked on lands.
Economic dependence of the families was completely on men. An average woman in rural Andhra therefore was uneducated and/or poorly therefore, married off as a child, conceived often and if she survived, she and her children were usually of poor health due to malnutrition or under-nutrition. She was open to mistreatment at the hands of the males in her own family, her husband’s family and had very little mobility and worldly knowledge.
Towards Gender Equality and Justice
RDT’s continuous and evolving work is towards empowering rural women to be the main actors in their own development. Claiming equal opportunities could lead to a life of human dignity and an improved socio-economic status in a socially just society, striving against gender discrimination and violence.