Gender and Development


Gender and Development Program Evaluation

The Organisation

The society for people’s education and economic change (SPEECH) was registered in 1987 under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act of 1975. Their head office is based in Madurai. The aim of the organisation is ‘to address social imbalances and improve human potential, thereby facilitating sustainable livelihood systems’.

Since its inception in 1987 SPEECH has been involved in helping the underprivileged rural population in Tiruchuli, Narikudi, Sivakasi and Vembakottai blocks in Virudunagar

District organise themselves to cope with their changing needs and enhance their collective bargaining power. The major focus groups are small and marginal farmers, landless, dalits, children in difficult situations and women in general.

Currently SPEECH is implementing 3 major projects in collaboration with 3 partners namely German Agro Action, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada and Christian Aid. These projects relate to Development of watersheds, irrigation systems, Thiruchuli,  Child Rights Protection, Sivakasi, Gender and Development, Thiruchuli.

Development of Watersheds

Detoriation of natural resources is the crucial issue in Virdhunagar district. SPEECH attempts to conserve natural resources and create awareness about optimum utilization of the natural resources. More than 1000 acres of wasteland have been brought in to cultivation with the funding partnership of GAA – GERMANY. The old land development projects, watersheds still serve as a model and the total control over the land, water, Vegetation, trees are lying in the hands of women groups. 15 irrigation tanks have been desitlted with the assistance of CHRISTIAN AID and as the result of this work replication was there in the field areas. Deepening / desilting of 7 Ooranis under the FOOD FOR WORK program implemented by government was entrusted to nanayam groups. Otherthan intensive activities of land development like soil and water conservation, agroforestry, Organic farming, and multiple cropping, capacity building

Child rights protection :

Creating awareness among children, Parents, factory owners, policy executors and the general public about child rights is the prime objective of SPEECH child right protection centre at Sivakasi. Education support, recreation facilities, skill upgradation, alternate skill training, health coverage, clothing, Palar Panchayat and good governance, are the activities directly supported to 1700 children under sponsorship of Christian Children Funds of Canada. Apart from this family support programs were also done to


MANAGEMENT AND STAFF

SPEECH has a core team consisting of professionals from social and science backgrounds committed to addressing rural poverty issues by making use of indigenous knowledge/systems. At the project level there are core teams consisting of experienced field staff who have been with the organisation for many years.

The leading / significant actors in the society and those in decision making roles at the project level are mostly men. On the basis of academic qualifications and experience the men tower over the women present in the projects. This needs to be corrected.

Experienced and well qualified women have to be brought in to balance the team from a gender perspective, if need be, on a part time basis. At present SPEECH uses the services of women who are trainers and consultants.

BELIEFS AND VALUES

An important aspect of SPEECH development strategy is that the organisation aims to strengthen different community based organisations (CBOs) or sangas (farmer sanga, women sanga, rural artisan associations, water user associations, water shed participant associations) to manage their development process. Trained elected representatives from these village level sangas or units within specific geographical limits join together and form the cluster level governing councils or the federation of sangas which is registered with the government of Tamil Nadu

Drawing on the indigenous knowledge base undoubtedly contributes to sustainability. However the management of social differences might require the introduction of democratic practises and procedures with checks and balances, modern management know how and techniques which may not be available within the indigenous / traditional / cultural milieu in which these groups operate.

Processes of exploring beliefs and values consistent with economic development and social change may have to be introduced instead of wholly depending on beliefs and values embedded in the status quo.

SPEECH -Collective

In a broad sense, SPEECH functions as a collective. The institutional aspects of SPEECH depict a hierarchical structure which is consistent with the roles, responsibilities and authority exercised in the collective. Since SPEECH is a highly task conscious organisation the staff hold a high degree of accountability at the different levels at which they function.

Two of the founding members jointly hold the vision of the organisation. The staff is clearer about the different tasks associated with the projects rather than the mission of the organisation.. However all concerned - the leadership, the staff and the large body of clientele work jointly towards achieving the objectives laid down in the Gender and Development Project and this serves as the mission of the organisation.

The constituents of the SPEECH collective are aware of why they have joined and the benefits they derive from the membership. Apart from the material benefits, the collective contributes positively to their identity and well being.

SYSTEMS AND PROCEDURES IN THE ORGANISATION

The organisation and the different sangas, groups, federations function on the basis of procedures which are understood by the people. Decision making is at different levels. The monthly plans are drawn up on the basis of the projects commitment and the work covered during the previous period.  Staff implement their work plan jointly with their partners on the field.

Financial resources are drawn on the basis of the budget and the requirements of the monthly plan. There is an accountant and a cashier who handles the disbursement of funds to the staff and the beneficiaries. Doubts are cleared by consulting the project director.

At the level of the CBOs decisions are taken in a democratic manner within the group itself. Staff play an advisory role. Sometimes the staff direct as well as help them maintain records.

STAFF TRAINING AND CAPACITY

The core team is capable, hard working and efficient in carrying out their responsibilities. Most of the staff training is in house training. At times trainers/ specialists maybe drawn from external sources, however most of the training is given by senior leadership within the organisation. These include training in PRA, PRI, Gender, Health (alternative), Information dissemination, maintaining records, accounts in the Nanayam groups, NRM, procedures for organising different grass root level organisations, women’s rights, federations and so forth. Training modules have been prepared by the respective staff teams for each of these programmes.

Women staff has undergone counselling training and senior male staff training in management and HRD externally.

Gender Training modules have been prepared for training both women and men. However the male gender module needs to be altered to position itself within men’s gender concerns. On the basis of this women’s gender concerns can be addressed. Similarly within the women’s training module men’s gender concerns should be incorporated.

Staffs need to be made aware of men’s problems from a gender perspective. Workshops and training programmes have to be arranged for the staff so that they are prepared to train the community in this regard.

 In the PRI training given to selected / elected women’s representatives it is necessary to skill them to deal with men in the different fora within the Panchayat system. This may require organising mixed gender training sessions.

In the area of alternative / indigenous health practises training needs to be extended to new groups. The old groups require refresher training. An ongoing training needs assessment procedure needs to be put into place and follow up action taken.

SPEECH team can offer training to the staff of other NGOs in the areas it is strong like PRA, PRI, gender, NRM and the formation of Nanayam groups

THE GAD PROJECT

SPEECH entered a partnership with Christian Aid in 1993 to implement a WID project in Tiruchuli, a socio economically backward taluk of Virudnagar district. Within a couple of years the project changed its strategy and followed the GAD approach to attain its goal of empowering women. The approach SPEECH follows highlights the change in man-woman (gender) relations that is taking place in the lives of the women and the community as a result of women developing skills, growing in self esteem and gaining access and control over resources and some areas of their lives.

IMPACT OF THE GAD PROJECT

The overall goal of the “gender and development project” is to improve the self esteem of rural women in the Tiruchuli union.

Towards this end a set of objectives were laid down.

Facilitate a process of self actualisation whereby women come together to re-establish their rightful position within the family and the community.

To strengthen the position of women to obtain their rights and overcome oppression through developing a network and linking them to a wider base.

To inculcate a habit of savings / lending practises on a joint basis and thereby avoid taking loans from middle persons at high rates of interest.

To establish a system of sustainable utilisation of natural resources thereby enabling women to have access and control and establish a sound eco system.

It can be stated that the overall goal of the GAD project [to improve the self esteem of rural women] has been largely successful among the women who have been involved in the programs of SPEECH. These are women who are members of the Sangas and Nanayam groups set up by the GAD project in the Tiruchuli block.

These rural women belong to different castes [predominately the backward castes] and are involved in various occupations – as landless agriculture workers, small and marginal farmers, cattle and sheep rearers, mill workers and others

 They are also partners in the different programs and members of the different grass root level institutions set up by SPEECH like the Sangas, Nanayam groups, security card program, NRM groups, village level federations, block level federations and so forth.

They have attended a number of training programs, to mention a few – PRA exercises, Saving & Credit Training [Nanayam Programme], Sanga’s Leaders Course, Health [Alternative], Dhai’s Training and PRI training.

They have built up their self-confidence by being part of the above mentioned activities as well as through their interactions and exchanges with the project staff, the village leaders, PRI, banks, government officials, police, hospitals, educational institutions, etc.

They have grown within their village level groups, taking up leadership and membership roles with in the community in the PRI system – standing for elections, winning elections, participating effectively in the Grama sabhas. They regularly take up social issues related to women’s oppression, caste related issues, children’s problems. They have often succeeded in obtaining justice for the concerned victims of injustice.

They also take up issues related to environmental pollution and the preservation of natural resources like tanks and lakes. Their work has contributed to the closure of certain polluting industries in the area.

They have grown economically by participating in the savings and credit activities of the Nanayam groups and by availing bank loans for income generating activities and for asset creation. By becoming members of the security card system, they have reduced the seasonal as well as general economic stress which their families usually are usually exposed to.

By initiating the de-silting of tanks, they have made available scarce water for drinking purposes as well as for other daily needs, including cultivation. They have not only contributed to the conservation of natural resources, they have also succeeded in gaining control over the same. [For example: preventing exploitation of tank water by one or few individuals] Speech has contributed substantially through these endeavours by enabling them to obtain social skills, through advice, staff support and financial resources. The women are confident of continuing with many of these activities in the coming years with money from their community funds. [The men who were interviewed preferred to depend on subsidies]

An intertwined socio-economic development approach with a strong institutional base seems to have paid off in setting forth a process of sustainable social and economic growth, which is people centred and largely managed by them.

At present men in these communities are playing a supportive role, in the future, more active participation may have to be considered to bring about ‘Gender Balance’ in the development approach which at present is  women centred. Organisationally, SPEECH has to rapidly prepare itself to meet this challenge.

In the Tiruchuli block, the focus on gender seems to have partially obliterated other important social differences like caste from the programmes perspective. There is also certain level of thinking in the staff that it is better to keep the caste dimension out of the ‘Gender’ programmes.

SCs & STs together comprise 16.45% of the population. The BCs & GCs form 83.55%. The percentage of SCs in the GAD project – Nanayam Groups is 24%. The remaining are mostly BCs. Speech can consider a certain degree of positive discrimination in favour of increasing the percentage of SCs in its programme to 33%.which is what the government is also attempting to do.

The predominant section of landless poor and women - headed households usually consist of a significant number of SC women. They form part of the 30% of the poorest sections among the poor. Positive discrimination in their favour will succeed in netting in more of the poorest women into the GAD project.

It is also evident that the present constituents of the block level federation consist of 27 women out of whom 5 are SC women (18.5%). They are not proportionately represented in terms of their membership in the Nanayam Groups (24%). It is advisable that Speech tries to aim at 33% membership of  SCs at the level of the block level federation.

The SC women who are in the program do not come across as being discriminated against within their own groups and when they are in a significant minority they are holding out quite well. They seem to be at ease with the other women.  However they seem quite content to let the other women take the initiative in discussions when they are together.

SPEECH has started targeting poor women headed households for its programmes. They have also started training teenage girls. This is bound to have a long lasting  impact on future generations of women involved in WID and gender related programmes individually or in groups.

ACHIEVEMENT OF THE OBJECTIVES OF THE GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM.

Objective I

(1) To facilitate a process of self actualisation where by women come together to re-establish their rightful position within the family and the community.

The project has succeeded in facilitating a process of self actualisation of the women who are partners\clients\beneficiaries of its programme. The women have come together and remain in different groups in the pursuit of their development. However, it is a contentious issue whether they have re-established their rightful position within the family and the community. It is necessary to consider whether they ever had a rightful position in the past to re-establish it.

It suffices to say that they have gained substantially, they are respected more today than in their immediate past and are well recognised for their capabilities and their contributions in the social and economics spheres within the community.

Objective II

(2) To strengthen the position of women to obtain their rights and overcome oppression by developing a network and linking them to a wider base.

SPEECH has organised training on women’s rights as well as provided legal counsel for redressal of grievances. The women are linked together at the village level through the Nanayam groups, the Sangas and the village level federation. There are cluster level federations as well as the block level federations. SPEECH provides advice, information, financial resources and at times helps them to draw up the strategy to handle issues. They are often successful.

Sangam formation is one of the major activities of SPEECH and from 1998 onwards village development sangam, farmers association were formed.

Exclusive women Sangas were formed at the inception of the WID/GAD project from 1992 onwards. These Sangas still exist in the villages with their primary membership intact. Most of the members are also members of the Nanayam groups, the latter being a more recent development.

The Nanayam groups have been formed to inculcate the habit of savings and for getting into the habit of planning expenditure for their development.

In some villages where there is more than one Nanayam group these groups have come together to form a village level federation. Representatives from each of the Nanayam groups form the federation. They discuss and take action on common issues facing the groups.

The block level federation

Representatives from women sanga / nanayam / village level federation have been sent to form an apex body of all women association, called block level federation.

It was evident that some of the group members were confused by the different group identities, which were bestowed on them. Special efforts have to be made to make them understand the need to belong to different groups for their development.

The older groups especially those who belonged to the Sangas were quite articulate and understood the development processes which they had been through. They have good memories and are able to recall the different development processes and interventions which have enabled them to grow and take charge of their lives in a more meaningful manner.

The younger groups have missed out on some of the programmes conducted  for the older groups. These gaps have to be filled. These include exposure trips, training in health care and alternative medicines.

The block level federation is rather weak at present. It has been registered about seven years ago. They are planning for elections and change in the composition of the federation. New rules and regulations may be introduced. They have undergone training in the past. After the elections fresh training will have to be conducted for the members to understand their responsibilities, roles and functions.

The block level federation takes up work related to fighting social issues of the members in the Nanayam groups which cannot be handled at the village level. They are also scheduled to set up and run the departmental store for the security card program.

It is advisable that all Nanayam group members enjoy primary membership in the block level federation and contribute a rupee every month towards the costs of running the federation. This will go a long way in making the federation self sustainable.

The groups also have contacts with other women’s groups, who are associated with other organisations, these linkages can be further strengthened.

Women in the panchayat raj institutions

SPEECH has conducted a number of training programmes for the Nanayam groups to make them aware of their roles and responsibilities in the PRI. They have coached them to choose good candidates from among themselves to stand for elections.  Some of these candidates have won in the PRI elections.

Discussions with some of these elected members revealed that they had taken up various issues in their meetings and succeeded in getting facilities for their communities. However, the male members did not take up certain issues for discussion and dealt with these issues by themselves. The women members came to know of this only later. It is evident that by withholding information from the women representatives the men are bonding together and limiting the scope of women participating effectively in the PRI. The women have taken this up with the PRI leaders. The men are at an advantage since they are familiar with the PRI processes and they also know how to work the system to their advantage.

The Project has to seriously consider training women to interact successfully with men/getting some of them onto their side, so that they can isolate the few archaic males who tend to dominate and get away with it.         

The Nanayam members regularly attend the Gram Panchayat meetings and make themselves heard. There are many instances of their successful interventions .They have  succeeded in getting some of their  needs met through the PRI.

Some of the women who have got elected without the support of SPEECH are appreciative of the organisation and attend the workshops they hold for women PRI representatives. It might be worthwhile considering the different ways in which the Nanayam members can form alliances with other women and men who are elected in order to take their interests forward.

It is interesting to note that many of the Nanayam members, who got elected from reserved (for women only) constituencies, were unopposed. In some dalit dominated areas dalit women who stood in the general seats were also unopposed. But in the   villages of the BCs the men challenged the women and some women won in the contested elections….more power to women!

As SPEECH tries now to educate adolescent girls to form girl children panchayat will be added strength to women groups in the forth-coming panchayat election interms of increasing the number.

Objective III

(3) To inculcate a habit of savings, lending practices on a joint basis and thereby avoiding loans from middle persons at higher interest rates.

Nanayam groups

The women have come together and formed 149 Nanayam groups in Tiruchuli and Narikudi. Their total membership is 2811. The membership of BC women is 2114 (75%) and SC 697 (25%). Their total saving is Rs. 28,04000/-. The amount of loans disbursed Rs.34,854,632/. The total number of loans given out is 15997. The ratio of the money rotated is 1:12. 24 panchayats have been covered. These figures are taken from the statement given in June 2003.

The occupational break up of 145 Nanayam groups which are available shows that of the 2657 members 1797 (67.6%) are small and marginal farmers, 488 (18.4%) are agricultural coolies, 330 (12.4%) other occupations and 42 (1.6%) have no regular occupation outside the house.

Of the 145 groups, 73 are BC (50%), 17 are MBC (11%), 34 are SC (23%)  and  23 (16%)  are mixed caste groups.  

In Tiruchuli block the caste ratio is 16.4% for SC/ST and 83.6% for the others. Since the dalits are likely to be present in large numbers among the poorest of the poor, they should be present in larger numbers in the Nanayam groups. As a thumb rule it is advisable that SPEECH ensures 33% participation of dalits in the different programs and institutions it is setting up in its project area. 

In many of the villages where the Nanayam groups are functioning well those who did not join earlier are eager to join or become members of new groups. The membership in a group is restricted to twenty. The preference is to join the older well established groups. If a member of an older group wants to withdraw from a Nanayam group, there are other women (supported by their husbands) willing to pay that woman an amount equivalent to her savings , say, Rs.16,000 and take her place in the group.

The older groups have tens of thousands of rupees in the form of savings. There is competition among the groups with regard to amount of savings collected by the group. Some groups tend to increase their monthly savings amount so that they can catch up with or overtake the savings collected by other groups. This kind of competitiveness is quite common among middle class groups. It is possible that the others will copy this behaviour and become achievers too.

Special attention has to be paid to these processes to ensure that the very poor are not left out of the development process.

Women from neighbouring villages request SPEECH to start work in their villages.

The banks issue loans to the women based on their groups and individual savings record. They also access funds from the various government programmes implemented in the area.

The women have created assets in the form of houses, land, agricultural implements, gold, animals –sheep, goats and cattle from the loans accessed through the Nanayam groups.

Women take loans for consumption, health and income generating activities. They also take loans from the Nanayam groups to pay back money lenders and get out of the clutches of money lenders from whom they have taken loans at high rates of interest. The activities of the money lenders in the 24 panchayats where the Nanayam groups are functioning have come down.

However the money lenders have not disappeared from the area. This is mainly due to certain cultural factors. Cultural compulsions force the men (husband/father/son) to take loans from money lenders to meet certain social obligations that they have towards their extended family members. For example expenses an uncle has to incur at the time of niece’s marriage. The women supports the husband to take money from the money lenders to uphold the self esteem of her husband in the face of other family members. Since most of the Nanayam members comes from the BC community, these traditional and cultural norms have a significant impact on the behaviour of these groups. It is also seen that the upwardly mobile SC groups are quick to copy the behavioural patterns of the BC and other forward communities. Culture and tradition are at times constraints to the forward looking strategies of the programs initiated by the organisation.

Effectiveness of self monitoring system.

Many of the Nanayam group accounts are maintained by the groups themselves. These accounts and records are checked by staff appointed by SPEECH. In cases where the group does not have literate members who can handle the maintenance of records SPEECH appoints a person to do it.

Monthly statements from the Nanayam groups are sent to the SPEECH office. These are scrutinised before being entered into the system for the consolidation of the groups’ savings and loan records.

The participation of the staff in monitoring the performance of the groups on various fronts should be underestimated. The more effective are the staff, the less the likelihood of irreversible set backs happening in the group. Checks and balances both internal and external are necessary for the healthy functioning of groups. Within the broad framework of the culture of the collective some handholding is permissible.

Security card program

The Project found that Nanayam groups are successful in meeting the planned expenditure of group members. However there was difficulty in meeting the emergency needs of the group members. It was in this context that the security card program was launched. The SCP was launched in November 1999.

The partners of SPEECH in the security card program are women members of the Nanayam groups. Eight hundred and seventy four cards have been issued so far. There are some rules and regulations attached to securing and retaining the security card. The applicant should have rupees seven hundred and fifty as personal savings in the Nanayam group. She should pay 30% of the amount purchased on the basis of instalments. She has to pay 4% as service charges. The total value of her card is rupees one thousand. Her credit availability is calculated on the basis of her repayment and the value of purchases within her credit limit. The items she can purchase is under three categories, namely,

  • Groceries
  • Fertilizer
  • Health and medicine

There are twelve pre-determined shops from where she can make these purchases. Each ember has a bill book which she presents to the shopkeeper while making purchases. The shopkeeper in turn makes out bills and presents them to SPEECH at the end of the month. There are two women working in the office to monitor and verify the purchases and payments.

The group leaders/ motivators go through the security cards and make out the payment statements of the groups. These are submitted to the coordinators and in turn to the security card specialist. At present the SCP has to scrutinise 51 statements every month. Each group meets once every month to discuss security card related issues. These meetings are usually held after 8pm.

SPEECH collects payments from the groups and makes payments to the shopkeepers. Shortages are made up from the budgetary allocation which is held by the organisation.

The women complain that the shopkeepers sometimes make mistakes. Meetings are regularly held for the members and the shopkeepers.

The women would like the credit limit to be increased as well as the categories of purchases to be diversified.

The women’s federation managed departmental store is yet to get started. This can bring down the quantum of outward payments and profits can be ploughed back to sustain the security card program.

The utilisation of the security card over the past five years shows that the amount spent on groceries tops the list.

Groceries account for 73.15% 9(1,118,528 rupees).

Purchase of fertilizers account for 25.5% (390,371 rupees).

Health and medicine account for 1.32% (20,131 rupees).

Secondly over the drought years 2002 and 2003 the consumption of groceries went up and the purchase of fertilizers went down relatively.

The above facts indicate that the needy are having some of their survival needs met out of this program.

Some of the members would have raised their incomes by utilising fertilizers, this is
specially applicable to those who are into floriculture.

The security card holders are not a homogeneous group of poor women. They vary in socio - economic status.
 
Scheduled caste                                                               214 (24.5%)
Backward caste                                                               370 (42.3%)
Most backward caste                                                       290 (33.2%)
Total                                                                                 874 (100%)

Occupation

Agricultural coolies                                                        152 (17.4%)
Small and marginal farmers                                            620  (71% )
Cattle and sheep rearers                                                    47   (5.4%)
Small traders                                                                     11   (1.2%)
Mill workers                                                                      44   (5%  )
Total                                                                                 874   (100%)

The relative level of poverty experienced by each of the members must have decreased as a result of the SCP.  This would directly influence the decrease in the level of poverty in the area though not in a uniform manner. The card holders are unanimous in attesting to the usefulness of the program in improving their lives.

Plans are afoot to increase the number of card holders, increase in the credit limit and bringing in poorer members by decreasing the amount of mandatory individual savings from Rs.750 to 500.

The total credit advanced by the SCP is rupees fifteen lakhs twenty nine thousand and thirty one. The total outstanding is one lakh fifty four thousand nine hundred and forty only.

The service charge that the members pay is 4%. This meets only a fraction of the overhead costs. It may be necessary to set up the departmental store and plough the profits into maintaining the SCP. Another option will be to subsidise the OH costs until group members can be trained to run the program as well as increase the membership base and the service charges, so that the SCP becomes a self-sustainable and self managed program.

Objective 4

(4) Establishing a system for the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, thereby enabling women to have access and control in establishing a sound eco system.

Women have initiated a process of de-silting tanks and increasing the availability of water for the community. SPEECH has provided them money to hire machinery for se-silting the tank and the women from their Nanayam funds and from the community funds managed by the villagers have partially contributed to the cause. Men and women have contributed in the form of labour in some instances similar wages have been provided to both women and men and in some cases men have been paid more than women.

 The desilting of tanks have resulted in the following benefits to the community.

  • Increase in the area of cultivation.
  • Diversification in cropping pattern including floriculture.
  • Increased income.
  • Increase in drinking water for people and animals.
  • Water available for washing, bathing especially for women.
  • Fish available for consumption.
  • Increase in the water table in the near by wells.
  • Increase in number of micro-organisms.
  • Increased rapport with neighbouring villages.
  • Decreased dependence on the forward castes for water during times of scarcity.

The women have prevented some men from exploiting the water in the tank and are controlling and managing it for the benefit of the community at large.

Some problems may arise in connection with the work to be done in the future for de-silting the tanks. The women are confident that they can raise money from the Nanayam groups and the community if SPEECH cannot contribute towards the cost. However the men-folk interviewed were rather laid back. They would rather depend on government subsidies or external aid (SPEECH). There is a marked difference in the attitude in women and men in undertaking the task of natural resource management. It looks like the women would have to keep proving themselves over and over again before the men can gain sufficient self confidence to do things for themselves and by themselves in these communities.

THE WAY FORWARD

The organisation can consider bringing into the society / management/senior staff level, experienced and qualified women who can act as mentors/guides to both women and men working in SPEECH. The women staff working in the organisation at present can be encouraged to interact with women’s studies units situated in educational institutions and other organisations to develop/update their understanding on women and gender studies as well as sharpen their ability to abstract and theorise from their experiences.

SPEECH is well positioned to make inroads into the area of Men’s Studies and develop Gender training modules centred around men’s experiences which are both positive and negative. The staff can be exposed to the concepts related to Men’s studies through workshops, study circles and training programmes which will help them internalise this learning.  They can then develop training modules for work in the community and for the staff working in other voluntary organisations and the government.

It would be worthwhile for SPEECH to link with academic and other institutions pursuing Men’s studies from a male gender perspective both within the country and abroad.

The staff and the community SPEECH works with can be made aware of the vision of the organisation through some creative training exercises.

A system for assessing ongoing training needs of the groups/community can be set up with enough authority and resources to take appropriate action when training requirements arise.

SPEECH can consider a policy of ensuring 33% Dalit participation in its different programmes and grass root level institutions.

Some effort needs to be put into helping women understand their membership and association with the different community based institutions set up by SPEECH like the Sanga, Nanayam group, VLF, Cluster, Block level federation etc.

The training for women in the PRI can include conflict management skills,  lobbying, diplomacy and interpersonal communication skills. They need to learn to deal with all kinds of men and women.

Traditional and cultural beliefs which stand in the way of people making rational or compassionate decisions must be confronted in a non-threatening environment.

SPEECH  can consider providing critical support to the CBOs it is creating on a long term basis. Many of these institutions will require external monitoring as well as training in the foreseeable future.

The SCP has to be studied further and suitable course of action taken to set up the departmental store to ensure viability.

The NRM activities need to be extended and upscaled. GAD has to be integrated into all NRM activities of the organisation.

Rights perspective for women over common property resources and imparting good governance principles through establishment of girl children panchayat, being the most success programs of SPEECH and the need for spread is explicit. SPEECH and their funding partners may consider expanding these two elements by building capacity in CBO’s fellow NGOs within the district.

SPEECH is already in the process of encouraging the widows, separated, deserted women by inviting them for periodical training programs specially organised for them. Regular sharing sessions will give them opportunity to build their self confidence and in economic development activities priority may be given to such women.

Gender and Development

BACKGROUND

For more than 3 decades many institutions across the country give recognition to the structure of gender relationships and roles of Men and Women. There had been many interventions that tried to address micro and macro issues related to social imbalances and roles that affect the national and International polices in order to establish progressive gender equity. Since it is widely accepted that women are far behind the question of equity, forced by the Socio-economic political and cultural factors. Thus initiatives to address gender equity emerged in the forms of women development, women empowerment and women in development. As years passed by there is much wider understanding across boundaries on the linkages between gender issues, gender development problems and other associated problems such as poverty, lack of political power, environment degradation, unemployment and socio-cultural practices. Even till today there are misconsumption among many actors in development, that exclusive women development can bring about desired change. Unfortunately experiences reveal exclusive women development (not to under estimate islands of success) widen the gap between sexes and attitudes retard the progressive gender equity processes. Thus there is a clear need to view gender perceptions as an issue which is strongly rooted in the socio- cultural practices, which needs to be addressed at the bottom line.

Given the ground realities SPEECH view the issues of gender inequality by analysing the deep rooted socio- cultural practices and its effect on both men and women in Virudhunagar district. While exclusive women development projects look at women as needy beneficiaries and backbone of development, the gender-neutral approach focus more on the relative roles of women and men to development. To practice this approach it is important to analyse and clearly understand the deep-rooted factors that influence the roles, their access to resources, decision making process etc. It is also highly important to move away from the practice of creating islands of success to a broad based collective force of right perspective group of people to create an impact at the policy and practice level.

Along this direction during  the past SPEECH in partnership with CHRISTIAN AID worked in the most backward taluks of Thiruchuli, Virudhunagar district to address gender equity issues aimed at gender mainstreaming.

SPEECH  - It’s COMMITMENT TO GENDER CONCERNS

Men and Women play different roles in the society with their gender differences, which have been determined by ideological, historical, religious, ethnic, economic and cultural faiths / factors.

These differences are reflected in ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES, ACCESS TO RESOURCES, CONSTRAINTS, OPPURTUNITIES, PERCEPTIONS & ATTITUDES held by both women and men. The roles and responsibilities hold by both the sexes, which are predetermined, can be shaped to strike a gender balance. Instead of encouraging the similarities between women and men, the society and culture have been emphasizing the difference. Because gender in socially created, not by nature, we can change it if we want. But it needs constant sensitization both by women and men in the society.

As of now there has been acceptable level of clarity in gender and development among men and women because of the intervention of SPEECH. However it needs to be upscaled so that the sex discrimination will be reduced. SPEECH strongly believes that the empowerment of women is not the only solution but at same time men also to be nurtured to understand concept of gender and development. In a rural set up, family institution, play major role in depriving women of their rights, thus it is inevitable to work with men on gender concepts. The GAD approach of SPEECH focuses on how women and men participate, benefit through socio, economic, political and cultural aspects. It also emphasis the socially determined relations between men and women.

While SPEECH is critical about male domination or patriarchy it cautiously involved in facilitating gender neutrality. Equal importance is given to men in terms of creating awareness. The family cohesiveness will ensure work sharing, joint decision making, mutual understanding and acceptance. And it is very evident when there is breakdown in relationship the families are distorted. Hence a hormonious way of handling the gender issues is envisaged to improve the self esteem of women. SPEECH has been partially successful in improving the self esteem of women in the past through various activities.

PARTNERSHIP WITH CHRISTIAN AID

SPEECH in partnership with CHRISTIAN AID has worked in the communities and created impacts. During the beginning in 1993 SPEECH concentrated on empowerment of women in which focus was much on the women folk. The men were not taken as partners in women development. While SPEECH was talking about only women development leaving apart the men there had been much criticisms, problems created from the men side. They felt that as if SPEECH is going to suppress the men and ultimately women are going to rule them. They were not ready to accept the women and shift their roles and responsibilities. In certain villages the growth of women groups were stunted since the men opposed them. Though the families were benefited in terms of finance the men did not accept the women in the families as well in the communities.

This was realised by the team of SPEECH when an impact assessment was conducted and also this was critically reviewed by the then project officer     Ms.JANE ABBOTT of CHRISTIAN AID. That had been the eye opener for SPEECH and in the consequent meetings the GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT concept was evolved. CHRISTIAN AID was quite positive to accept the request even in the mid of the project period to change it to gender and development.

Then onwards SPEECH is working on Gender and Development with the continued support of CHRISTIAN AID. During the past in the working villages around 60% of men share the burden of the women in decision making in the families and almost 50% of the women own asset in their names. 33 women are elected as the ward members / Panchayat presidents in PRI.

Domestic violence is comparatively reduced. The tendency to fight against the atrocities is inculcated, and around 50 women issues have been effectively handled by the women federation. The women have saved a total sum of rupees 28,04,000 and the money rotation is 1:12 in Nanayam groups. The women in the villages have established, control over the irrigation tanks and ponds. The impacts are quite high and as it was expected the objectives have been achieved. Yet there needs to be a spread in the total area where SPEECH operates. Hence considering the impacts versus the input to the existing groups and the need for scaling up it is decided to continue the Gender and Development project in the coming years, intensively in Virudhunagar district.

NEED FOR SCALING UP:

Of course the impacts of Gender and Development program are innumerable in Thiruchuli area. But at the same time certain questions remain unanswered in terms of improving the self-esteem of women. The constant support can faster and accelerate the actions of women groups. In SPEECH working area the men started sharing the burden of women and because of the acceptance, domestic violence is considerably reduced. But at the same time rape, gang rapes, Child abuse, sexual harassment, are the common scene in Virudhunagar district. Literally everyday minimum of 3 news come in the daily newspaper related to atrocities against women. Pathetic as well shocking news is that the adolescent girls are raped by old men. In 2003 alone 14 young girls have been raped out of which 2 committed suicide and a dalit girl of 18 years raped by 4 men and murdered. Eve teasing is yet another atrocity against women in Virudhunagar district. The employment opportunity available for young girls in the industries is also a contributory factor for women atrocities. Though there are legislation made under factories registration act for the welfare of the (women) employees those are violated by the factory owners. Wage disparities, sexual abuse, teasing the women, lack of security, improper facilities are the common women related issues in the factories.

Early marriage seems to be a serious issue in Virudhunagar district. The young girls are compelled to marry old men for want of property. Most of the child / compelled marriages end up in desertion. The matrimonial disputes are so common in the district.

Considering all these it is essential to address the issues prevailing in Virudhunagar district. SPEECH can not expand its work in the whole district. However it can play a facilitating role to organize the CBO’s, NGOs and through them the gender issues can be addressed. It has been decided in the core team to identify potential NGOs and community based organizations, women associations to involve in the gender development event. Series of gender sensitization training, issue handling, politicizing issues, network, campaigns are the set of activities proposed to take up to strengthen the associations.

PROPOSED INTERVENTIONS

In order to achieve gender neutrality the following activities are planned for 3 years.

  • Capacity building
  • Nanayam and Security card
  • CPR management
  • Special women
  • Girl Children Panchayat
  • Counselling centre
  • Networking

CAPACITY BUILDING SESSIONS

Building the capacity of different actors, is the key instrument in development specially in gender and development. The political trend, policy framework, day to day routine, is changing everyday. The people in rural area deprived of information and they do not adopt them according to the new trends. For example because of the influence of globalization the indigoes products, practices, innovations are slowly dying. The multinational companies products are sold everywhere and the consequences are not known to the rural people and they are being carried away by the superficial impacts. Lack of information dissemination is the main reason for that. Likewise even in their own situation, houses, communities, the existing problems are not well understood by the women. The workload, mental tension do not allow the women to react against the problems oppresing them.

SPEECH is involved in organizing the women around financial matters, which are called as Nanayam groups. There will be average of 4 groups in a village those primary concern is to save and revolve money in their own groups. The common problems do exist and they are not well addressed by the nanayam groups. Hence an apex body called village level federation is formed  at the village level selecting 3-5 members from each group. The village level federation will take up common issues on behalf of the nanayam groups. There has been bit of confusion in their functional roles, resource mobilization, and sending representations for the block level federation. So it is planned to equip the village level federation members mainly to sensitise the women issues and act as active forum in their village.

The women federation is very strong in handling issues. However they lack managerial skills. The evaluation report also reveals the same. It is essential to build the managerial capacities of the women federation members.

The election for Panchayat Raj Institutions is going to be in October 2006. The women groups federations have to start the preparatory work right now so that more number of women will be elected in the public administration. The number itself will give the women, strength to represent their issues and to take favorable decisions. Series of trainings and campaigns are planned to achieve this, and also to update the present representatives according to the recent changes, trainings are planned for them too. Hence it is proposed to conduct series of training programs to different stakeholders involved in gender and development.

NANAYAM GROUPS AND SECURITY CARD

It is quite evident that the women are empowered through nanayam groups. The money wastage in terms of heavy interest has been totally checked and the money is revolved among themselves. The women have secured assets in their names thus their decision making capacity is improved. The nanayam groups have played a vital role in establishing linkage with financial institutions, market, government line departments, PRI’s and politicians. Mere contacts are not established but also the bargaining power is increased. While realising several impacts created by the nanayam groups it is proposed to continue the activity in the coming years also.

During the last three years around 60% of the target women are organized as nanayam groups and 40% is left out. It is proposed to organize the left out women into groups and train them to look after their own affairs.

Security card is an offshoot of Nanayam program. The planned expenditures are partially met from the Nanayam and for the emergency family needs the Security cards are used by the women. When the emergency needs are not met immediately, the expenditure will increase automatically. For example if minor ailment is not treated that will lead to so many complications thus the expenditures will doubled sometimes more than that. In order to fulfill these sort of expenditures the women have to take credit on a higher interest. The security cards meet out the emergency family needs such as family consumption, health and timely input supply to crops. Because of the security card program there had been direct benefit interms of meeting out the emergency needs and also the women have gained importance in the families. Their access to the market is increased, hence the unnecessary expenditure in the families by men has considerably reduced. The women have improved their bargaining capacity and ultimately the self-esteem of women is increased. So for only around 1000 women are provided with security cards. The impacts are quite high and on seeing the utility value other Nanayam group members expect security cards. In this proposal its included to provide another 1000 cards in different intervals.

COMMON PROPERTY RESOURCES MANAGEMENT

Thiruchuli taluk does not have perennial water source and the tanks are non system tanks. Most of the government, tank related schemes are not properly implemented because of the interference of the politicians. Women do not have control over the common properties especially the natural resources. The past history of SPEECH reveals that the women have secured total control over the natural resources wherever the work done by them. The replication is not very spontaneous, however the momentum has taken place. It is proposed to desilt another 15 more tanks by the women groups so that control would be established by them.

In Thiruchuli Therkaru is passing where sand mining is an acute issue. The politicians with the help of Government machine illegally involved in exporting sand to other parts of Virudhunagar. While the government is positive towards recharging the groundwater by establishing rainwater-harvesting structures, it has not brought any strict legislation to control sand mining. Since the sand is taken on a large quantity from the river, the water table goes down and down. This issue is not addressed by the public and they do not see that as a problem. In order to create awareness on the consequences of sand mining, and to lobby with the government, it is planned to organise campaign on sand mining at the basin level involving CBOs and other NGOs.

SPECIAL WOMEN

SPEECH considers  widows and separated women as special women since they need to be given special attention. There is no doubt that all the women are oppressed but the level of oppression is very high to the special women. There are none to share their burden, shoulder the load and they are very much under stress. They are not able to share their feelings to anyone. The gossip they face from others is not bearable more over they are considered to be inauspicious persons. They are terribly ignored by the family members and the community. When they are treated like this their feelings are affected and they feel angry, inferior, disappointed, dejected and ultimately under constant stress. In order the special women to have a floor for ventilating their feelings periodical trainings are planned and economic assistance is sought to set up micro enterprises for their economic development. In the working village there are around 759 special women. It is proposed to support 150 special women in 3 years time and the rest may be motivated to avail support from other sources.

COUNSELLING CENTRE

Women because of the predetermined multiple roles not able to lead a peaceful life. Before they finish one role the next one starts. Relaxing is a rare phenomenon which leads to mental tension, stress sometimes to depression. Every human being needs bit of relaxation from the routine, then only they can perform their duties in a good manner. But women are exceptional from this  and they have to operate like a machine. When recharging is not done then there will be every chance for breakdown. Basically their creativity will be curtailed which end up in inferiority complex. The inferiority complex is the very worst factor which hinders development and improving self esteem. The aim of setting up a counselling centre is to provide opportunity for every woman to come and ventilate their feelings inorder to reduce their mental strain. The women are very hesitant to let out their problems like domestic violence,  marital relationship, harassment by in laws, their health problems in the village. If a counselling centre is set up it would be easy for them to share their problems.

It is also proposed to develop potential village level counsellors whose role will be identifying problematic women, understand their problems without any bias and bring them to counselling centre.

Services of the external counsellors will also be used for effective functioning of the centre. Involvement of legal advisor is yet another activity proposed to provide legal advice to the clients whenever necessary.

GIRL CHILDREN PANCHAYAT

After the introduction of Panchayat raj Institution the women have secured a place in public administration. As per the Panchayat raj Act 73,74 the Panchayat set up will be there in every panchayat hereafter, which is the supreme body. Now that there is  reservation for women to the tune of 33.3% in which no men can contest. But at the same time women can contest in the open competition seats which is an added advantage for women. So far SPEECH was able to bring 33 women representatives in public administration through women groups. The adolescent girls who are 15 years now will be the potential voters in the forthcoming election and the percentage works around 25. Anticipating more number of women representatives to be elected in the forthcoming election it is proposed set up girl children panchayat in the working villages of SPEECH. The another important factor is that the adolescent children are neither treated as children nor as adults, their talents are underestimated and no opportunity has been provided to express their talents. By providing an opportunity in girl children panchayat they can practice good governance, bring out their talents, and elect good leaders. Over a period of time they can be the best potential candidates to contest in the election.

In Girl children panchayat each village will be considered as a panchayat. The girl children between the age of 13-18 will be identified and wards will be divided according to the size of the village. Election will be conducted for a panchayat president and for ward members. The ward members  will jointly elect a Vice president. The village level federation will act as the election commission. Based on the priorities of the panchayat money will be allotted to Girl Children panchayat by the village level federation / SPEECH. In the first year 15 girl children panchayat will be established and by the end of 2006, 45 Girl Children Panchayat will be formed.

NETWORK OF CBO’S / NGO’S

A strong women federation is established in Thiruchuli union and  active in addressing women issues. But in other parts of the district the occurrence of women atrocities are very acute. The women groups in the other areas are not much sensitive to take up those issues and their concern is only economic improvement. Based on the experience of SPEECH in Thiruchuli the same sort of work / approach to Gender and Development can be taught to other NGOs in particular to the CBO’s.

In every district even in every region women police stations are established but still they are not very active in punishing the culprits. As usual bribery, exploitation seems to be dominating in the system. The free legal aid cells are not active and quite lot of matrimonial disputes / cases are still pending with them. On realizing all those SPEECH aims to impart series of sensitation training to CBOs / NGOs and organise them as a district level forum. It is also proposed  to organise campaigns against women atrocities in various parts of the district. As one of the components of campaign it is planned to organize a tri party dialogue including CBOs, NGOs and government officials. Issues based periodical meetings will be organised to share, plan, take up action about the particular issues brought by the NGOs/ CBOs. The state level affiliation to other women groups will be done after assessing the effective functioning of the district level federation.

 

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