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Apr 14, 2003
Women astir all across India

If you must pick just one strand of promise that bodes well for India’s future, it has got to be the way women are encouraged to play public roles. This is perhaps what sets India apart from other developing societies. The flair and versatility of the modern, urban Indian woman is widely known. Her rural cousin is no laggard either.

Here are a few random picks from just two newspapers in a fortnight’s span.

Karnataka’s Stree Shakti is a micro-credit movement for women that began two years ago. It is Government sponsored. That might make you wince, but wait. Stree Shakti has been a roaring success. There are today 75,000 groups each with a membership of between 15 and 20. That’s a total of over a million members. Their accumulated savings? Rs.110 crores or over $20 million.

Now cut to another story from Rajasthan [the Hindu, April 6] which says that the co-operative movement is spreading like wild fire in the State. Several enabling reasons are cited but the State Government feels that the major one is the increasing role women play in managing the programmes.

The same issue of the paper on another page says that Rashtriya Mahila Kosh [National Credit Fund for Women] will disburse enlarged loan packets. How much? Rs. 5 crores [$2.5 million], up from Rs.1 crore. Why? The report says the Government is now convinced that women centred programmes can receive and manage this five fold increase.

The Hindu [April 5] reported that women self help groups in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu have made such a resounding success of vermi-composting as a business that men are becoming envious. Each business needs but Rs.4000 to start but gainfully employs many women. Two added spin offs are: profitable management of waste and a return to organic farming. The report ends with this quote from men: “When they can be so successful in their work and savings, why can’t we also do it?”

From Maharashtra two reports were filed [the Hindu, April 5 and 7] on the work of Magan Sangralaya Samiti headed by Ms. Vibha Gupta. The Samiti works on a broad front to empower women. On one its barefoot women health workers are taking the message of family planning to rural women. The approach is frank and direct. Sexuality, family economics, need for planning and health issues are covered. The first women who came forward to use contraceptives for spacing were two Muslims. Do point this to those that would profile people based on their religion. These two women have now become fervent campaigners for the Samiti.

The end space is reserved for Begum Bismillah Nawab Ali Sayyed, aged 45, of District Wardha in Maharashtra. She has elbowed her way into the men-only world of master masons. She is a respected Raj Mistri. She has enough orders and cares a hoot when men stand stand around and mock her as she climbs the scaffolds. “They are only exposing their teeth. How does it matter to me?,” she asks.

Women like her have no time to waste on envious men. 

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