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Women are our biggest change agents, says Manas Satpathy

FPJ Bureau | Updated on: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 08:26 AM IST

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Pradan, an NGO working in the villages of seven states in India, is repositioning women at the centre of mobilization. And these drivers of change are transforming lives in their villages, says Prafull J Sharma

Quietly working in seven states of India, empowering women and changing lives of hundreds of villages,is a 33-year-old NGO, Pradan (Professional Assistance for Development Action). Well organized and well-structured, Pradan has reached out to over 2.4 million people and 4,82,157 households directly. Its areas of focus are the economically weakest sections in rural and tribal areas of Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, specially the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Though it works with both men and women, and children, its contribution towards changing the lives of women and making them confident bread earners for the family through the self-help groups is the highlight of its work. It has formed 37,617 self-help groups so far and its women collectives not only armour the women with confidence but also give them the courage to question and challenge the village sarpanch and decision-makers.

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Take the case of polio-affected Geeta Markam of Mohgaon village in Balaghat district, Madhya Pradesh, for example. When Pradan entered her village, she had given up her studies after ninth standard despite scoring a first division, owing to financial challenges and poor health. However, she graduated from being a khatalekhak (accountant) for a Self Help Group (SHG), to forming two SHGs in her village. So much so that after initial hesitation, she mustered the courage to question and challenge the sarpanch of her village, a relative, on the delay in starting anUpswasthya Kendra (sub health centre) in the village. When challenged, women of Mohgain contributed Rs 20 each and hired a contractor for the work themselves. When they received threats, the matter was escalated to the CHMO (chief medical health officer) at the District level. He gave the women a green signal and the health centre soon came up in her village. Geeta today is a trainer and senior influencer in the NGO’s works and a catalyst in the improvement of life of both, men and women, in her village.

Along with empowerment, Pradan also encourages women to take control of their lives. Rakhi from Baradih village in Chandwara Block in Jharkhand,was left behind by her husbandRaju, who migrated to Mumbai to earn a living and remarried. Ignoring the Jati panchayat’s decision that instructed him to give equal time to both the women, he fled to Mumbai. Rakhi approached NariAdalat, an initiative of Pradan under its Damodar Mahila Mandal Sangh in 2011, and accused her in-laws of mental and physical torture and her husband of forcing her to leave the house. Shegave her in-laws two options: they either search for a groom for her and get her married, or give her a compensation of Rs 10,00,000. They didn’t agree and she dragged them to court. But once the police prepared the arrest warrant theyapproached Rakhi and her parents for a settlement. Rakhi agreed to settle for a compensation of Rs 2,50,000. After the legal divorce, she invested the money in a fixed depositand a recurring deposit. She learnt to stitch and bought a sewing machine. She later got married to a resident of Bendi village and has a child.

 “We have learnt through our experience that it is better to train and empower women,” says Manas Satpathy, Executive Director. “We learnt through our experience. Initially, we used to help women form SHGs and would train men for livelihood. But as the income of the families increased, men took to alcohol and polygamy. Hence, we shifted our focus to women. Today women are our biggest change agents. We tell them that they have to act to occupy their equal space in society which they deserve. Not inferior, not superior, but equal. And they have begun realizing that. We facilitate to involve them in the decision making process and that brings about all the change”.

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Pradan works on the philosophy of Head, Heart and Hands. It hires resources from the best of the educational institutes and works closely with foundations, corporate houses and government bodies.  This enables it to provide the women with proper links to take their plans ahead.

The most important training Pradan gives the SHGs is that of savings and credit. The SHGs pool in their personal savings and give loans. This has led to many women opening bank accounts and even starting their own business. Savitribai, a daily-wage earner, is rid of the money-lender today. She took a loan of Rs 60,000 to start her own poultry farm and is today among the 450 leaders of Narmada Mahila Sangh.

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The work of the Pradan teams, in empowering women across the country, is truly inspiring. I have seen numerous examples where financial empowerment is swiftly followed by social and political empowerment. The intrinsic strength, innovativeness and entrepreneurship of our women have been multiplied multifold by the thoughtful planning and market linkages that the Pradan teams provide. — Meera Sanyal, Former Non Executive Board Member, Pradan, and National Executive Member, AAP[/alert]

The SHGs are educated about opportunities from outside, basically the government programmes. They are taught ways to access them and then, are helped to think and decide about their vision for the village. The SHGs then prepare a short term plan for the next three or five years which they then present to the gram sabhafor approval. They insist on getting their plans approved as they what is best for their village. “Often, even the men are not aware of the process and we observed that the Block officers would take their signatures and implement their own plans. But this structured process has changed all that,” says Satpathy. After the approval, the women are technically educated to put it in practice.

This way, Pradan has met with immense success in its various initiatives including those of food grain products, livestock development, natural resource management and micro-enterprise promotion.

Pradan has brought about a change in the way of farming too. It has trained the farmers who were into subsistence farming earlier, and received only six to eight months of yield, to have a mix of subsistence and marketable farming. “Our experts train women on focusing on food grains that would give them a yield for the entire year, and also to cultivate half the land for their consumption and half for the market. We then provide the linkages. They mostly cultivate vegetables, pulses and fruits. We taught them to cultivate cash crops during the time the land lay idle. So, earlier when their land yielded two tons of rice per hectare, it yields four to five tons per hectare now,” says Satpathy. This has stopped the seasonal migration from villages.

Pradan’s goal of ‘enabling communities’ by enabling and empowering women, is etching success stories across the rural fabric of seven states remarkably well.

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Published on: Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 12:05 AM IST