WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT

In rural Rajasthan, there is enormous social and cultural inequality between men and women. Seva Mandir helps communities transform gender relations by creating ways for women to come together in their individual and collective struggles. 48 women’s groups give grassroots leaders the unity, confidence, and authority to redress individual cases of abuse and discrimination. They also work in close partnership with men on the longer process of rewriting biased gender norms and including women within the institutions governing society. At the same time, 573 savings and credit groups give women economic security and independence.

SOCIAL EMPOWERMENT

Need

By almost any measure, women lack equality with men. Two of the most serious manifestations of gender inequality are widespread social acceptance of violence against women, and the exclusion of women from real decision making power in their families, communities and local government.

Seva Mandir’s Response

39 Women’s Forums recruit, train and invest authority in women leaders, allowing them to take unified action on community issues. In 2012-13, among other accomplishments, different Women’s Forums pressured the government to install a hand pump for water, run a cattle camp to treat animal sickness, deliver the delayed payment of 15 female MGNREGA laborers, and approve a Rs. 1 million ($17,000) proposal for women’s toilets.

Our 9 Women’s Resource Centers are community courts run by local women leaders whose judgement is respected by the entire village. In 2012-2013, the centers heard 110 cases mostly related to domestic violence. Because the state legal system is expensive, corrupt and often backlogged for years, these courts are often the only recourse for women to seek justice. In 2012, their remarkable work was recognized by the Edelgive Foundation and a $25,000 award from the Indian government.

ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

Need

Women’s social independence is often limited by their financial dependence on men. In addition, village women and their families have a huge need for credit, but the only readily available lenders charge exorbitant interest rates - between 60% and 120% per year - that trap families in a cycle of debt.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Our 573 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are self-governing savings and credit cooperatives organized at the village level. By offering fair interest rates of 12-24% per year, they give over 8,250 women members greater financial independence and have reduced their families’ dependence on predatory money lenders. Each SHG receives training on the fundamentals of financial planning, and has an accountant and annual external audit. Many entrepreneurial SHGs have founded income generating ventures, such as making and selling dairy products and floriculture, that involved over 150 women in 2012-13. To underwrite these ventures, SHGs successfully raised Rs. 4.5 million ($75,000) between 2011 and 2013 from banks and their local Village Development Funds.

SHORT STAY HOME

Need

Rural women in Rajasthan face horrifying rates of domestic violence. According to the government’s National Family Health Survey of 2005-06, 46.3% of married women in Rajasthan have experienced spousal violence. The legal system is not a viable recourse for most battered women because of social taboos, expense and an endless backlog of cases. In this situation, women can become trapped in dysfunctional and abusive relationships.

Seva Mandir’s Response

A Short Stay Home in Udaipur City provides temporary shelter for women fleeing domestic violence and other problems at home. Women are given room and board, child care, psychological counseling, remediation services, legal advice and livelihood training to build economic independence, all at a cost to Seva Mandir of just Rs. 1682 ($28) for a woman for one month. Last year over 100 women and 50 children used the Short Stay Home’s services, 90 cases were satisfactorily resolved, and 18 women secured new employment through the Home. Overall, 548 of the 564 women who have stayed at the Home have found a positive resolution, whether through remediation or a new start.