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Empowering Women

In southern Rajasthan, women face discrimination and violence at different stages of their lives as a result of gender inequality. 44% of women are married before the legal age of 18; 37% of married women face spousal violence; 76% of married women have never attended school and 74% of women are anaemic.

Seva Mandir has helped make women aware of their rights and helped them feel able to speak up against injustice, as is evident from the fact that women are coming forward to report violence. In areas where we work, women have reported that the incidence of women being accused of witchcraft has reduced considerably because we have brought this out into the open. However, different forms of violence are emerging in the area, for example, trafficking of young girls.

Despite facing significant discrimination and violence, women have very few sources of support. They lack the knowledge or confidence to raise their voices against injustice and seek legal aid or take advantage of financial services, social security schemes etc.  Moreover, as a result of patriarchal gender attitudes and practices, women receive little if any support from their menfolk and families in addressing these issues. Historically, women did not have a position in caste panchayats, even in decisions regarding women.

Traditionally, women have not had a say in the affairs of either their family or their community. Things are changing slowly, and even though 50% of posts in the panchayats are reserved for women, this does not automatically translate into their substantive participation. In many areas, women sarpanches continue to be figureheads only, with the actual politics being done by the male members of their family.

Women also face many economic challenges. According to the 2011 census, they form only 35.7% of the workforce, however, in reality, they are engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, collection of forest produce, and wage labour, from which many do not earn any income. A lack of opportunities in villages and high female illiteracy frequently restrict them to unskilled and semi-skilled work, limiting their chances of earning a reasonable income. Traditionally, women have not been involved in any kind of entrepreneurial activities. With limited sources of income, credit need in the area is acute and women often borrow from moneylenders at a very high rate of interest (typically 60-120% p.a.).

The following sections show how Seva Mandir is working to empower women to improve their lives.

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