India Interior

It works when women speak in unison

Usha Rai | Updated on December 28, 2019 Published on December 28, 2019

How an anganwadi centre came up in Chittorgarh’s Arania village

It did not happen overnight, it required a long struggle. But today, the village women of Rajasthan are empowered enough to speak up for their rights, participate in gram sabha meetings and put their proposals before panchayats.

Now, they are also the proud beneficiaries of an anganwadi centre at Arania village in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan, where pregnant women and toddlers get their quota of nutritious food and childcare facilities.

“It was after a three-year long struggle that we were able to get this centre,” says Munnibai, the anganwadi worker who looks after 20 children. What began as the SUMA-Rajasthan White Ribbon Alliance five-year project (2013-2017) to ensure the United Nations sustainable development goal-3 of healthy lives of all ages and reduce global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 1,00,000 live births by 2030, is showing results — with accessible infrastructure like anganwadis, sub-centres and primary health centres (PHC) coming up in places selected by the community.

“Policies and programmes need to listen to voices of women, the rights holders,” says Smita Bajpai of the Ahmedabad-based voluntary organisation CHETNA, which spearheaded the SUMA (Surakshit Matritva Gathbandhan) team of 100 listed individuals and organisational members working in 13 districts of Rajasthan.

The country’s National Health Policy of 2017 aims to reduce maternal mortality to 100 by 2020 and Rajasthan’s MMR estimates stood at 244 per 1,00,000 live births as per sample registration system 2011-2013. “We advocated for continuum of quality care and promoted social accountability,” says Bajpai.

 

For setting up the anganwadi centre at Arania, Arun Kumavat of Navachar Sansthan of SUMA and Village Development Officer, Rameshwar Lal Jat, and the women of the village raised their voices in unison and drafted a proposal for the gram sabha and the village panchayat. It was the participation of women at the gram sabha meetings that was the turning point. Land was allotted in 2016 and the anganwadi centre was built in 2018.

Now the women are pushing for larger quantity and better quality kichdi (a mixture of rice, pulses and vegetables) to be given to the toddlers.

Tasting success, with ‘panjeeri’

The collective voice of the women was also able to counter discrimination against the girls of the village not given panjeeri, the nutritious food packet given to pregnant women. Since the girls married outside the village they were not listed for this supplement.

However, about 10 girls who came to their natal village for child-bearing felt discriminated when they did not receive the panjeeri. Women shared their concerns on discrimination at meetings held in the five villages of Balarada, Rupakhedi and Damakheda panchayat in Chittorgarh’s Kapasan block. The anganwadi worker explained that since the daughters were registered at their marital homes, it is difficult to account for the nutritious packets at their natal homes. Women pointed out that “it is customary for women to come to their natal home for delivery, so depriving the pregnant daughter of the village her share of the nutritious packet was unfair”. A proposal to give the nutrition supplement to these pregnant girls too was drafted and given to the gram sabha.

A woman from Rupakhedi village who was denied the nutrition packet when she first came home for delivery was elated when she got it the second time around at her natal home. “I felt my gram sabha cared for me,” she said.

 

After a mobilisation campaign, for the first time, about 50 women participated in the gram sabha meetings of Balarada, Rupakhedi and Damakheda panchayat and submitted 17 proposals. In addition to the proposal for supplementary food, 16 proposals were on improving the infrastructure of village sub-centres and anganwadi centres. It was a long process of writing and following up with the block medical officer and the child development project officer.

It was only after a year-and-a-half of the proposal being mooted that front line workers were asked to give supplementary nutrition for girls from the village and land allotted for constructing the anganwadi centre at Arania.

‘Give us taps, transport’

Buoyed by their success, the women are now rooting for water taps in their homes. To date, they get water from hand-pumps some distance away. “We have to fetch 15 to 20 pots, each of eight litres, for cooking, bathing and other activities every day,” they point out. Some villages get water from a tanker. In Rupakhedi, the women said, “we want water first. Electricity can come later.”

The other major problem faced by villagers of Arania is the lack of transport to the primary healthcare centre at Kapasan, around 10 km away. There are no buses or tempos, so those falling ill or having a baby find it a Herculean task to get to the PHC. Only two of the seven villages of the block are adjacent to the road and have access to transport. The women of the village are dependent on the 104 and 108 ambulance services for delivery at the PHC and for having emergencies attended to. “The public distribution system is also in Kapasan and if we don’t reach on time, we miss out on rations,” says Munnibai.

The women’s network is buzzing again to get the gram sabhas activated to their new requirements. The first step to attaining the sustainable development goal-3 is to listen to women’s voices and have infrastructure in place.

The rest will hopefully follow, feel SUMA members.

The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

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Published on December 28, 2019

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