The women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh originated from the anti arrack (anti liquor) movement started by the state’s rural women in the 1990s. The state government built on its momentum to start a women’s literacy movement. In 2000, with World Bank support, it expanded this program as a thrift based program where women could make small savings, revolve their own resources, and meet their families’ critical consumption and food needs. The program, earlier called Velugu and now called the Indira Kranti Patham, has since evolved into a movement for the all-round empowerment of poor women - social, legal, political, and economic.
The World Bank’s Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project supports the program. It promotes women's social, economic, legal and political empowerment to reduce poverty among the poor and the poorest of the poor.
The World Bank project has helped take the women's Self Help Group movement to all 22 districts of Andhra Pradesh. It has also become the model for livelihood programs in other states too, including Tamil Nadu and Bihar.
Social, Legal, Political and Economic Empowerment
The women Self Help Groups (SHGs) hold regular weekly meetings, save and repay regularly, and use trained bookkeepers for proper bookkeeping. All SHG members abide by the principles of saying no to child marriages, child labor, domestic violence and wasteful expenditures.
The weekly meetings provide a platform for sharing and discussing broad social, legal, political and economic issues that affect their lives. Issues range from entitlements to land, access to NREGA and PDS, whether teachers and health workers are actually doing the work allotted to them, and women's own rights in the case of domestic violence.
The women discuss family planning, the number of children they should have, and the spacing between births, indicating a significant change in their ability to exercise reproductive choice within the household.
They have also not hesitated to take up difficult issues like domestic violence, the trafficking of women and children, and the jogini system of exploitation.
While this is a continuous and evolving process, these poor women’s groups have made a number of gains in a variety of spheres:
Child Marriage, Trafficking of Women and Children
Women’s groups have been able to prevent over 5000 child marriages. A study by the Center for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad finds that the incidence of child marriage has declined among project participants. Groups have also started campaigns against the trafficking of women and girl children with the support of police, the revenue administration and NGOs.
In a bid to reduce child labor, new residential schools have been set up in six districts to provide quality education to girl child laborers. Over 40,000 girls are now enrolled in these schools. According to an impact evaluation, these schools have outperformed other public schools in terms of regular attendance, academic results and facilities provided to students, leading to a fall in the drop out rate from 14.8% in 2001 to 4.3% in 2005-2006.
Exploitative Social Practices
Groups have achieved considerable success in eradicating exploitative social practices such as the “jogini” (temple concubine) system. Says a Community Activist, from Mahabubnagar District: “I was made a jogini when I was eleven years old by my parents. Joining the SHG gave me confidence and, despite opposition, I got married to lead a normal life. There are still thousands of joginis still operating in and around my community, whom we are trying to rehabilitate. As the children of these jogini mothers are considered illegitimate by the village, we are going to conduct DNA tests for four thousand of them to determine who their father is and ask them for support. We want to ensure that these children are proud of their mothers and lead a normal life”.
Women’s groups discuss sensitive issues such as gender violence, and make special efforts to identify victims and help them to start new livelihoods.
The project has helped to improve food security of the poor. Over half a million households in six districts have benefited from access to food grains and other essential commodities of good quality at relatively lower prices, provided on a credit basis. Destitute women, especially elderly widows, are being helped by a special program through which community members contribute a fistful of rice to a common pool which is then distributed among these women.
Health Insurance for the Poor
Over 21,000 households have been covered with health insurance on a pilot basis. The community managed risk fund aims to provide quick financial support to meet families’ health expenditure, including during emergencies. 1.2 million women SHG members have purchased life insurance cover.
Over 160,000 disabled persons have been mobilized into some 17,500 SHGs and have received support to start new livelihoods.
Land Access for Tribals and the Poor
The project has facilitated the resolution of several land issues affecting the poor including the restoration of illegally occupied land. Para legals have been trained, and efforts are on to establish a land rights center for tribal areas in association with the Law College at Hyderabad, and organize lok adalats (public courts).
Improved Farming Practices
In a forward-looking move, women’s groups have also developed a local movement against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, covering 186,000 acres by 2006-07. By replacing chemical and other external inputs with local knowledge and natural methods of pest management, they are reducing the cost of cultivation. Cost savings have ranged from about US$40 to US$120 per acre leading to a 75% increase in the income of a farmer. This has also had positive effects on farmers’ health status.
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Social empowerment issues have become the basis for the subsequent economic empowerment of women. The program enables women’s organizations to develop the skills to negotiate with market institutions and develop other financial services.
Grassroots leaders developed through the program have contested local government elections; 32000 candidates have filed their nominations for a variety of positions, and 9500 women from SHGs and their federations have been elected at various levels