The 2017 International Women’s Day Campaign theme, “Be Bold for Change,” is the latest in the annual effort to spur more gender equality across the globe.
At GRAVIS, our focus lies at the center of outreach to women. They range from setting up self help groups that allow members to combine their money to support each other’s business endeavors to providing agricultural technologies that eliminate the long walk for water typically designated to women to setting up schools that make it easier for girls to receive an education.
Let’s take a closer look at GRAVIS’ work in the name of improving women’s lives.
Female literacy sits at about 45 percent in Rajasthan and is even lower in the Thar Desert.
To help more girls learn to read and write, GRAVIS has set up 98 schools for 7,000 students.
One of those schools is in the mining town of Sur Sagar where a total of 70 students, both boys and girls, attend. Teacher Sanju Gehlot says the goal is to give children options other than pursuing a life of grueling labor and the potential to acquire life threatening illnesses that come with working in the mines.
“It will also open the many areas toward their livelihood, so in later on phases when they grow old, they will not work in mines. We have that hope,” Gehlot said through a translator.
If the students have family members that work in the mines, the ability to read and write helps them understand the rights such as compensation from the government entitled to those who work in the industry.
Sometimes it’s not just setting up the school, but providing a water source that makes education possible for girls.
In the village of Shekhasar, a mother and daughter sit knee to knee on the cement floor of their home – two women, separated by a generation and vastly different life opportunities.
Through a translator, the mother explains education was not an option for her. The predetermined direction of her life centered on taking care of animals, and performing domestic work. The right to go to school was reserved for only boys, she said.
That’s not the case for her daughter who has enjoyed different advantages. The daughter not only received a basic education, she said she is the first girl in her family to attend a university. The young woman is looking forward to the opportunities her schooling might bring her such as working with the government.
“I’m very proud to get an education,” the young girl said through a translator. “If I don’t get an education there is no option.”
That education may have been made possible in part by the village’s naadi or pond. Without an available water source nearby, women spend hours walking to fetch water. A local water source eliminates the all-day trek and gives girls the chance to go to school.
According to the leader of Shekhasar, the village’s pond was created about 50 years ago. GRAVIS lent its support by building a super structure around the pond that creates a barrier to stop gravel and other material from spilling into the pond, also known as desilting. As of 2016, GRAVIS has desilted 253 naadis.
Additional activities to provide women and families a nearby water source include the creation of beries or percolated wells which trap underground water and taankas, or underground storage units. As of 2016, GRAVIS helped construct 588 beries and 6,635 taankas according to the 2016 annual report.
Other education-related efforts for girls include a bicycle scholarship that provides a mode of transportation for teenagers to travel to secondary schools. Also, a girl’s hostel at the Gagadi Center provides a place for girl’s who live in remote villages to stay while they are attending school.
Self Help Group (SHG)
Besides education and water efforts, GRAVIS also helps provide women the tools to support each other financially through self help groups.
In the village of Mahadev Nagar, ten women have been meeting for about two months to pool their money in order to create a small business investment.
Every month, they deposit 50 rupees in the group account. The goal is to accumulate enough cash to allow a group member to take out a loan at a low interest rate. Some ideas include buying a cow to use to sell milk or purchasing a sewing machine.
“They will be benefited economically,” said one of the women through a translator.
The women also work together to help each other through personal issues.
“Then, they can have a solution for that problem,” said one of the women through a translator.
Solutions to improve the lives of Thar Desert women unveiled through innovative initiatives spearheaded by GRAVIS.
* by Laura Michels, Volunteer