“Individuals act in their best interest whenever they have the choice, that is, when they possess adequate knowledge, competencies, and resources . . .”
~ Amartya Sen in Development as Freedom.
Freedom, rights, individual entitlements, and people’s capabilities play a key role in empowerment. Likewise, a human rights perspective forms the guiding light for building empowerment interventions through an expansion of the individual’s capabilities. To achieve empowerment it is important to enhance the capacity of people/ communities. Over time, empowerment tends to help people claim their rights, which creates better accountability between society and the state
In the Indian context, gender inequality is not only based on the traditional sex dichotomy of males and females. Gender in India, particularly in the rural context, is a complex social system that structures the experience of females. Biological differences in males or females, over time, develop into gendered individuals in a background of sexism and patriarchy. Coupled with other forms of discrimination, such as racism, and classism, this leads to a pathway toward poor health. This structured disadvantage is further exacerbated by discriminatory laws, policies, and institutions, poor diet, stress, and environmental toxins.
Gender in India, particularly in the rural context, is a complex social system that structures the experience of females. Over time, empowerment tends to help people claim their rights, which creates better accountability between society and the state.
What is the roadmap to women’s empowerment and equity?
The World Economic Forum 2021 Global Gender Gap Report pegs India at a dismal 140th of 156 countries on gender inequality. This is reflective of India’s performance on a host of developmental factors: health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, rural education, and social empowerment. Significant progress seems to have been achieved at the urban level; however, rural India lags far behind.
To achieve gender equality, it is imperative to substantially scale up efforts to support women across growth indicators. One of the major steps in this direction is to enrich women’s healthcare delivery. A pathway to achieving this ambitious target is to support women to take charge of their health through initiatives that ensure equitable access to quality care. By gaining information, access to resources, and participative action, women would gain control their own lives rather than being dominated by others.
Given the state of the dismal rural healthcare system in India, there further exists a gender bias driven by heuristics based on gender stereotypes and sexism in patient care. This results in differential health outcomes for men and women. Since women are stereotyped as “the weaker sex,” their health-related complaints are often interpreted as exaggerated and viewed as psychosomatic rather than physical. The need of the hour is to close the gap in health equity through action on the social determinants of health.
A pathway to achieving this ambitious target is to support women to take charge of their health through initiatives that ensure equitable access to quality care.
What is the role of women in family-centered healthcare?
An approach to family-centered healthcare is one where a holistic view is taken rather than palliative care to deliver comprehensive and continuing care and help improve the healthcare of rural populations. A family-centered strategy entails preventive and promotive care delivered by trained healthcare providers who are trained to understand community needs and who will engage them actively. Women are socially conditioned into caregiving roles, such as nurses, midwives, and frontline community health workers. Values such as creativity, empathy, mutual connection, and emotional skills are important as healthcare workers look to use community channels to engage. women and forward the vision of a balanced and equitable approach. In a populous and diverse country like India, women are a major force in tackling the problem of reach through participation.
Women are socially conditioned into caregiving roles, such as nurse, midwife, and frontline community health worker. In a populous and diverse country like India, women are a major force in tackling the problem of reach through participation.
What is the role of women in healthcare through Self–Help Groups (SHGs)?
In marginalized populations, women-based SHGs are a potent tool for empowering women and improving their health outcomes. SHGs are particularly useful, especially among women who are unable to access health facilities or outreach services. They help by reducing, developing, and expanding healthcare coverage and building strong linkages with the lowest levels of the state health system, such as frontline health workers. SHGs have demonstrated positive results in discussions, dissemination, of information, and with a participatory learning approach of health practices in meetings. SHGs operate on a large scale in India and are important agents that deliver behavior change communication and social support interventions to rural women.
This has led to improvement in rural health practices in one-time points and independent of healthcare intervention areas. The role SHGs play can be attributed to increased social cohesion and group collectivization to reduce the disparities by helping women follow correct healthcare practices.
SHGs have demonstrated positive results in discussions, dissemination of information, and participatory learning approach of health practices in meetings, which serve to empower women.
What is the role of Female Front Line Health Workers (FFHWs)?
In India, the task of managing the health response at the community level falls on the shoulders of female frontline health workers (FFHWs). These are categorized as voluntary community health workers (CHWs), ASHA (accredited social health activists), anganwadi workers (AWWs), and auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs).
FFHWs take health services directly to communities where access is often limited. These women come from the communities that they serve and act as an important link to health facilities by bringing services to people’s doorsteps. The last-mile connectivity makes them a crucial intermediary between the community and the healthcare system. In a culture where many women have been deprived of freedom of movement, their role is important in implementing sustainable changes at the local level.
FFHWs interact across all levels of rural families as well as their communities. They play a variety of roles for rural populations and advise them about nutrition; family planning, healthy living, acting as midwives, administering vaccinations, and are caregivers, etc. This makes them very closely involved with communities, and this close relationship is the first step in enhancing rural campaigns.
FFHWs take health services directly to communities where access is often limited. These women come from the communities that they serve and act as an important link to health facilities by bringing services to people’s doorsteps.
India is at a crucial stage in the fight for gender equality and social justice. The priority for the state and the nonprofit institutions is to redress discrimination against women. Gender inequality in itself cannot be addressed without transforming gender norms. Women have a crucial role to play in the agenda for social change. Their participative role in healthcare can transform the lives of millions of underprivileged besides raising their marginalized social status. The time is ripe for the burden of proof to shift from those fighting to be recognized to those who benefit from the current order.
Women have a crucial role to play in the agenda for social change. Their participative role in healthcare can transform the lives of millions of underprivileged women besides raising their marginalized social status.
How is S M Sehgal Foundation helping rural communities?
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), established in 1999, has been working at the ground level to improve the quality of life of the rural communities in India. A sustainable rural development NGO in India, S M Sehgal Foundation was established as a public, charitable trust. The NGO’s skilled and dedicated team creates sustainable programs to address rural India’s most pressing needs. S M Sehgal Foundation has five main program areas: Water Management, Agricultural Development, Local Participation and Sustainability, Transform Lives one school at a time, and Outreach for Development.
With active support from donors and partners across geographies, S M Sehgal Foundation’s grassroots programs and development interventions have already touched the lives of three million people across India, empowering individuals and communities in need to escalate and enhance their development.
The Local Participation and Sustainability Program helps rural communities to promote good hygiene and sanitation in villages, improve awareness of preventive and remedial healthcare, and encourage the adoption of safe hygiene practices through behavior-change campaigns.
S M Sehgal Foundation has five main program areas: Water Management, Agriculture Development, Local Participation and Sustainability, Transform Lives one school at a time, and Outreach for Development.
What is the e-Poshan Kendra project about?
In June 2021, S M Sehgal Foundation began implementation of a CSR-supported partnership project initiative in district Nuh, Haryana. This integrated village development project works on water management, rural education in India, health, sanitation, nutrition, and agriculture.
The panchayat choupal (community building) was in a dilapidated state and being used as a garbage disposal site. As a result, the community avoided the main road near the choupal. The area was prone to the spread of diseases like dengue, malaria, and others due to growing filth, and acted as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This affected people’s health and led to the loss of life in some cases. In October 2021, the project team initiated an endeavor to transform this choupal into an E-Poshan Kendra (E-nutrition center). By January 2022, the choupal was completely transformed into an E-Poshan Kendra. Solar panels were installed for a sustainable source of energy. Community women became keenly interested in the E-Poshan Kendra and started regularly attending the training sessions held here on nutrition and a balanced diet.
Gradually, the E-Poshan Kendra became a hub of information provision on good nutrition practices, sanitation, as well as on key government services. The E-Poshan Kendra provides structured training to village women and showcases thematic films and inspirational stories on sanitation and nutrition. Vaccination drives for village children are also organized in this center. Overall, the E-Poshan Kendra led to realizing of the vision of family-centered healthcare with the local women adopting it wholeheartedly.
S M Sehgal Foundation implemented a CSR-supported partnership project initiative in district Nuh, Haryana. This integrated village development project works on water, education, health, sanitation, nutrition, and agriculture.
The Local Participation and Sustainability Program spreads awareness among the communities regarding the value of participation in improving the last-mile delivery of government programs. It incorporates village development plans to support sustainable rural development; and builds the capacities of village-level institutions to identify and address community issues, monitor the maintenance of public infrastructure, and conserve natural resources for holistic village development.
Local participation allows vital representation along with the inclusion of local knowledge and practices, leading to equitable and sustained outcomes. Local participation enables rural communities to eventually own the development initiative, validating the effort of agencies and ensuring the sustainability of the impact created.
The Local Participation and Sustainability Program allows women to become a part of the village-level institutions and public life. It encourages women to come together, voice their concerns and opinions about the community, and development issues, and work collectively to address issues that affect their families and their community.
The Local Participation and Sustainability Program supports the representatives in identifying and addressing community problems, devising village development plans, establishing synergies with government departments, and transparently executing those development plans. It also builds the skill set of village-level institutions to conserve natural resources and maintain public infrastructure.
The Local Participation and Sustainability Program works with rural communities to improve awareness of preventive and remedial healthcare, promote good hygiene and sanitation in villages, and encourage the adoption of safe hygiene practices through behavior change campaigns.