“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in place no one has ever been before”–Albert Einstein
Sarla, of Punhana block, Nuh district, Haryana, belongs to a landless family and has never been part of any formal education system. However, obstacles like illiteracy and lack of formal education and the patriarchal bonds of village society never dissuaded her from participating in activities for public welfare in her village. She visited her neighboring village and was surprised to see the holistic development of the village under a CSR project implemented by S M Sehgal Foundation. School and water chamber transformation, inclusion of various locally available and affordable food items in daily diets, and behavior change to improve hygiene and sanitation-related practices caught her attention. She felt worried about the future of her own village, which was facing similar issues, including poor nutrition and sanitation practices. When in July 2021, the scope of project was expanded to neighboring villages that included her village, her joy knew no bounds. She attended the launch program enthusiastically as she was already impressed with the project results in the next village, and had high hopes for the paradigm shift in her own village through this initiative.
She proactively joined the group of balanced diet and improved nutrition, and regularly participates in the monthly awareness-generation sessions. She also mobilized her fellow village women to join the group to gain knowledge about good nutrition and sanitation practices, which, she believes, can in turn improve health in village households. Her role during nutrition mapping was remarkable as she almost led the group and conducted the exercise involving members of different wards.
Emerging women leaders and change agents like Sarla, despite being challenged by illiteracy and patriarchal norms, are classic examples of how determined women can contribute in the efforts of ushering long-term behavior changes related to matters like nutrition, sanitation, and health, among others.
Authors: Akshay Gilbert and Debika Goswami
(Akshay is project associate and Debika is senior program lead, Local participation and Sustainability with S M Sehgal Foundation)