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Rotary International President Elect Gary Huang Addresses RFPD Membership at Annual General Meeting in Lisbon2232 days ago
RFPD and MCH Area of Focus - VTT2232 days ago
2013 Nafis Sadik Award for Courage 2232 days ago
A Letter From Our Chairperson2232 days ago
Rotary Project In Nigeria is a MASTERPIECE2232 days ago
Strengthening Saheli Center model for Empowering Women in India
Category: Population | By RFPD, 18-Oct-2012 | Viewed 4015  Comments 0 | Source Rtn. Dr. Devendra Kothari
by Rtn Dr. Devendra Kothari

Saheli Center with Rtn Buck Lindsay and Rtn Devendra Kothari
Today, there are lot of things happening in the name of women empowerment in India and lot of resources are being spent in this direction. However, no significant change has been observed. It appears India is simply not doing enough for its women as per the Gender Gap Index Report 2011, released by the World Economic Forum, Geneva. It is pathetically ranked 113 among the 135 countries considered.  Further, India's ranking has been falling steadily since 2006 when the Index was launched. In 2006, India was ranked 98th. Available data indicate that   the lack of education; poor reproductive health conditions; and discrimination in opportunities for work and income still haunt women. It appears most of women still wear the restrictive chains that drag them down. This is a rather   shameful reflection of the condition of women in a country that is said to be on a growth song. There is an urgent need to rethink how to expedite the process of women empowerment in a patriarchal and traditional society like India, and how Rotary can contribute . The note aims in this direction.

The Global Gender Gap Reports indicate that between 2006 and 2011, Indian women and girls have narrowed the gap with men and boys on education, economic and political participation; relative to men, however, they are slipping further on health. It is because they have unequal access to basic health resources especially reproductive healthcare services and lack adequate counseling as well as follow-up and management of side effects. The result is an increasing risk of unintended or unwanted, early pregnancies, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. Further, as per NFHS-3 , around a third of married women are below 18 year, the legal age for them to get married. This in turn, leads to a disturbing result over 54 percent of pregnant women are anemic, locking the child they are carrying into a health deficit in the womb itself. Just 23 percent of pregnant women get required iron and folic acid supplements, and only about half of them get the  required three or more antenatal check-ups  from the health workers. With the health care delivery system barely beginning to reach villages, weakened mothers give birth to children without trained attendants, triggering high mortality rates for the mother and the new born.

While India's population continues to grow by 17-18 million people annually, 15 million women, mostly in poor performing States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, seek to postpone childbearing, space births, or stop having children, but are not using a modern method of contraception. Often, these women travel far from their communities to reach a government health facility, only to return home empty handed due to shortages, stock outs, and/or non availability of doctors and paramedical staff. When women are thus turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. As per the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), every fifth birth has been classified as unplanned or unintended (that is mistimed or unwanted at the time the women became pregnant).  It is estimated that more than 26 million children are born in India every year and out of this about 6 million births have been classified as unplanned. Approximately two-thirds of the unintended pregnancies resulted from non-use of contraceptives; clearly indicating the need for easy availability of quality reproductive health services. In addition, around one-third of unintended pregnancies resulted from the ineffective use of contraceptives, which suggests the need for improved counseling and follow-up of couples that adopt a method.

The consequences of unintended pregnancy are serious, imposing significant burden on women and families, and in turn slowing down the process of women empowerment. Unintended pregnancy breeds powerlessness and powerlessness breeds subordination (quality of obedient submissiveness) and subordination breeds unintended pregnancy.  And women find themselves in a vicious circle . Thus, there is an urgent need to provide reproductive heath services looking to the needs of women.  And this is a critical key to empowering women. In other words, by ensuring the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so could be another but effective way to expedite the process of women empowerment in countries like India. This calls for an efficient but pro-women reproductive healthcare system catering to the needs of women in general and the needy, unprivileged and economic backward sections of humanity in particular. Therefore, addressing inequalities in access to and use of reproductive health services including contraceptive services will be a powerful tool in empowering the women.

Now question arises as to how Rotary can contribute in this respect. The Saheli Center Project, initiated by the RI District 3250 in 2003, is a feminist model to empower women living in highly patriarchal and traditional surroundings. The project was started in four pilot places located in Bihar and Jharkhand States of India by four Rotary Clubs namely: RC Gaya City, RC Giridih, RC Madhpur and RC Dhanbad. The matching grant partner club for this project was RC Gwinnett County of RI District 6910, Georgia, USA. Today, there are 18 centres with several seeking sponsorship for matching grants. In long term, this Rotary district expects to establish a total of 80 centers to cover 75 cities in the States of Bihar and Jharkhand. 

The existing Saheli model is based on the premise that women empowerment could be achieved by giving them education and skills that will improve the quality of their own life, their family and their own community.  The project imparts vocational training, ranging from one to six months, in computer, tailoring, stitching, beautician, mahndi (henna) deigning, English speaking courses, etc.  The training is imparted by the trained teachers. Former trainees are encouraged to join as trainers. The trained Rotarians and spouses also impart training. Most of the Saheli Centers operate inside the Rotary premises. Certificates are generally given to the trainees on successful completion of the course. Each center is managed and run by a local Rotary Club with or without the support of other NGOs. Existing centers train around 7000 women/girls each year with vocational skills. 303_847653018_4.jpg
"Saheli" student learning vocational skills

No doubt, the Saheli model provides opportunity and tools to women for their self improvement but does not improve their decision - making power significantly in a patriarchal society. For this, women need to have control on their own bodies.  No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother," wrote an American birth control activist -  Margaret Sanger -  in "The Woman Rebel," in  1914. She writes further: Birth control is the means by which women attain basic freedom and empowerment.  Therefore, addressing inequalities in access to and use of reproductive health services including contraceptive services will be a powerful tool in empowering the women. 

Here, the Saheli Center model can play a catalytic role in providing/facilitating reproductive health services or in motivating the public or private sector to provide services looking to the needs of clients, especially women in collaboration with local government agencies, non-government organizations or private hospitals/ clinics. Thus the existing model has to incorporate an additional agenda of reproductive health to expedite the process of women empowerment and lead to sustainable development. 

The reproductive or maternal healthcare refers to the health of women during pregnancy, child birth and the postpartum period. It encompasses the healthcare dimensions of preconception, prenatal and post natal care in order to reduce maternal and child morbidity and mortality as well as fertility. The preconception care includes education, family planning, health promotion, screening and other interventions among women of reproductive age to reduce risk factors that might affect future pregnancies. The goal of prenatal care is to detect any postnatal complications of pregnancy early, to prevent them if possible, and to direct the woman to appropriate specialist medical services as appropriate. The postnatal care issues include recovery from childbirth, concerns about newborn care, nutrition, breastfeeding, infant immunization and family planning. 

In short, the Saheli Center model must emphasize its commitment to population stabilization and provide essential leadership to promote reproductive health services and increase awareness of the social, economic, and environmental consequences of rapid population growth.  Also work actively to educate policymakers, program managers, the media and the general public about population issues. At the same time, RFPD must encourage clubs to take up permanent projects that directly impact maternal health and women empowerment in collaboration with government agencies, non-governmental organizations and local leadership to ensure for more sustainability of activities. And also provide technical support. 

I am sure that Rotary International will take the position that 'every child should be a wanted one', like it took the decision to eradicate Polio in 1985 . Achieving this goal would prevent the suffering of women and their families and the social problems that often follow the birth of unwanted children. 

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