Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Rekha Chauhan
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Sectretaty MSS - Mahila Swarojgar Samiti
India, Varanasi, March 2011
See also Documentary scene ⇒ Employment as a Right
Rekha is the General Secretary and Senior Manager of an NGO active in the empowerment of rural women. The NGO, called Mahila Swarojgar Samiti (or MSS), is based in Varanasi, a city located the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. MSS works in three districts - Varanasi, Sitapur and Sonbhadra.
In its mission of empowering rural women, MSS builds awareness on women's rights, reproductive health care, policies and laws that contribute to gender equality (like equal wages, property ownership, economic incentives, etc.). MSS organises women into Self Help Groups and trains them in generating savings and creating opportunities for self-employment. It also builds health and rights awareness among sex workers and facilitates the protection and guarantee of rights among their children. MSS also works actively with women to ensure that they participate and shape all decisions taken at the level of the village council (or Gram Sabha)
What is the difference in the roles that Governments and NGOs play in local development?
NGOs are important because their work on the ground is based on an understanding of the needs and rights of communities they seek to empower. Government policies are implemented through programmes and schemes at the lower tiers of local governance.
The government also makes efforts to build people’s awareness of policies, laws and programmes. However it is the NGOs that help people exercise their rights in accessing government support, in prioritising their needs, identifying which scheme is suitable for their needs and capacities, and training them in accessing local development opportunities. Our organisation, MSS, has been empowering women through awareness and leadership building, prioritizing needs, organizing women into groups for generating livelihoods as well as for advocacy.
What does women's empowerment signify for you?
Women have been deprived of their constitutional rights since independence and that they must participate, as much as men, in society and local development. MSS, the organisation Rekha works with, believes that women’s participation in local processes and decisions becomes active once they become aware of their constitutional rights, role in development, about government policies, laws. MSS, therefore, does various meetings, workshops and events to raise rural women’s awareness about their rights, laws (like those on violence against women, Right to Information), rural development schemes (Like NREGA- the national rural employment guarantee scheme).
Once women become aware, they realize their roles and responsibilities as citizens. They start understanding which scheme they, their families and communities can benefit from. This enhances women’s confidence and leadership skills. They begin demanding access to their fundamental rights and start exercising these rights. This process empowers women.
Through formation of groups among rural women, awareness and capacity building, MSS facilitates women in exercising their rights and developing confidence and leadership skills. These activities implemented by MSS is part of a rural women’s empowerment project funded by Sir Dorabji Tata Trust in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh. MSS works with women in the district of Varanasi.Rekha says that oen of the major challenges she and her team face is to bring women out of their homes; women who have traditionally covered their faces and mostly stayed at home.