Local Governance: (Re)presenting Women

According to a recent A. C. Neilsen ORG MARG survey, the approximately 10.5 lakh women in panchayati raj (village level governance) have gained significant influence in key decision-making.  In fact, the report has also found that a larger proportion of women have risen to local governance positions within the panchayati raj:

The survey, conducted across 24 states and likely to be tabled in Parliament in early April, also emphasises that of the overall 28 lakh male and female panchayat members across the country, 80,000 women sarpanchs (chairpersons) have been elected to positions of responsibility.

This transferrance of governing power into the hands of women is significant, as, according to the study, female panchayat members tend to be concerned about key issues such as “dealing with the effective functioning of the midday meal programme, health and sanitation, and potable drinking water.”  In fact, the Hunger Project has even gone so far as to call this “transfer of power” the “greatest social experiment of our time.”

In response, states such as Bihar and Sikkim have extended reservations for women within the panchayati raj to 50%.  Problems persist, however, as women still face backlash from their families and communities, and must combat illiteracy during the course of their tenure.  Complementary employment and literacy programs are necessary in order to further maximize on the impact of women’s rise in local governance.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia

Market for Wi-Fi will top $744 million by 2012

To piggyback on a recent post by Shital, the aforementioned report on “Wi-fi in India” also forecasted that “the overall Indian Wi-Fi market (including WLAN hardware, systems integration and software services, not including embedded devices, laptops) is predicted to grow from the current $41.57 million to exceed $744 million by 2012 (compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61.4%).”  

Among the key findings in the paper were the following: 

  • As broadband wireless access grows, the WLAN network gear sector will exceed $275 Million by 2011-12 (not including embedded chips), up from the current $23.1 Million.
  • Dual-mode Wi-Fi / cellular handsets show promise for bringing higher-throughput internet connectivity to numerous Indian citizens who do not own computers.
  • Wi-Fi based solutions have a great opportunity to provide appropriate wireless solution at feasible prices for large tracts of rural India. In combination with long-haul wireless technologies such as WiMAX, Wi-Fi proliferation is bound to multiply and is ideal for quickly connecting rural communities.

IIM Conference: Marketing to Rural Consumers

From April 3-5th, the Indian Institute of Management-Kozhikode (Kerala) will be hosting a conference entitled, “Marketing to Rural Consumers: Understanding and Tapping the Rural Market Potential.”  The purpose of the conference is as follows:

The emergence of rural markets as highly untapped potential emphasizes the need to explore them…Surge in the publications on rural marketing is an indicator of the interest in this emerging domain of knowledge. However, studies have been widely fragmented and time has come to consolidate the knowledge that has evolved over the past years. In consolidating the efforts, setting future directions would be possible.

The conference on “Marketing to Rural Consumers – Understanding and Tapping the Rural Market Potential” addresses this need and seeks participation from the interested academic and practicing fraternity. The conference offers an opportunity for exchange of research and practical insights related to marketing to rural consumers and disseminate the knowledge generated.

The conference is also inviting papers on the themes included in this link.  To register for this conference, go here, or contact the conference co chairs, Sanal Kumar Velayudhan (sanal@iimk.ac.in) or Dr. G. Sridhar (drgsridhar@iimk.ac.in).   

Source:  Let Me Know

Tracking Maternal Mortality Rates in Rural India

India has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world – 300 per 100,000 live births.  In fact, over 20% of the world’s reported maternal deaths occur in India, most of which are preventable, given the proper infrastructure and resources.  The majority of these maternal deaths occur in poor, rural areas, where access to proper healthcare is unavailable. 

Oftentimes, the number of maternal deaths – especially in remote rural areas – remains under-reported, thus resulting in mortality ratios that are often based on estimates rather than verifiable evidence.  Conventional surveillance systems, unfortunately, are inaccurate and prohibitively expensive, and as a result, “there have been only three published trials that have attempted to measure population maternal mortality ratio.”  In an attempt to effectively monitor the impact and progress of maternal interventions, therefore, researchers from India and the UK have developed a low-cost, “key informant” maternal mortality surveillance system.   According to OneWorld South Asia, here’s how the the study was conducted in the states of Jharkhand and Orissa:

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Super Early Morning Edition

Headlines: 

The Manmohan Singh government, which is battling inflation, has another worry at hand: a shrinking job market. While the government at the Centre has not been able to rein in prices, it has admitted that rupee appreciation against dollar has resulted in the loss of about 20 lakh jobs.

In an effort to provide electricity to every rural household in the country the ministry of new and renewable energy has decided to provide a generation-based incentive of Rs 12 per kilo watt hour for electricity generated from solar photovoltaic and a maximum of Rs 10 per kWh for electricity generated through solar thermal power plants and fed to the grid from a grid interactive solar power plant of 1 mega watt and above.

Progress in detecting new cases of tuberculosis is slowing, threatening to increase the risks of transmitting drug-resistant strains, the World Health Organization said Monday.  India, China, Indonesia, South Africa and Nigeria rank as the top five countries in terms of absolute numbers of tuberculosis cases.  The W.H.O. said there was a shortfall of $2.5 billion of the $4.8 billion needed this year for overall tuberculosis control in low- and middle-income countries.

A professor, a team of students led by Beena Sukumaran, and an environmental engineering have made new pedal-powered grain crusher that promises to become an effective and cheap food processor unit for the economically disadvantaged communities of the world.  It could help generate income for individuals traveling from village to village.

Op-Ed: Migration and its Discontents

There is no doubt that the issues of migration and urbanization within India are wrought with controversy.  In the case of rural-urban migration, which is overwhelmingly the case, the impact on the social, economic, and psychological structure of villages and cities, both on a macro and micro level, is significant. 

In my experience within the Adivasi, rural communities of Gujarat, migration holds a sense of urgent promise, of a future with exponential financial dividends for the family.  Local community members themselves believe that village life is inferior to that of urban India, and that migration / urbanization leads to social and economic development, both on an individual and community level.  Therefore, instead of looking inwards by initiating local-resource driven campaigns for the development of their respective villages, local inhabitants tend to look outward, towards the city.  Rural communities, therefore, come to signify stagnation, whereas the city comes to represent progress, opportunity, and most importantly, money.  Artisanship, agricultural expertise, and other local-level skills atrophy as community members come to regard these skills as unvaluable, or in many cases, unmarketable, in comparison to more the more “lucrative” skills necessary for “urban jobs.”  This mentality, I believe, is a self-destructive one, as it leads to the devaluation and decomposition of potentially rich local resources within the rural landscape.

More after the jump… Continue reading

Late Night Edition

Headlines:

In yet another maternal care project aimed at benefiting rural women, the State government has decided to provide free food to all pregnant women who visit primary health centres (PHCs) for a check-up…the decision to provide ‘full lunch’ was taken because it took about four hours for a woman to complete a check-up, which included scanning and multiple tests.

A day care centre and hospice offering free palliative care for patients with degenerative illness will be soon set up here by the Palliative Care Association of Tiruchi.  The centre would cover patients with chronic ailments including HIV/AIDS, cancer, renal failure, and neurotic and psychiatric disorders. Resources would be raised locally and free medicines distributed.

Wanted: Bridegroom, who is HIV positive, for an HIV positive bride. These were the words with which a non-governmental organisation in Tamil Nadu recently started the first ever marriage bureau for HIV positive people.

The All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board today introduced its own version of the nikaahnama or marriage contract, looking to ban instant talaq and safeguard the wife’s interests after divorce.  The “sharayat (conditional) nikaahnama” denies the validity of the triple talaq as well as divorce through text message, email, telephone or videoconferencing. 

Dalit Women Make Their Voices Heard

As mentioned in a previous post, land ownership is a critical factor in determining social and economic status in rural communities. This is especially true of the dalit community, who, for the most part, don’t own their own land, and must work for meager wages as majdoors (labourers) on other people’s land. For women, in particular, who labour for countless, backbreaking hours in the fields, land ownership holds significant value, both in terms of income and social standing. Aswathamma, 42, a widow and mother of two, explains how owning land would change her life:

“Land means social prestige. It is just not an individual struggle. If I get land it will mean respect for my community as a whole and a better future. Access to land will help us cultivate crops to sell in the market and feed our families,” she adds.

Recognizing the the need to make their voices heard, dalit women in Andhra Pradesh are rising up and demanding their rights by filing applications for ownership of unused land. To date, over 25,000 applications have been filed by women in response to a July 2007 government order that states that “…assignment of government land wherever available to landless poor for agricultural purpose shall be granted within 3 months from the date of receipt of application.”

This historic campaign, backed by ActionAid and the people’s movement of Dalit Samakhya, aims to file a total of 1,000,000 applications for land by year-end.

Source: OneWorld South Asia

Reclaiming the Land

As brought to our attention by InfoChangeIndia, the phenomenon of urban migration is a multidimensional issue, with social and economic repercussions, both for rural and urban India. As described in an article entitled, “This Land is Ours!”, as a result of urban migration, women in rural communities are undergoing changes in terms of their roles within the family structure:

The village [Narsenahall, Karnataka] is part of a nationwide trend in agriculture, which over the last few years has seen huge changes. While more and more men are migrating to urban areas and large industrialised farms looking for paid work, women stay in the village and are increasingly taking over cultivating the land. According to estimates by Bina Agarwal, an academic researching and writing about women and land rights, almost half of the land in India is now farmed by women. The changes mean that in the rural areas the vast majority of women — around 85% — are now farmers.

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Treating More than Diarrhea

During the course of my work with SEWA Rural, a community health organization in rural Gujarat, India, I often wondered how mental health concerns would ever gain traction in a climate where community members suffered, and sometimes died from, such common ailments as diarrhea or anemia. Those with mental health problems (whether diagnosed or not), were considered “hopeless”, and as a result, did not receive the medical attention they deserved.

In the case of individuals suffering from depression, their family members would often dismiss their behaviour as erratic, or if the condition worsened, would use derogatory terms such as “ganda/gandi” (crazy in Gujarati) to characterize them. In one particular instance, a young girl who had recently undergone a painful pregnancy and premature delivery suddenly withdrew, and simply stopped speaking, even refusing, at times, to breastfeed her baby. In response, her family lapsed into denial, and insisted that she was faking her condition. Upon our first visit, it became apparent that the girl was suffering from postpartum depression, and needed love and attention in order to overcome her depression. After repeated visits, one-sided conversations, and hand-cooked meals, she reluctantly smiled and uttered her first few words – “Don’t go…”

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Experimenting with Internet Access in Rural India

How can rural communities gain access to the internet without the infrastructure required to support an internet connection? Even more importantly, even if rural communities were to have access to the internet, how would the illiterate population avail of these services? What is the use of providing internet access that cannot be used by the community it purports to service? Clearly, either internet services need to be supplemented by literacy classes and computer usage tutorials, or there needs to be another, more innovative solution.
This is precisely what Question Box hopes to do (Through NextBillion):

The Question Box is a project from UC Berkeley’s Rose Shuman to bring some of the benefits of the information on the Internet to places that are too remote or poor to sustain a live Internet link. It works by installing a single-button intercom in the village that is linked to a nearby town where there is a computer with a trained, live operator. Questioners press the intercom, describe their query to the operator, who runs it, reads the search results, and discusses them with the questioner (it’s like those “executive assistant” telephone services, but for people who live in very rural places)

Currently, there are two question boxes in operation in the villages of Ethida and Poolpur, both of which are located outside of Noida, Delhi. To read the entire post on NextBillion, go here.

Point of Discussion: Will rural India embrace social networks?

An interesting post on Watblog.com, which came to my attention via Avashya, asks the question: How Will Rural India Deal With Social Networking? It is a very intriguing question to ruminate about as more and more technologies aim to connect the rural populations with the remainder of the country. The article takes a very systematic approach to this and breaks the issue down along six criteria, which are pasted after the jump:

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