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Over the past few years women's issues have emerged as the focal point of Prayatn's activities. The following background information about women in India highlights some of our major concerns:

In the last 100 years, sex ratio has declined from 972 to 933 women for every 1000 men in India. According to the 2001 Census, Rajasthan has a sex ratio of only 922. Female infanticide, selective abortions of female foetuses, and neglect of girls' health and nutritional needs are the reasons for this gender gap.

In India, one woman dies every five minutes from a pregnancy-related cause. These include unsafe delivery practices, inadequate nutrition, early marriage and pregnancy, a lack of control over fertility and lack of access to water, sanitation and healthcare.

Only 44% of women in Rajasthan can read and write. Of the few girls who are enrolled in schools, over 60% drop out before completing their first 5 years of education. Reasons include early marriage, restrictions to their mobility imposed by their families and the difficulty of freeing their time from household tasks and income-generating activities.

Violence against women is on the rise, with rape, dowry death and torture by husbands and in-laws showing the highest rate of growth in Rajasthan. Every 34 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Every 26 minutes, a woman is molested. Every 42 minutes a sexual harassment incident occurs. And every 93 minutes, a woman is killed by her in-laws because of dowry disputes.

Women are still being excluded from local governance despite legislation that reserves them one third of seats in the village panchayats (local councils). They have been forced to take a back seat in decision-making processes, such that their voices are still going unheard.

Very few women in Rajasthan are involved in making decisions about their personal lives. Less than half have access to money in the household or make their own decisions about their health care. Most women need permission before they can leave the house to go to market or visit a friend or relative.

Girls and women in India face nutritional discrimination within the family, eating last and least. As a result, more than 90% of adolescent girls and 50% of women are anaemic. Anaemia stunts children's growth and is a leading cause of maternal death and babies with low birth weight.

More than 80% of women in Rajasthan aged 25-49 were married before the age of 18. Even though the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, this law is seldom enforced.

Women are paid 40%-70% less wages than men who do the same work as them. In no state in India do men and women earn the same wage.

Our society has prescribed specific roles and boundaries for women and it expects - nay - demands that the women play these roles with perfect acquiescence and devotion to the men who are the masters. Religion, culture, education are all various tools used by the society for the perpetration of this unjust value system which accords to the women the status of secondary citizens with no right over their lives. These values are handed down over the centuries over generations, in ways very subtle.

Today we are becoming increasingly conscious of this reality of women, and women's development figures very much in our discussions and plans. But do these plans and programmes really help in liberating women from their centuries-old subjugation? These programmes are more often than not, get trapped in project cycles and women's development gets reduced to just another programme. The eventual outcome of such programmes is to reinforce the women more strongly into the traditional moulds.

A change to this state of affairs can come only when the women themselves become aware of their servitude and the structures of society, which constantly cage them in, keep them dependent and frightened; while their destinies are being determined by somebody else. Change can come only when the women acknowledge themselves as equal citizens having equal rights to life and over the resources of the earth as anyone else. Change can come only when the women remodel their roles and act with this new conviction.

It is in this context that Prayatn gears its efforts, complemented with its past experiences and perspectives, towards the future with a broader outlook which includes structural changes and new programmatic interventions.

Our Response for the Future

Against the backdrop of the present scenario and the perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats Prayatn's journey into the future appears to be at once a formidable task and a risky path, which we cannot afford to leave to the posterity. The onus of responsibility is on us today to recast our strategy for the future and accordingly restructure our organizational outfit to an alternative society in which all people may live in dignity, peace and harmony. We seek to build people, identifying and tapping their human potential to the full and capacitating them to play their legitimate role in the social fabric. Our reference group shall continue to be the marginalized, and women in particular, who will need to be empowered to exercise their rights and responsibilities in society and to plan and control their own development.

In this process Prayatn, in addition to the existing involvement, will also work in the following specific areas.

Training & Capacity Building

We will be involved in training and accompanying grassroots level workers through our constituencies. People's organizations and other for we already are working with will be grouped into a common platform for alternative development for whom we continue to provide our training inputs through regular ToT programmes and accompany them in their field activities. Through fresh interventions, similar groups will be identified and developed who will undergo intensive capacity building exercises.

People's Advocacy through Networking

Besides Prayatn's existing groups, there are other groups and organizations who see the need for working in solidarity for common issues in given geographical locations. These groups will be given systematic training and equipped with the skills of community organizations and collective actions both at the micro and macro levels. These will be helped to establish linkages with other similar groups and constitute regional federations to play a "reformist" policy by:

Conscientise the people on the current social, economic and political trends and organizing them for collective actions;

Voicing the concerns of the poor and the marginalized (currently women specific) and lobbying with the policy makers and planners for relevant social and economic measures that will create a just social order;

Promoting the people's groups towards greater self-reliance, using their own traditional wisdom, knowledge and skills and enabling them to become the owners and controllers of their development.

Research and Documentation

We are convinced that field actions warrant setting up a unit for constant inflow of information, systematic documentation, analysis and reporting through monographs, booklets and periodicals are not only in English but in the regional language as well. With rapid social changes, affecting the life style of people at all level, we need to maintain our data bank by which we would study the trends, stimulate healthy debates and exchange of views and help people with formulating appropriate collective responses. Besides, we would also study the Policies, Acts and other Programmes pursued by the Administration in order to analyse its effectiveness in favour of the constituencies. With this renewed thinking we plan to evolve ourselves into an organization with renewed commitment to our Vision and Mission even as we prepare ourselves for the challenges of the current century.



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