ASTITVA for women
Astitva (which means identity in Hindi) is a women’s group in Dehradun that strives to empower and enable women from poor socio-economic areas to access better-paid work and thereby have increased control over their lives. Astitva has emerged from a realisation that women’s economic status greatly determines their (& their children’s) opportunities & rights. Low incomes & poor economic control result in reduced decision-making powers regarding health and education. It also makes women & children more vulnerable to abuse & violence.
To have a model community where women are empowered and have access to education and control over their bodies, professions, incomes and resources, enabling them to take decisions and play empowered roles as individuals, citizens, workers, wives, mothers, daughters and friends.
Since Dehardun became capital in 2000, the city has seen an influx of migrants in search of work from the neighbouring districts and states. In South West Dehradun there are five extremely low income clusters along the Rispna River. The majority of the population are migrant workers and their families who live in small rented rooms. They mainly work in the unorganized sector as domestic and construction workers where the work is low paid, manual and insecure. As with most urban low income populations, these clusters have high unemployment of men, alcoholism and violence in homes. This in turn leads to children discontinuing school, working as labour and being vulnerable to abuse, drug use and crime. While considerable urbanization and construction has taken place in the vicinity including the establishment of high income colonies, the state legislative assembly and Doon University, these low income clusters have increased in size and impoverishment. Astitva works focuses its work on these 5 clusters.
The community based approach is the vital force of Astitva. Genuine relationships burgeon over time with the women and their families, employers and the youth of the community boosting the work that we do. Involvement and cooperation of men and boys from the community in bringing about gender equality and women’s economic empowerment is another important approach adopted by Astitva. Sustained gender equality and decrease of domestic violence happens when men and women both start challenging gender roles and realize the benefits of shared work, respect, responsibility and decision making.
1. SWAYAM Livelihood Programme
This is a fundamental project of Astitva as our primary strategy for social change is to help women increase their incomes and control over resources. There are three main areas of work in this programme:-
a) Skill Training: One of Astitva’s main strategies for increasing low income women’s earnings is to train them in better-paid and in demand work, such as gardening, driving, nursing, computers, electrical work and photography. This strategy is both groundbreaking and effective compared to the other strategies because it not only greatly increases women’s incomes but also boosts their confidence to take on untraditional work.
b) Opportunity creation and training in designing and marketing: Many low-income women in the community already have skills such as cooking, candle-making, pickling, knitting, threadwork etc. but they are not familiar with designs that are in trend and they do not have avenues to sell their products. Astitva therefore trains them in designing and helps them market their goods. These trained women expected to start their own independent business with Astitva’s support. The Pait Puja Express Tiffin service is one such women-owned business that we have helped start in January 2009. Four local women cook breakfast, lunch and dinner meals and deliver it on the bicycle at homes and offices in the locality. A Mobile Food Cart has provided an opportunity to low income women from our community to sell their food items such as samosas, kebabs, momos at busy intersections.
c) Job placement: Many women and girls approach Astitva for job placements as domestic workers, cooks, salespersons, receptionists and caregivers for young children and old people. Astitva’s intervention helps women workers negotiate good wages and work conditions and at the same time Astitva trains women workers to be professional and conscious about their work tasks, time keeping, efficiency etc.
2. HAQ SE Stop Violence Against Women Initiativ
A large number of girls, women and their children from the Astitva community are affected by violence, particularly domestic violence. This negatively affects their being able to study and work and their independence, self esteem and confidence. As part of this initiative, violence affected women and their families are provided counseling by a team of volunteer counsellors and lawyers. In addition, we work with the local police and NGOs on this issue to improve services and support for women facing violence. Importantly, Astitva provides a space and opportunity to many women in the community to recognise and speak about the violence faced by them and other women and girls in their surrounding. For many women we work with this is already a big step.
Of all the Astitva’s projects the YOUWAH! Project has the most energy, excitement and potential for impact. Over the last three years the youth have taken the lead in the domestic workers group, in community marches, in singing and street theatre and in doing jobs which the older women hesitate to do (cycling, selling products on the roadside, marketing, etc.). It is this project that looks to the future and invests in tomorrow’s citizens and leaders. We believe and expect that in the coming years these young people of YOUWAH! will play a vital role in Astitva and in the community. As trained agents of change they will make a difference not only in their own lives but also bring change in their communities.
Within the YOUWAH! project we have the Udaan Fellowship, scholarships and study groups for girls to finish school education, activities for exposure, alternate learning and all round development
4. KHUSHI Crèche
The crèche is a collaborative project of Astitva with the Latika Roy Foundation. It provides day care for the whole working day (8am to 6pm), 6 days a week for children of low income working women. These women would otherwise have been forced to leave their children at home on their own or be unable to work due to their children being too young. Children with special needs from the community are also able to come to the crèche and get specialised care from a special educator, doctor and physiotherapist. The crèche is a model one, with a variety of toys & creative materials for play, learning activities and nutritious meals. The children are provided with a loving & nurturing environment.
5. Arogya Health Clinic
Astitva organises a child and family health and gynaecology clinics twice a week where common illnesses are treated and referrals are done to specialists for more serious illnesses. Astitva has regular activities for generating awareness about common women’s health issues and ways of preventing diseases. A nominal fee of Rs.20 is charged at the clinic per examination. This money then goes back into running the clinic and buying basic medicines.