Case studies

Improving women's health

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Fuljan Khatoon, a mother of five from Teghara village in Uttar Dinajpur in West Bengal, learned about the benefits of her village’s integrated child development services (ICDS) centre via education from PACS and its partner SMOKUS. She went on to encourage the centre to accommodate more local people, and to raise awareness of its services among peers in her Muslim community. Today, the Teghara ICDS centre caters for almost double the number of beneficiaries it worked with in 2013.

Fuljan Khatoon learned about the benefits of her village’s integrated child development services (ICDS) centre via education from PACS. 

Rights and entitlements

Fuljan Khatoon, age 30 and a member of the Muslim community, comes from Teghara village, Uttar Dinajpur, in the Indian state of West Bengal. Married for 18 years, and a mother of five, Fuljan Khatoon dropped out of school in class 1. She now regularly visits the village integrated child development services (ICDS), along with several other women, to support the distribution of food and monitor the quality of produce given to children. 

However, back in 2012, Fuljan, like many others in her community, had little knowledge of the rights or entitlements of local women. This was until Shuili Roy, a community resource worker from CSO Shripur Mahila-o-Khadi Unnayan Samity (SMOKUS), began visiting Teghara village as part of the PACS programme, discussing issues relating to maternal health with Fuljan’s group. 

Fuljan gradually learned about the ICDS facilities and government schemes, and found herself spending more time with community women and actively discussing hygiene, cleanliness, early marriage and government schemes. Fuljan says: ‘My training on ICDS, MGNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act) and outstation travel, due to the PACS project, has helped me to be more confident and outspoken.’

Empowering women

In 2011, PACS partnered with SMOKUS, which focuses on empowering women, and began working in 100 villages in Uttar Dinajpur district to reduce the poverty gap between socially excluded families and other members of their community. There are around 350 households in Teghara and majority of the families belong to the Muslim community.

ICDS worker Monika Das, who is based in Teghara, says: ‘Since 2012, after the SMOKUS intervention, there has been a marked difference in the status of hygiene and cleanliness among the children and mothers in the village. I was sceptical initially about working with the Muslim community, but now I feel that they are like my own kids who come to the ICDS Centre. I feel that more children and mothers should benefit.’

Cascading knowledge to peers

Today, the Teghara ICDS centre caters for almost 100 beneficiaries, compared with only 50 in early 2013. This is, in part, down to Fuljan, who learned, through her training, that the centre needed to reach many more women and children. She approached SMOKUS to discuss the issue with ICDS supervisor of the gram panchayat (village council), who agreed to attend a meeting with Fuljan’s group and listen to their issues and grievances. As a result of the meeting, the supervisor realised that many of the women and children were not accessing the village’s ICDS centre.

At the request of Fuljan’s group, the supervisor asked Monika to accommodate more children under the ICDS scheme and requested Fuljan’s group to help her to raise awareness among her community and encourage people to take up the benefits, which include supplementary nutrition. By 2014, the number of people accessing services had increased to 75, and in 2015, the total reached 98 beneficiaries – including pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children. 

Improving capacity

Sudipta Roy, Monitering and Documentation Officer for the PACS Programme, comments: ‘ICDS facilities in Teghara certainly need to improve capacity as a large number of women and children are still not accommodated. As Monika interacts less with the community, there is a obvious gap in communication and that leads to misunderstanding.’

Many challenges remain; however, thanks to the work of PACS and SMOKUS, the village has seen visible changes over the past three years. Women, as well as men, have participated under MGNREGA, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year, doing unskilled manual labour – a first for Teghara – and early marriage for women has also seen a sharp decline.

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