Case studies

Enabling women to work

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Women’s participation in MGNREGA – the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour – has been a challenge, attributed to pre-defined gender roles and discrimination, lack of awareness, socio-cultural setup and mobility of women. 
For the first time, Arjiya Bibi and several other women from her village of Aliapur in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, gained work under MGNREGA, due to facilitation by Nari-O-Shishu-Kalyan-Kendra (NOSKK), a PACS partner. Ongoing advocacy with religious leaders, Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members and district administration yielded positive results. Today, three Muslim women from the village have been appointed as MGNREGA supervisors. Women are providing work and 80% of women in the village are earning from it.

Arijiya Bibi is now aware of her rights under MGNREGA.

Lack of opportunities for women

Aliapur is a large village located in Bhagabangola-II block of Murshidabad district, West Bengal, housing 767 families (Census 2011). Bordering Bangladesh, and located on the banks of river Padma, it is one of the poorest regions in the state. The women in the community are primarily involved in beedi making and seldom study beyond class 5 or 6. Soil erosion is a chronic problem, as the river cuts through fertile land, resulting in periodic flooding, which destroys houses and takes its toll on the social and economic status of the village.

Raising awareness of MGNREGA

In early 2012, PACS partner, NOSKK, initiated awareness raising about MGNREGA in Aliapur. NOSKK is a CSO focused on empowering women from socially excluded communities, especially Muslim women. In its work with PACS, NOSSK operates in 451 villages in the Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal. This includes three blocks in Murshidabad, covering 21 gram panchayats (councils) of 123 villages.

PACS field supervisor, Fatima Khatoon, conducted regular meetings with the common interest group (CIG) members. As well as highlighting polio drops, integrated child development service (ICDS) centre facilities and volunteering for ICDS, she discussed the challenges of early marriage for women in the community and encouraged them to inform her if under-age marriage took place in the village.

Investing in women’s futures

Arijia Bibi, 35, is a beedi worker, making thin Indian cigarettes filled with tobacco flakes and wrapped in a tendu (Asian ebony tree) leaf. She lives with her three children in the village. Her husband left her several years ago, so she is the main earner in the family. Arijia earns around Rs. 100 per day, and would like to take on extra work. She would also like her 21 year-old daughter, Reema Khatoon, to have the chance to finish her college studies and find a suitable government job. 

‘We wanted work but never knew whom to approach and how to get work. We would be hungry and had no work,’ she says. ‘NOSKK made us aware of MGNREGA and we approached the gram panchayat for work.’

Demanding participation in MGNREGA

Previously, few women were considered for work under MGNREGA. However, in 2011, NOSKK approached the block development officer (BDO) to ensure all women could also become a part of it. Initially, the BDO was unconvinced, arguing that the work was not suitable for women, but PACS’ district co-ordinator persisted, mobilising women from the village. After several rounds of interaction with community women, the BDO agreed to women’s participation. Following this, 110 applications for work were received from women and jobs were allocated periodically. 

Arijia explains: ‘We were called for tree plantation, to construct a kuchcha road and also, at times, to help with mud laying and pond excavation; we also want more regular work.’

NOSKK/PACS initiative has been well received by the community. Fatima says: ‘I have received training on RSYB (health insurance), how to strengthen CIGs and have seen visible changes in the villages. Women demand work and are more active about their rights in panchayat. Some women have even become supervisors under MGNREGA due to this initiative.’

Strengthening gram panchayat

Her views are echoed by women in the community. Former panchayat member, Hassibul Hassan, explains that a few women had always been involved in MGNREGA, but due to advocacy and awareness raising by NOSKK, more women have come forward to demand work. He adds: ‘Gram panchayat needs to be strengthened to ensure regular work under MGNREGA and NOSKK’s presence in the village has only benefitted the community, be it education or health. Discussion always helps people to learn.’

PACS district coordinator Syed Sahidulhaque concludes: ‘Women need to take a lead to ensure social empowerment in the community and also for the development of the country. Women should fulfil their aspirations and now I know how to encourage them to come forward. I learned a lot from the PACS programme.’ 

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