Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A gentle way towards changed attitudes and practice

The Indian NGO Sathi for All Partnerships (SAFP) uses pragmatic ways of enhancing women's access to resources such as land, housing and water.
Where inequalities are so prevalent and deeply rooted as in South Asia, it may seem futile to aim for instant equality of resources between women and men. Hence, SAFP starts with smaller steps, obtaining resources for women from those who control the resources. SAFP advocates nudge planners to take into account not only women’s traditional roles, but also their individual rights (see SAFP illustration above). The focus is on increasing women’s agency, e.g. as agricultural producers.
SAFP’s “Gender Resource Equality Advocates” have convinced decision-makers at all levels to reckon with women's needs for more equitable access to resources. The measures promoted by SAFP range from enlarging toilet cubicles for women workers so that there is room for breast-feeding or re-draping a sari, to designing housing where women can perform both care and production roles in the same neighbourhood, and to district planning that reserves land and resources to "Women's Resource Equity Zones" (WREZ). To ensure women can actually claim and manage WREZ space, SAFP facilitates the emergence of local women's groups around specific sectors of activity.

In Tamil Nadu, SAFP has convinced a wind energy company to open up 100 acres of arable land around the windmills for cultivation by women's groups. Parks, parking lots and “waste land” are other unused spaces that SAFP helps populate with women’s economic activity. The more “fundamentalist” feminists among us may feel uncomfortable about the idea of recycling “leftover” space – but access to land and management of productive assets represent huge steps towards empowerment and greater independence for the women involved. In many contexts, such gradual change “from below” can make it easier for communities to gradually revise their attitudes and practice than more strident forms of advocacy.