Women's Empowerment and Health Experiences From Rajasthan
At the turn of the twentieth century, the fruits of development continue to elude the bulk of the rural masses. While they continue to be gripped in poverty, malnutrition, ill health, illiteracy, unemployment, and so on, the focus of policy planners has now shifted to women. Campaigns for female literacy, women's awareness, women's empowerment and focusing on gender concerns are being increasingly looked upon as crucial inputs for overall development.
Rajasthan was the first state in India to boast of a programme exclusively for the empowerment of women. The Women's Development Programme (WDP) was launched by the Government of Rajasthan in 1984, as part or the Sixth Five Year Plan. It aimed to empower rural women and integrate them into the process ot mainstream development. WDP was visualised as a collaboration of three kinds of inputs, "a structure which would have the inner strength and grass-root linkage of voluntarism; the security and stability of the government; and a continuous incorporation of critical reflection from research bodies."1
Grassroot level village workers called Sathins were selected and trained. The training programme was formulated to provide conditions for these rural women to re-discover themselves as active participants of the development process. By generating experiences which facilitated altered perceptions of self-image as well as the social image of women, it helped them to re-discover lost faith and confidence and discover collective strength. Conceptually, development was thought of in terms of internal growth, rather than in terms of the handing out of schemes.
Two years after the inception of the programme, in response to the needs of women at the grassroot level, a health project was formulated and supported as part of the Women's Development Programme, by State IDARA for a period of one year, from April 1986 to April 1987. Working in close co-ordination with the functionaries of WDP in
Works with village women workers union in rural Rajasthan.
Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 9-12, September-December 1994