Empowering women through employment

Even with the introduction of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) that provides at least 100 days of employment a year doing unskilled manual work for every adult member of a rural household for the minimum wage of INR120 per day, the percentage of women who are working remains to be extremely low.


According to a report by UN Women, in Uttar Pradesh only 19% of the women have taken advantage of the programme; the national average being 56%. Hari Bai, a schedule cast woman working in Satavasa village of Lalitpur district, in Uttar Pradesh, told UN Women, “When I started going for the training, my husband was quite suspicious. But when he came to know about the benefits and its positive impact on our lives, he became more understanding.”


To help other women like Hari Bai, UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality with three other NGOs, Sahajani Shiksha Kendra (SSK), Vanangana, Parmarth and Lok Samiti supported an initiative to spread awareness about the MGNREGA programme, free women from bonded labour and train them to be worksite supervisors.


The result of this initiative has been highly fruitful.  In Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh, many women, most of who belong to lower castes, have together constructed a pond. Chunni Lal Verma, head of the Basila village council, in Chitrakoot says, “The pond was managed and built entirely by women, with 100 women working together in constructing it, and the supervision of the work done by women mates.”


[Picture Courtesy: Richard Shears]

However, these women had to face their fair share of resistance from the villagers. Since the area where they work is highly male dominated, most men condemned these women saying they are too fragile to complete the construction task. But Hari Bai and the other women successfully managed to finish it.


The programme hasn’t just enabled these women to earn a living for themselves; it has also helped them gain confidence. These women have now opened their bank accounts and manage their own finances. This newly found awareness of their rights prevents them from being cheated on or taken advantage of. Paan Bai, one of the workers told UN Women, “If the Pradhan [head of the village council] doesn’t give money to the labourers on time, we tell him that we will come to his house and put pressure on him every day until the payment is made.”