SSK is focused on running literacy and education programmes for women especially from Dalit, Adivasi and marginalised communities. The word ‘women’ here is used in the context of gender. Women who have been tied to the rules of society for ages. It is important to note that ‘women’ is not a homogeneous category and creative and appropriate strategy have to be devised for making the literacy intervention more inclusive for all.
Literacy programmes were divided into two stages-Basic literacy and Advanced literacy. Both of them was 18-month duration.The first level was designed to enhance language and numeracy skills. Basic things such as calendar, watch, mobile etc were related to MNREGA or filling a form in the bank. The advance phase was to strengthen the basic education and confidence level, which can be used in different work-related activities like measurement. Later, literacy programmes concentrated on more specific issues.The main challenges were participation of women, selection of worker and teacher, learning material and techniques.
SSK initiative is to integrate women’s empowerment and social transformation within their educational work. It is also important to address this gendered issue by designing strategies that will give the women the opportunity to access literacy and education.Women’s participation is important in all aspects of designing techniques, developing the curriculum, and the place also. Their context, rights, the voice is well heard. Generally, literacy is just seen as getting familiar with the language but it is more than that. It empowers you. SSK has always tried to establish a relationship between education and empowerment.
SSK mostly works among Dalit and Adivasi women. A majority of them have always been deprived of their basic rights. Literacy for empowerment is linked to respond to women’s lived realities and in building their collective strength to work towards a gender just and equal society. They will create a space for themselves to live with dignity, take part in panchayats and other democratic organisations.They will be able to create a social change with the power of education.
SSK conducts its literacy programmes according to the need and facilities of women. SSK believed that one of the best ways is to adopt multiple strategies that respond to different needs of the different group of women. Literacy centres, information centres, village level literacy camps, residential camps, literacy resource group were a part of this strategy. Women were mobilised at village and block levels.
(a) Literacy centre
Literacy centres were opened up with a holistic approach towards the project, where the focus is not only on rights of women and girls, their access to government schemes, right to violence-free life, right to education, community leadership and use and access to digital technology by them.It was decided that literacy centre will run for 4 to 5 hours daily. All the responsibilities of motivating women and girls, making arrangements, teaching and learning, mobilisation of goods were given to women.
The women faced challenges from family and community as well but still came to the centre for learning.The learning centres emerged as a safe creative, meeting, sharing and learning place for them.
The village was contacted before starting the literacy centre.A series of meetings were conducted with the women and other people of the village. In the initial years Jatha was carried out which turned out to be very helpful. Women used to travel to different places and carried out plays presented songs etc to create awareness.The entire village used to be the viewer.
There was a huge demand for literacy centres from women.But sometimes it was not possible to arrange resources for every village.Mostly women visited centres of their respective villages.Few of interested women travelled to another village for learning. Till now SSK is running 175 centres in Mehrauni, Madawara and Birdha block. It began from 20 centres,and the number kept on increasing. Few of them got closed, reopened and changed their timing and place.
Literacy is not just limited to numeracy or language skills but they can discuss their problems also. By creating a space for learning the women can use literacy in their day to day life like managing their expenses and ration, reading bus and train numbers and able to teach their children as well.
(b) Information Centres
An important strategy for sustaining and strengthening the literacy centres is the concept of literacy and information centres called Soochna Kendra. We can call it an extension of literacy centre. It operated 6 days of the week from morning to evening. There are 23 information centers at the Panchayat level. It worked as a resource hub for the community, from where the community can have the access to information related to various government and social security schemes. Villagers can make use of these centres for gathering different information.
(c) Village level Literacy camps
To accelerate the pace of learning, literacy camps were organised as part of overall literacy strategy used to be a duration of 5-7 days..Increased motivation amongst the learners is an important aspect of holding these camps.In the camps, not just literacy skills are brushed up.but there are also sessions on social awareness.The camps have helped to create an environment, where literacy of women and girls becomes an important issue at the panchayat level.
The venue of the camp was dependent on the demand by women of different villages.The teacher and the supervisor used to stay in the village itself during these camps for a period of 5-7 days. This has a very positive effect on the relationship between teacher and learner.The reflective environment of the literacy camps could be further developed as an enabling space for women with an enhanced sense of their individual and collective agency in taking decisions. Almost 300 camps organised at the village level.
(d) Residential camp
The struggle of the organisation was to keep up the motivation of adult women to come out of their houses for learning.It was not easy for the women to take time out of their regular household chores.There was always a dearth of time, especially during harvesting and wedding season.They really have to struggle. SSK decided to bring an end to their problem by organising residential camps at block levels far from their homes. More then 30 residential camps have already been organised in Lalitpur, which has a participation of 900 women.
The word residential itself means staying together. The excitement could be easily seen on the faces of girls and women. But it was not an easy task to convince their family members.The permission has to be sought sometimes from father, husband, brother, in-laws.They have to be convinced that it is for their benefit, which will help them in long run. The family was always concerned and kept an eye on them. Not only this many time family members forced women to leave the camp.This led to fights between them.But this made them strong and speak for themselves.Their lives always revolved around parents house and their own. Now they used to go out for themselves.
Mostly these camps were organised for 5-10 days. The first camp was organised in Mehrauni block in May-June 2003, as it was a lean period for harvesting. Many camps were organised seeing the response it got from women. In next 16 years, hundreds of women benefited from these camps. Long sessions were conducted, discussions were carried out on different subjects.Women developed a better understanding of each other.These residential camps turned beneficial for girls and women. Girls and women took up exam of 5th and 8th std.
There was a variation in the curriculum depending upon the need of girls and women. Camps were organized on different issues like education, numeracy skills and legal rights. The aim was to conduct 3 residential camps in a year. People from within and outside the organization were called for training purposes.
(e) Jani Adhikar Samiti
At the grassroots level, SSK has village level collectives called ‘Jani Adhikaar Samiti’. This collective played a role in promoting and monitoring the literacy and education process. Few of the women and girls were very regular at literacy centres. They have leadership abilities and were selected in the cadre which was called Jani Adhikar Samiti. Gradually they were given the responsibility of the organisation, like having the keys of the boxes with study materials, mobilising women etc. and they were given the training also.
Initially, Samiti was constituted in villages where there was no literacy centre. On an average 4-5, neo-literates were given the responsibility of samiti. They fought for their struggle, but varied interests and agenda led to a fall out of the samitis. Around 62 smities are in Mehroni and Madawar block.
(f) Jhola Pustakalaya
SSK has always been experimenting in creating awareness about literacy and education. Another step forward in this regard was Jhola Pustakalaya, a mobile library, to reach out to women and girls. The main aim of jhola pustakalaya is to develop the interest in reading. Books on culture,gender,rights, caste, violence, education, health, could be exchanged at the village level. It was helpful in regard to improve the language of neo-literates.
Jhola Pustakalaya started in 24 villages of Mehrauni block. Before those meetings were conducted with women regarding the structure of the library.It was decided that the library would be a part of literacy centre.The responsibility to run the library remained entirely with women and girls. They have to look out for membership and Sahjani would keep a check on them.
Books in the library were selected keeping in mind women’s interest, which included, poems, stories, novels, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, travelogue, letters, diary, plays, article.It was made sure that a discussion is carried out on different topics of books. It was important to provide entertainment with education.Arranging books, numbering them, issuing the book was also a task. Jute bags with 6 big and small pockets were used to carry the books.
(g) Literacy resource group (LRG)
Literacy resource group(LRG) was created as a resource pool of women leaders building their knowledge and concept around issues of equality with respect to Education, Health, Panchayat. They build their capabilities and skills to monitor various provisions of the government programmes, gender, caste and education.Women from LRG have already worked in centre and camps.They have transformed into strong workers.They lead the Samiti of their village.They motivate women from other villages to stand up on the issues of literacy, MGNREGA and RTE.They played an important role in keeping a check on schools under RTE.This is a solid example that women’s confidence and ability increases multi-fold after receiving the education. Fellowships were granted to continue the education without any hurdle. Its period lasted for 4 months.The result was positive. About 20 women of LRG group got associated with SSK.
One of the main objectives of SSK is to address local issues through education so that women can fight for their rights. SSK always tried to establish a relationship between literacy and empowerment. It always stood by the side of women and girls in proving them the information about their rights and in achieving them.
The biggest challenge in achieving this goal is – the discriminated outlook of society towards women, which questions their identity. SSK accumulates women and girls to make them alert about their rights.
We are quite aware of the situation of the female child in our society. The struggle begins right before their birth. Right from their choice of dressing to the choice of food, education, going out, everything is questioned. She is always suppressed and is never allowed to raise her voice. Here comes SSK to support women in helping them to raise their voice against this injustice. It always demands equality and makes women empowered in the process. Training centres, workshops, fair, protest always gives them an edge.
Fighting for their rights always empowers women. Reading material makes them familiar with the right to work, food, education, health and many other legal aspects.
There is active participation of women and girls under the banner of SSK on local and social issues. They take part actively in different movements. Main issues are Right to work, Right to food, Right to education, Pension, Food security, Violence against women and Early marriage.
It is quite normal for women to be deprived of their basic rights in daily life. It is very important to change the scenario, and this is not possible without raising the voice. They have all the rights of the citizen of an independent and democratic country. They use all the strategy to make their voice heard like Rally, Melas, Protest, Public Hearing.
(a) Right to work – MGNREGA
Dalits and Adivasis are the most marginalised community in Lalitpur. They don’t have the land and no regular opportunity of employment. Migration is a normal process in search of the job of a daily wager. The condition of women is worse. There is a vicious cycle of Poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and the situation worsens if health issues are added.
Since 2010 has partnered with state and national level organisation for working towards increasing the participation of women from Dalit and marginalized communities in MGNREGA. In order to truly increase the women’s participation in MGNREGA, SSK had brought in a feminist perspective to the MGNREGA work and proposed that women labourers should also be strengthened in semi-skilled as well as technical work. Over the last few years, the MGNREGA – literacy work has been closely tied. This was seen as a bold step, where Nirantar sought to bring leadership, literacy and technical skills together in building a cadre of women mates.
The main strategy was to share information with the community under MNREGA, gather information from the community on the implementation of the scheme and seek spaces to ensure the sustainability of literacy and numeracy. The main objective is to mobilise women to take action in the form of making demands, writing applications ans ensuring that they have job cards in their name.
More then 2000 women have used their literacy skills beyond the domain of the literacy centres to make applications and demand accountability in real life from the local administration.They have used the information themselves, made other women aware to get their entitlement under the MGNREGA, as wage labourers. They have also begun discussing opening bank accounts in their own names, in order to be recognised as individual rights-bearer.
These women have greater autonomy in access, control and decision making in their own wages. Approximate 60 Women supervisors (Mates) have been trained and 20 women as a mate have started demanding various facilities at the work site. It has increased the participation of women in MGNREGA and opened up new possibilities for the neo-literate women in the area.
(b) Food Security
Food Security is a human right protecting the right for people to feed themselves in dignity, implying that sufficient food is available. The right to food protects the right of all human beings to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
Illiteracy, unemployment, migration for work, and gender-based division has prompted to remain hungry. This problem is faced by most of the nations of the world and India is one of them. The news of death due to the scarcity of food is not new. The situation in Lalitpur is no good. Bundelkhand often faces drought.
SSK has raised Food Security issue from the very beginning. This includes Mid Day Meal (MDM) and division of ration. In one year 50 schools of 25 panchayats were surveyed for the mid-day meal. This brought a visible change in schools in the context of mid-day meal.
(c) Right to Education
SSK has taken up the work of social audit under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE Act) 2009, with National Comission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) It began with an assessment of the state of education in 25 Panchayats of 5 blocks in Lalitpur. The five blocks were – Mehrauni, Madawara, Birdha, Bar and Jakhora. The social audit process started with a survey of 97 schools and 58 villages. This exercise was done to identify the out of school children and their reason to be not in schools. In addition to this interviews were conducted with head teachers to understand the status of school infrastructure and quality of education. It also included creating awareness at the community level regarding RTE act and its supervisions. In the process of social edit, locally contextualised educational matter was developed. A ‘phad’ (story panel) was shown in villages for mobilising communities and also to organise community meetings and facilitate discussions. In addition a Parcha (pamphlet) as well as a News letter was developed for the wider dissemination of information on RTE.
SSK through its work on RTE made efforts towards ensuring democratic process in School Management Committee (SMC) by encouraging women’s participation and engagement with SMC. Women who have been part of the literacy programme or samitis were mobilised to take an active part in monitoring schools. Women leaders from the villages were also mobilised to constantly engage with the SMC to ensure their monthly meetings and raise concerns. This brought a visible change in schools especially in the context of MDM and teacher absenteeism. The quality of MDM changed a lot due to intervention by the samiti. Women directly interfaced with the administration and shared the quality of teaching and teachers casual approach. Due to the advocacy of SSK, work around schools, elementary education became an issue, where education department was forced to respond to the demands for the better quality of education for their children.
(d) Violence against women
The condition of women is quite serious in Bundelkhand due to caste and feudal outlook of the society – rape, kidnapping, sexual assault is very common. Dalits and Adivasi women have to work as a labourer for the people of upper caste to earn a living. Violence is used as a strong weapon to maintain the power. Caste-based discrimination is illegal in our country but we see that men from upper caste always treat lower castes like inferior human beings.
Violence has different forms. Women of lower caste were not allowed to wear slippers in front of people of upper caste.they have to face humiliation if they protested. In the forest also these women were physically exploited by the officials of the forest department. Everyone wants to take advantage of their poverty. Because of their background, these women never reported the matter to the police. To raise voice against this violence was very challenging. It asked for time, money and cooperation from local bodies which was lacking. Pursuing justice is not easy for lower caste women.
SSK worked against this background for last 16 years. Many cases of Domestic violence, physical abuse, rape, murder came to notice. Having an woman always believed that SSK is their place and they will get all possible support from the team. Conversation and counselling with the parties and if needed legal action was taken.
(e) Early Marriage
There was a huge socio-economic gap in Lalitpur. Dalit and Tribal girls lived in a patriarchal society where they were not allowed to study, go out of the house and many times faced violence at home. They belonged to landless and daily wager families. Migration and displacement led them to leave their studies midway. Child marriage is another issue. We need to understand that they were victims of poverty, gender and caste-based divisions, fear of physical assault and illiteracy.
Family members were always concerned about the marriage of girls from a very early age. They were worried about the safety of girls and thought that only solution to this problem is getting them married at a very young age. SSK became the pioneer to raise this issue. They started addressing this matter with women’s perspective. Proper strategies have to be made.
Early marriage has an adverse impact on both boy and the girl. This imbalance their lives and snatch away the opportunity to study and earn a living. Girls are forced into domestic life at the age where they do not have the decision-making abilities. They don’t have a place to discuss their health, education and friends. SSK conducted a Survey with Nirantar to understand the reason behind this practice of child marriage in depth. Samitis were constituted to work on this matter. Various meetings at the community level were organised and material was developed to create awareness. Those materials were published and distributed. The negative impact of early marriage was discussed very seriously at many stages. There was also the need to talk to young boys and girls about their feelings.
SSK organized samitis, who could take up the issue and conduct meetings on a regular basis. SSK aimed at changing the mindset and outlook of the society regarding early marriage. Work is being done in the direction to erase this practice through educating women.
SSK centred around adolescent girls and women expanded its work. In last one and a half decade SSK has sharpened its pattern and strategies. To promote literacy and education SSK has started working directly with children. Under RTE, SSK has already been associated with schools. Supervision of schools and participation of women in SMCs brought the organization face to face with the question of primary and secondary education.
In 2008 the decision was taken to intervene in school education to increase the radius and speed. SSK team took over the responsibility of school education. Its not only refined their literary skill but also enhanced their leadership abilities.
The decision to step into school education got a lot of support from women and girls. Strategies like Bridge Course, Residential Camp, Coaching Class, Computer course, Educational Shivirs were adopted to achieve the target. The curriculum was designed for the same activities. The result of this initiative showed very positively. The number of children in school and residential camps increased.
The government emphasises more on child education compared to adult literacy but question of quality of education remain same . Even if the children from the marginalised community were enrolled in schools, no improvement was seen in their literary skills. Their socio-economic background always kept them on the edge. Children became a part of the vicious cycle of illiterate, unemployed youths, and their capabilities remained unutilised. Quality of education was always the primary concern for SSK. The work was done in the direction to keep the schools free from gender, caste, class-based discrimination. To treat everyone equally and link literacy with empowerment became the mission of the organization. To motivate children to reach school should not be hollow. Literacy should impact in its true sense. This is the ultimate dream.
The literacy of girls and women was never a concern of the society. There was no platform to continue their education. Poverty, migration, unemployment, complicated the situation for them. SSK started Janishala – residential school to provide literacy and education to girls. It was a residential school for 8 months. There was two type of courses-long -term and short-term. Short term courses were for the girls who have dropped out of school, this was bridge course which brought them into mainstream education. Long-term courses were for the girls who have dropped out of the school much before and were completely illiterate.
Janishala curriculum was divided into 4 themes other than language and literacy- Sansadhan (Resources) Sharir (Body), Samaj (Society) and Media.
(b) Bridge Course
Bridge course was initiated in the area of innovating around residential programmes geared towards mainstreaming out of school girls. The word bridge in English means to connect or filling the gap. It has been a challenge to retain Dalit and Trobal girls in Janishala ,for a period of 6-8 months. At the same time, the experience of mainstreaming them into the formal school system has continued to generate a demand for providing educational support to these girls therefore strategy was changed and SSK started 10-15 days or a month long bridge courses.
Mobilising girls for the bridge course was the biggest challenge at the block level. Due to its residential nature, it was not easy to get the permission from family members. Sahjanis has to create a trustworthy environment for the guardians. It was not easy to address their insecurities, due to patriarchal society, caste-based discrimination and biggest of them all, poverty.
SSK succeeded in mobilizing girls from other backward classes and they came to live in these residential camps at the block far from their village.
The issue of early marriage also helped to increase the number of girls in these residential bridge course. They used to come for 10-15 days residential programme to enhance their literary skills. Staying together with other girls made them understand the situation better and started taking decisions of their own. Their unity gave a new dimension to their personality. Today more then 500 girls are pursuing their education. 300 girls continued their education even after their marriage.
(c) Information Communication and technology centre (ICT Centres)
The ICT centres were opened at the block level by SSK in 2015 to work as the hub for the LICs as well as to provide the technical skill to the women and adolescent girls and boys from the Dalit and Tribal community and to access technology that is otherwise not available to them.
The first ICT centre was set up in Mehrauni block. These ICT centres are not only providing training in computers and internet etc but also train girls in other skills like photography and videography.
Women who are part of LRG and have been with SSK for a long time, they have also become more confident in handling issues at the village. It was a step forward to make them computer literate not only to boost their confidence levels but also to equip them better to become familiar with various technologies so that in future if they would like to explore livelihood options in these areas.
(d) Shivir’s in Schools
SSK team and teachers started organising shivir in schools. The experience of doing school level shivirs has been very fruitful. This has helped to bring “out of school” children into the school system and has also been a demonstration of quality teaching-learning sessions for the school teachers. School principals were also visualizing the positive impact of organizing shivirs. One School principle said “we din’t have female teachers in school. Shivirs has benefited the girls. They are now keep coming more often”
Building women’s leadership is an important part of SSK’s mandate. This is being actualised in two ways. First through enabling the local team to move towards autonomy and second with respect to village level women’s collectives. Unlike many interventions which separate the roles of literacy teachers and grassroots mobilisers, the literacy facilitators — ‘Sahjanis’ — play both these roles. Over the years, a committed and responsible team of facilitators has evolved. This has proved challenging as often the two tasks – teaching and grassroots activism – require different skills sets. However, over time the facilitators have grown into their roles and they now teach as well as intervene in cases of injustice, liaise with the local administrations and provide the community with a range of information. The SSK team is now being established as a local Bundelkhand level women’s organisation working on gender and education. Lalitpur district has no other civil society groups working on gender, empowerment or adult literacy, especially with SC, ST communities. Therefore SSK has uniquely positioned to become this kind of a resource group not only in the district, but also in the Bundelkhand region. The SSK programme has also served as the resource group and literacy demonstration site nationally.
SSK conduct range of workshops & trainings as per the requirements and context of the organisations on the issues of Gender & Education, Women’s literacy and on Rights and Entitlements. These are tailored for covering a range of participants, including staff members of community-based organisations teachers and educators working at grass-root level, as well as women and adolescent girls from marginalised and minority communities.
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