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Originally produced for UNICEF
Resistance to change
In the early 1990s, many con men traveled through the Bihari villages, and persuaded poor peasant families to join sham saving schemes that became known as Chit Funds. Many people were taken in by the promises that their fortunes would be made and handed over their hard-earned rupees only to see the money disappear. Suspicion that the thrift and credit group organized through Convergent Community Action could also be a scam acted as a deterrent in many villages. Such problems could only be overcome through consistent perseverance and reassurance.
Village men sometimes thought that the NGOs had come to ferment a revolution and break up their families. If women in the villages were unwilling to form a group, or if their participation was prevented by men or their families, the NGO teams continued to visit regularly, to try to win their trust. In these very poor communities, reluctance to participate was viewed as an indicator of exclusion, rather than as a decision not to cooperate. It was always assumed that if NGO staff persevered, eventually a group would be formed. It was never expected to be an easy task to form the groups.
The most important factor was that there is not a set time frame for any of the stages of group formation, training, the initiation of savings or the achievement of development goals. Rather, the role of the NGOs was to nurture the communities, to provide encouragements so that they remained in control of the pace and the direction of their own development.
Confrontation and Cooperation
The mahila samitis and mahila mandals have used their collective power to win access to government programmes for water supply, sanitation and housing. They have bargained for fair wages for female agricultural workers, improved health and education services, and secured land rights for tenant farmers. The CCA strategy has helped previously excluded populations understand what is available to them by law, and has fostered the confidence that allows the women to feel that collectively they can win access to those entitlements.
In Mainatanr Block, West Champaran, Bihar, the women became so incensed by the halting of the Block Level Task Force (BLTF) meetings that they marched into the town and demonstrated outside the office of the Block Development Officer. In the minds of many of the women, if the BDO was not holding the BLTF meetings and if he was not actively supporting the women's groups, then he must be corrupt. The BDO called the district coordinator of READ, the NGO responsible for CCA in West Champaran. He complained that he was being blackmailed and rudely treated by the women. He explained that the BLTF meetings had been called off because of the division of the State (into Bihar & Jharkhand), and then by the elections, and then by the end of the financial year. The woment considered these to be "empty excuses" but the confrontation did not help in getting the BLTF meetings to re-start.
Teachers who are posted to work in isolated villages often fail to turn up for work. In some cases this is due to the absence of monitoring but it can also be due to the genuine hardship and lack of supprt given to teachers working in those locations. Also whenever other government projects demanded additional manpower, teachers were often pulled out of the schools to support those efforts.
The BLTFs had provided a forum for the mahila samitis and mahila mandals to raise these issues. Once these stopped functioning there was little they could do. But in Chauhatta and in several other communities, the women's group took matters into their own hands. "We found a young man in our community who had some education and we agreed to pay him Rs.5 (about US 10 cents) per child, per month for him to work at the school.
Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) are assigned responsibility for ten villages in West Champaran and were supposed to appear in the villages on a fixed date to give immunization. Getting to the villages was often difficult for many ANMs and if the communities gave no support, then it was easy for excuses to be found and for her not to show up. When the BLTF meetings stopped, coordination between the villages and the ANM also came to an end. In many places, the immunization programme suffered, but Chandrakanti had established a special relationship with the ANM serving Chauhatta. There the mahila samiti not only arranged to gather all the children needing immunizations together, they also accompanied the ANM on her visits to other villages in the area. If they were delayed, the ANM spent the night at Chandrakanti's house.
Sometimes the forceful protests of the women's groups were legitimate but in others a more cooperative response would have achieved better results. The litany of complaints issued in BLTF meetings did not add up to a unified plan of action to which the government officials could organize a systematic response. The goal of the next phase of BLTF meetings is therefore to breed cooperation based on village based plans of action developed by the women's groups with the panchayats.
Low birth weight is a chronic problem in India. Girls regularly receive less food than boys. The evidence of poor nutrition is evident in the villages, as much in the painfully thin girls, as in the women who may be better-fed now but show all the signs of poor nutrition, there was no indication that this was a topic discussed in the women's groups and there was no sign of any weighing scale or growth charts, not even in the health post in Bargai. Kushnuma suggested that these had been requested from the authorities and from UNICEF's own programmes for health and nutrition and CCA strategy since the empowerment of women has a natural link to the improved nutrition of girls.
The frequent movement of administrative officers, of civil surgeons and other key personnel in government was a major cause of disruption in the operation of the CCA strategy. In politically sensitive areas, district officials who wanted to work with the community, and put pressure of block level personnel to do the same -–particularly the Block Development Officers- were often swiftly transferred because the BDOs tended to have close ties to local political leaders who could leverage the transfer of district officers. This problem was raised by several government officials as was the need to provide training in the strategy to block level staff.
Weak Bank Linkages
The stronger advances in thrift and credit activities in rural Jharkhand are a reflection of closer links with commercial banks, greater emphasis placed on this aspect of CCA by the NGO PRADAN and cultural differences that tend to make the tribal peoples of Jharkhand more accepting of the CCA approach. The work of NABARD is especially significant, both in Bihar and Jharkhand but in Ranchi there was no such support since NABARD only operates in rural areas. Women in Ranchi had not been able to access loans from the bank and it seemed likely that they had not received sufficient orientation on this aspect of CCA. This may be one area where the Ranchi groups suffered from lack of NGO support.
Some of the NGOs were better at integrating exit strategies right from the beginning. PRADAN, in particular, went to considerable lengths to foster independence among the women's groups. Indeed the office that PRADAN operated from in Hazaribah bore the name of the women's federation, not of the NGO. PRADAN required the women to pay for their own ledgers and money boxes, and for the women's groups to make a contribution to the cost of the animators and coordinators who gave them support.
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