by Anu maheshwari
Published on: Nov 27, 2005
Type: Opinions

South Asia including Afghanistan is endowed with so much diversity in culture, tradition, language, flora and fauna that not only does it create a unique kaleidoscope of images but the images also play a salient role in shaping the mind set of the individuals born and raised in it. The untapped energy, and capability of the bright young minds of this region and the variety and novelty of ideas that they have, if channeled in the right direction, can no doubt grab the limelight in the twenty-first century.

The first South Asian Summer University organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung certainly provided us the youth of South Asia including Afghanistan, a chance to interact face to face for the first time and discover that behind the purported veils of religion, dogmas and other mind blocks, there is an underlying commonality of aims and interests. All the participants had an undivided opinion on naming the major problems faced by their respective countries that is poverty, security, illiteracy, unemployment, gender discrimination, corruption etc. The enlightening workshops and sessions that FES had arranged facilitated a healthy exchange of views on various issues of social importance such as: youth and politics, rationality and fundamentalism, cultural autonomy, etc.

The session that influenced me the most was an inquiry of experts on the local councils, which focused on giving the students first-hand information on the functioning of democracy at the grassroots level. What inspired me was the work of the NGO, SOHARD, whose aim was to encourage women and youth to participate in the electoral process.

In an informative talk, the representative from SOHARD not only highlighted the loopholes in the existing system but also showed us effective ways to plug in those loopholes.

Giving an overview of the system, he said that the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution provided women, for the first time, one-third reservation for all the seats as members and chairpersons at the rural local government. But the men in power manipulated the law by nominating their own wives and women who were mere puppets in the hands of their husbands and in-laws. The women in general lacked the confidence to rule and make decisions on their own because of their subservient roles in the households and the lack of awareness and education.

SOHARD and the other NGOs tried to remove these psychological barriers by planning and conducting workshops in the villages, to motivate them and making them aware of their rights. Their mantra was ‘Awareness, Training and Empowerment.’ SOHARD reached out to these women instead of calling them to their centers, as it was apparent that these women, with their multiple chores in the household, would never get the time or the energy to come to the center. Encouraged by the training, they agreed to stand up in the elections on their own. Many of these women successfully contested the elections and won against powerful male candidates.

We had the good fortune to interact with one such brave woman during the session. She was Mrs. Suvidha Yadav, chairperson of the panchayat in Aklempur village, Rajasthan. She shared with us her experience of being initiated into the male dominated arena of politics. She said that though the men at first ignored her, later they supported her, when they saw the development in the village under her rule.

Talking about the problems that woman in the village faced, she stressed the fact that only a woman can understand the problems of other women in a better way. Being a wife and a mother she knew the burden of the household chores. Even the problem of water shortage effected women the most, as she was the one who had to walk miles to get clean water for the entire household. Therefore the first thing she accomplished after coming to power was to get the bore wells into her village. Secondly, she said that most women were economically dependent on their husbands. Mrs. Yadav decided to change the scenario by building cooperative societies which generated monetary flow and made many women self sufficient. The NGOs contributed by training the women in various crafts and trades.

SOHARD considers economic independence as the stepping-stone to social development. Thus with careful planning and efficient implementation of objectives, an NGO like SOHARD helped a village move towards self-sufficiency and greater social awareness.

For many of us from an urban background, the session was an eye opener to the realities of the village life. The accomplishments of SOHARD also cleared the myth of the ‘hopeless case scenario’ in relation to driving away the prejudices and age old patriarchal edicts in the village people. It made us realize that ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ And that with efficient planning and execution, the youth of today can bring the change to make the world a better place to live.

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