A key element of our prevention and awareness programme are the women who our field teams refer to as ‘committee members’. To those of us in the West, this term will leave us nonplussed. Perhaps a more accurate description would be ‘representative’, ‘agent’ or ‘monitor? This is our way of ensuring a presence in each of the 200 villages in which we are operating our rural development programme; over the last few months our Indian colleagues have been identifying and appointing representatives in the second hundred villages that make up Phase 2 of the programme in the southern Indian state of Telangana.
These ‘committee members’ are paid an honorarium for their role. They act as the eyes and ears of the regional manager and field team. When they hear of women who are being exploited, or at high risk, they feed this information to the field team who can advise and intervene to help prevent abuse. The same is true of other injustices that these women or their families might be facing.
Our village representatives are helped through the provision of basic training from the field team as well as other advice and information. They will be responsible for arranging awareness meetings to help women understand not only the dangers of various kinds of exploitation, but also how this can be prevented. One of the key elements to our prevention and awareness programme is to empower these village reps, as well as others in their community, so that they can take their case to village elders or local officials. They often play a key role in mobilising the community to protest or take other forms of action to highlight the issues.
Dignity and confidence
It is easy to be dismissive of appointing ‘committee members’, but for many of these women, it is the first time that they have held a ‘position’ in the community. It engenders confidence and self-belief, particularly to those who are uneducated or illiterate. It restores their dignity that has often been denied them in the past. For the women themselves this can be as important as providing them with opportunities for economic independence and self-sufficiency through projects such as vocational training or small business start-up grants.
Above all, it localises the programme. It is very difficult for the field team to be present in all the villages, so this helps to give them eyes and ears they otherwise would not have. Every time they are able to prevent a girl or young woman from being illegally dedicated into the sexual exploitation that is usually involved in the Jogini practice, it will be due to the vigilance of the ‘committee member’ in that village.
You can help provide more village representatives to protect vulnerable women and children by donating to our Free A Woman fund. Click on the Donate button now.