India: a country of violence or a country of peace?

by Michael Connellan, Jeevika Trust Trustee

Sadly, violence has been a common theme in news reports from India in the first months of 2016.

February saw at least nine people die in Delhi and Haryana as members of the Jat caste rioted over the government’s job quota system for people of different caste groups. The deaths came after police were reportedly given shoot-on-sight orders to quell rioting.

 The same month saw political violence as well as caste violence. Lawyers, who were chanting nationalist slogans, assaulted a Delhi student who had been arrested for sedition. Lawyers shouting ‘traitors leave India’ also engaged in violent tussles with supporters of the student and with reporters covering the story.

India’s caste system, and the associated politics and tensions, are often very difficult for foreigners to grasp. And the sight of lawyers acting as political thugs outside a courthouse seems downright bizarre to the outsider. But it is not unprecedented in the country.

 Gandhian non-violence – as a response to the British Raj and to internal tensions between Indians – is of course one of the celebrated philosophies that the country gave itself and gave the world. But so often, it still feels in very short supply.

 Violence and the threat of violence permeates the lives of millions of residents of village India, where victims often have no access to the services of a trustworthy police force.

I remember spending a day in a village two hours outside of Delhi where a Jeevika Trust partner organisation was supporting villagers living in extreme poverty. We asked village leaders about the main challenges they faced. We discovered that nearby farmers were threatening to attack women villagers with sticks, over a dispute on where sewage should be stored.

 India is one of the world’s worst countries to be born a woman. Jeevika Trust’s work to empower women in India’s remote rural communities focuses on boosting their ability to maintain a livelihood and reducing their risk of hunger, exclusion and violence. Read more about our work with rural Indian women.

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Planet 5050? Not in India…

by Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Tuesday was International Women’s Day – a day dedicated not just to celebrating “the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women”  but also to promoting the need for accelerated change if women are to enjoy gender parity by 2030 – goal 6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Group-of-women---optimised

Levels of gender equality vary drastically around the globe. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 report, Scandinavian countries like Iceland and Sweden are the clear winners, while countries in the Middle East, in particular, have much further to go – Yemen scores a measly 0.484 for gender equality, compared to Iceland’s 0.881.

In the last 5 years, India has struggled up 4 places on the Forum’s report from a lowly 114 out of 145 countries, to an unimpressive 108. When you consider that India is home to approximately 17% of the world’s women – around 600 million – the country’s score on the Index is alarming. Perhaps more alarmingly, India is conspicuously absent from the list of countries which made national commitments at a UN Conference last September to close the gender gap by 2030.

Discrimination against women in India is endemic. The practices of female foeticide and infanticide, though illegal, have resulted in a skewed population with only 943 women for every 1000 men – a telling statistic that shows the status of women in India. According to this article, more than 93k cases of violations of women’s rights have been made since 2012. Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are sadly not uncommon. Women have to fight for the right to public spaces, to toilet facilities, to education, to paid work, to technology, to freedom, to respect – and in some case – to life.

An Indian woman

For women in rural areas – particularly those from lower castes and tribal communities – the fight is twice as hard. Jeevika’s priorities lie in the 600,000 villages where 7 out of 10 women lead their lives. Their challenges are radically different from those of women living in urban slums where rudimentary access to public services is greater; in the vast rural areas exposure to the elements, poor access to water and sanitation, poor food security, poor access to basic health services and education – just to name a few factors – combined with a low social standing means day-to-day life for millions of women is grinding.

We at Jeevika believe that women’s empowerment and equality is vital – not only for women, but for the development and progress of humankind. Our projects prove that, when women are empowered, the results are dramatic. By improving access to clean water, we stop women having to walk for hours each day to collect water for their families. By improving sanitation – helping communities to build toilets near their homes as well as gender-segregated toilet blocks in schools – we reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases, help girls to stay in school and stop women from having to defecate in the open, where – particularly at night – they are vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. By educating women and adolescent girls about sanitary and reproductive health, as well as improving access to sanitary napkins, we not only help to reduce the number of reproductive or urinary tract infections, but also help women to stay in work and girls to stay in school so that they can realise their full potential. By empowering women and providing them with income generation opportunities – from producing and marketing honey or sanitary napkins to growing and selling produce – we not only help women to increase their household income, but also to grow in self-confidence and to gain greater freedoms and greater respect within their communities.

Tribal women dancing

Help women in rural India realise their full potential by donating to Jeevika today:

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