Indomitable Courage

Author : Hema Rawat

Date : 26/02/2024

“Adversities like COVID-19 taught us to come up with better solutions for well-being of families. The women collectives in our village planned and collaboratively worked with a rousing courage for safety of families, particularly adolescent girls,” said Archana Dalavi from Usmanabad district in Maharashtra, who lived as a homemaker for a large part of her life. She also supports her husband in agricultural activities to facilitate resources for family’s sustenance.

The web of adversities for the community, where she stays, became evident during the COVID 19 pandemic. She added that female members in many families were the worst sufferers during this period. “In our cultural practices, the women and girls in families usually consume left over food. This does not fulfill our nutritional needs, which I understood after participating in activities like Poshan Abhiyaan and Village Health Sanitation & Nutrition Day (VHSND) supported by SHGs, and counselling sessions at Anganwadi Centres,” elaborates Archana.

More number of girl child marriages were reported during the pandemic times owing to the employment opportunities taken up by parents at other locations. “Many couples from districts like Beed and Usmanabad opt to work for nearly six months at a stretch in sugarcane mills and factories in Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra. To ensure security of their adolescent daughters, instead of leaving them alone at home, such couples started marrying their teenage daughters early. This opens a floodgate of other lifecycle challenges in the lives of teenage girls,” explains Archana.

Starting from teen pregnancies; poor physical constitution; malnutrition; losing weight; emotional, mental and psychological inability to raise a child – these teenage brides have to tread a tedious journey – and that too alone.

“The SHG meetings diverted our attention to the overall well-being of such girls. Many of us understood that the adolescent girls in our villages need support system and agency in the form of education and skill development,” asserts Archana.

This compels many women, who regularly participate in SHG activities that promote Food, Nutrition, Health and WASH practices, to take a stand against child marriage. “Backed by the administrative support, we decided to avert rampant child marriages. We were threatened initially by families and community, but we were committed to save the adolescent girls and foster their health and nutritional needs for a better tomorrow,” says Archana.

Gradually, strength and voices of women collectives and SHGs in villages grew stronger. The active intervention of women SHG members resulted into positive outcomes for many adolescent girls in terms of education, nutritional support and health care, skill empowerment and so on.

“Both my daughters are pursuing undergraduate studies in other towns of Maharashtra while staying in a hostel. Had I continued the prevailing societal practices, this transformation in education would have been a distant dream to them,” adds Archana.

Further, Archana became active in Gender Forums in Village Organisation – a community-based organization running as a part of the mission initiated by Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana - National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM). Of late, many parents in Usmanabad reported supporting education of girl child instead of finding a quick fix solution of marrying them early. Women are also advancing by understanding and accessing rights to services and entitlements through gendered approach in FNHW interventions for rural communities.

Like-minded women like Archana in SHGs are setting goals for themselves to move forward in life with indomitable courage!

(This article is based on conversation with Ms Archana Dalavi on the sidelines of her experience sharing in National Gender Campaign conducted by DAY-NRLM on November 25, 2023)