Campaign raises awareness in Gujarat | india | Hindustan Times
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Campaign raises awareness in Gujarat

The Aavo Samrath Baniye (I am Powerful) campaign is making women in Gujarat villages more conscious. They beleive that drive will ensure a better future for their daughters.

india Updated: Apr 22, 2007 15:39 IST

For 20-year-old Pooja of Panelli village in Gujarat, life would have been different had she the freedom to choose the way she wanted to live. Burdened with daily household chores, she dropped out of school early, unlike her brother who had ample time to concentrate on his studies.

Pooja's story is not unusual. What sets her apart is her attitude. Her wedding is round the corner. When asked if she would take any dowry, an older woman chipped before she could reply, saying: "Unless she does, she will not be treated with respect at her in-laws place."

"But I want to be respected because of me!" spoke out Pooja in response. Determined, she set out to convince her fiancé to marry her without accepting dowry.

What happened later is not as important as the fact that women in hamlets of Gujarat are slowly becoming aware of their rights and their self worth. In the Morbi block of Rajkot district in Gujarat, Sharada Ben, Manjula Ben and Ila Ben sit intently watching a folk play. The theme of the play is that healthy women make a healthy society.

Organised by CARE, an international NGO, through its project Sustained Nutrition Education Health and Livelihood (SNEHAL) and local NGOs, such folk plays and local folk art called Dayra, have been doing the rounds in nearly 3,000 villages in Gujarat since March 5 to raise awareness among women about good health and education.

The Aavo Samrath Baniye (I am Powerful) campaign has made women more conscious, albeit gradually. For instance, when asked what does "I am Powerful" mean to her, Sharada Ben said: "The power lies in coming together and speaking in one voice because we can't do anything alone. This will ensure that our daughters will have a better tomorrow."

With just 56 per cent women taking part in household decisions (National Family Health Survey 2005-06), for Ila Ben being powerful means the ability to voice her opinion in the decision making.

"The power comes from believing in oneself and determining one's choices especially at the level of local governance. I am going to contest for the next round of panchayat elections and put women's health as top priority," said a confident Manjula Ben, who is also an Anganwadi worker.

According to NFHS 2005-06, more than 60 per cent women in Gujarat are anaemic and more than 32 per cent women's body mass index (ratio of weight to height) is below normal.

"We are working basically to raise awareness among women of the marginalised communities in Gujarat. While on one hand it is attracting a lot of foreign direct investment and industries are spurting up everywhere, on the other hand, health services, especially towards women, continue to remain abysmal," told Amelia Andrews of CARE to the agency.

Saltpan workers, charcoal workers, livestock developers, farmers and artisans are the five marginalised communities that this project is working for. "We are working in four districts of Gujarat - Surendranagar, Patan, Kutch and Rajkot - and aim to reach across to 200,000 women by the end of the campaign," said Andrews.