On Saturday the 20th of March SEDS celebrated Women’s day. The event took place in Penukonda, Narayanamma Colony. The SEDS staff had arrived early in the morning to prepare the last things as setting up the stalls and putting up the decorations. All the women had organised their means of transportation by themselves. Some came on hired trucks, some by hired tractors and others by taxi or rickshaw.
At 10:00 am everything was ready to welcome our guests, some 7000 women from the five Mandals. At the gate they all were registered before entrance. Once they entered the ground they could wander around the different stalls representing the SEDS projects, NRM / CDM, Sustainable Agriculture, Production Centre, Health, School and MFC / VTC Promotions.
At eleven O’clock things got under way as CEO Mrs. Manil J. Joshua lit the oil lamp. This year the theme was: Celebrating the “Identity of Women”. Women in rural India still lack their own individuality. The social fabric of the society still intertwines them to their husbands and gives them a subservient role in the community. SEDS has already taken many steps to turn this archaic thinking around by focussing their programmes on women. Our aim is to build a strong base for women groups so that they can sustain themselves. We update their knowledge on the available welfare schemes; we motivate them to understand and make use of the women rights; we promote girl child education; we try to strengthen local bodies with women participation; we look to improve women leadership. All of this culminated today in the celebration of the identity of a woman.
The program of the celebration was quite diversified, it contained invigorating speeches on women’s hardships and responsibilities but also some light-hearted cultural programs, one brilliantly preformed by our Hostel children. But central was the handing over of the Unique Identity Cards (UID) SEDS had made. These cards are still a pilot project of SEDS but we hope to stimulate a country wide evolution of the government’s approach to tackle this problem of ID cards for all.
These ID cards will be a ticket to a wide range of possibilities for the women. Carrying information as their name, picture and group, it will open doors of government and other places. Take banks for example. As the acquirement of loans for Self Help Groups (SHGs) has now become a trademark in the larger development plans of the Indian government, there is always the inconvenience that the whole group has to show up to legitimate themselves. Now, with the ID card, it will be possible for a woman to go alone to the bank and request a loan. Also members will gain speedy access to various government schemes such as pension, Indiramma housing or NREGS.
Also the raise in self-esteem that this little plastic card will bring to its holder is a fact that should not go unnoticed. It will raise the awareness of her own identity and it will identify her as an individual within her family and her community. Also she will feel empowered as the ID card stands as a true symbol of being part of something bigger; it gives her a feeling of security, trust and partnership.
“Serving our rural population and under developed community with integrated sustainable development programmes and tracking effectiveness has been our key focus over the last 30 plus years. Today, SEDS still works through an integrated rural development approach with a special emphasis on women’s empowerment. UIDs will go a long way in helping my women friends in establishing their identity. Today it is 10,000 cards; tomorrow SEDS vision is to take this process of a UID card to all members of SHGs which are 5,00,000 members in Anantapur District alone. This is a pilot for a larger vision and mission,” said, Manil Jayasena Joshua, CEO, SEDS.
A number of ID cards were handed out while the rest will be distributed in the villages. The women were very eager to show off their ID cards. A lot of press was present on the site, covering the event and interviewing people from all segments. We were covered in numerous newspapers. The day ended with all the women receiving lunch on behalf of SEDS. In total 7500 meals were served. Never in the history of Penukonda such a gathering had taken place.