Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts

August 09, 2018

Warning for Odisha Govt: 56K Adolescent Girls Drop Out of School

Two ministries of the Odisha government are at loggerheads over the dropout rate of ‘adolescent girls’ from school, in the state. Last week, based on a baseline survey, the department of Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) claimed that nearly 56,000 girls, in the age group of 11-14, are out of school.

The survey was done to trace out the number of beneficiaries to be included under the central government-sponsored Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG), which has been universalised in the state since 1 April 2018. A letter from Anu Garg, Principal Secretary of WCD-MS department, to her counterpart in the School and Mass Education Department, specified that 55,868 girls of 11-14 years, were out of school.

Hours after the WCD-MS survey results were made public, Badri Narayan Patra, the School and Mass Education Minister, claimed only 1,060 girls in the aforesaid age group were out of school till September 2017. The minister was citing the figures from a survey done by the School and Mass education department.

The Conflict Over Data
The unimaginable gap between the data provided by two different government departments has left many intellectuals and educationists scratching their heads.

“This is just a joke from the minister. If the department has given him this number then its survey is either too limited,or it’s hiding the reality to save its face,” said Anil Pradhan, Convener of the Odisha Right to Education (RTE) forum.

However, the minister has been showing old data (of September 2017) and his department might have collected it from the schools, particularly on dropouts. It doesn’t have a system to go to communities to gather data. On the other hand, the data provided by the WCD-MS department includes girls who never enrolled, enrolled but never attended school, and girls who dropped out of schools, explained an official from WCD-MS department on condition of anonymity.

Somehow, because of its presence at the grassroot level, through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) network, WCD-MS data seems more reliable, said Panchanan Mishra, a community development practitioner based in the tribal district of Kandhamal. He said, “The mass education minister should realise this fact instead of challenging the latest data.”
The minister should understand that his figure, which is completely at odds with the latest numbers, would deprive a huge number of adolescent girls from receiving the benefits of SAG, the source at WCD-MS said.

SAG aims to address the multi-dimensional needs of out-of-school adolescent girls between 11 and 14 years, and to motivate these girls to join formal or informal school systems for a better future.

Policy Failure of Naveen Patnaik Government?

With so many policies and schemes like the Odisha State Policy for Girls and Women, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana, and programmes specifically designed for adolescent girls, the School and Mass Education department of Odisha government has been claiming a high rate of success in the education of the girl child. But the aforesaid survey results from the Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) department has opened Pandora’s Box.

“The Education Minister should believe that the data collected by WCD-MS is even less than the reality,” insisted noted human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, who has filed a case with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) citing the issue as a gross violation of the fundamental right to education of every Indian upto the age of 14.
The Odisha government, however, claims a huge success in the enrollment of girls and bringing back girl dropouts to schools under the the State Policy for Girls and Women and the Biju Kanya Ratna (BKR) scheme in specific districts.
The State Policy of Girls and Women envisages an expenditure of about 500 crores over a period of time to ensure development and empowerment of girls. Besides, with a budget of 3.5 crore rupees between 2016-2017 and 2018-19, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana implemented in three districts of Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam works to address gender bias and issues related to the girl child.

Ironically, the tribal populated KBK (undivided Koraput, Bolangir and Kalandi districts) region has the most number of out of school girls with Koraput claiming top spot, with 10,599 such girls. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district of Ganjam has 4,296 out-of-school girls, despite the implementation of Biju Kanya Ratna scheme.

“It completely reflects gross failure of policies that have more become vote-centric than development-centric. This could be attributed to the fact that children of none of the ministers and political leaders, bureaucrats and policy makers go to a government-run educational facility,” Kanungo said.

RTE activist Anil Pradhan told The Quint, “There is no dearth of funds but a huge lack of political will, bureaucratic interest and involvement.

A Chance at a Better Life

“It’s a warning call. It seems that the future of such huge numbers of adolescent girls is bleak. Most of these girls would be forced to marry early which would lead to more child marriages. Many would become labourers and several would be vulnerable to various types of abuse,” Rukmini Panda, a Bhubaneswar-based commentator on gender said.

Panda asked, “How can the state achieve the goals of development by depriving so many girls of their basic right to education, which would force them towards early and unsafe motherhood?”
It’s globally accepted that at least 10 years of education among girls would reduce 64 percent of child marriages.

“And, when we are not addressing the issue of trying to get these girls back to schools and allow them to complete at least secondary level education, we are making their lives vulnerable — to child marriage, and to sexual and physical abuse,” Pradhan said.

“The government and civil societies must take it as a serious call for action to help these girls improve their lives. Instead of fighting over a discrepancy in data, all government departments should rather come together to ensure the best coverage of SAG in Odisha, and offer these adolescent girls from marginalised communities, a chance at a risk-free, healthy life, Rukmini Panda said.

This piece first appeared on The Quint.

July 18, 2018

Araku Valley takes baby steps to address maternal health

An initiative to reach healthcare services to pregnant women and new mothers in the underdeveloped Araku Valley, bordering Odisha's Koraput district, has seen a measure of success in tribal communities ruled by superstition and regressive practices

In a lively anganwadi or daycare center in Godiguda village, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) conducting health check up of over 10 women, some pregnant and others lactating, reflected the changing scenario in maternal and child health in the Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh.

Traditionally, delivery cases handled by a dhai, elderly women from the village or the community, being the practice, and pregnant women visiting a medical or a doctor considered an act against norm, pregnant mothers had to submit themselves to their fate despite high rate of maternal and neonatal mortality in the valley, Malati (35), who has decided to go for an institutional delivery for her sixth child, told VilageSquare.in.

Since undergoing family planning surgery, using contraceptives and an abortion by choice are all considered sins against humanity, multiple pregnancies up to five-six children is quite common across the valley inhabited mostly by tribal people.

To add to the plight of women were the rough terrain and lack of communication facilities to reach the government primary and community health centers in times of urgency.

Awareness the key

“In a predominantly tribal society ruled by stigma and superstitions, influencing behavior to make these women folks attend regular health check up during pregnancy and opt for institutional delivery was a herculean task,” Pramila, a girl from the Araku Valley who works as ANM in the Asara tribal health project of Piramal Swasthya, told VillageSquare.in.

Piramal Swasthya works in coordination with the government system to make health services available to tribal communities, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers and their newborns, in times of need. “Despite being from the local communities, we were threatened initially by a few male members for misleading the pregnant women by suggesting them to go for medical check-up and institutional delivery,” Pramila said.

If the mothers and their newborns were to be saved, bringing awareness on maternal and child health, possible complications during pregnancy and benefits of institutional delivery were essential. This idea drove Pramila and her colleagues like P. Padma to reach out to people, trace pregnant mothers and motivate them as well as other family members, such as the husband and elderly members, to avail health services for a safe delivery.

Now, most of the pregnant women like Malati of Godiguda and Vasanta (35) of Muliagalagu are not only coming for health checkup and consuming iron folic tablets as well as other nutrient supplementations, but also have decided to go for institutional delivery. “Earlier, we were unaware of the benefits of institutional delivery,” Vasanta said.

Making services accessible

However, accessing public health facilities was an issue for most hamlets. One had to walk miles through rough terrain to reach a paved road and get an ambulance to a health center. The time required to reach a hospital always remained crucial to pregnant mothers.

In order to make the facility reach people in need, a mobile hospital service with all facilities to handle a delivery case has been started under the Asara project. “Many pregnant mothers from remote hamlets who were at the last stage have delivered their babies in the mobile hospital vans,” T. Swarnalatha, program manager of the project, told VillageSquare.in.

While the ANMs visit every hamlet to attend the pregnant mothers, the telemedicine centers with necessary equipment, nurses and a doctor work as the points for periodical health checkup, necessary treatment and expert consultation through teleconferencing. Mothers diagnosed with diseases that need further treatment are referred to government health care centers or district hospitals.

“Most mothers come with anemia and diseases like malaria and hypertension,” said medical doctor Sanmukha Reddy of Dumbriguda telemedicine center.

Nutrition-related challenges

As is the case with tribal communities of India, “anemia is most common among pregnant mothers and children of the Araku valley,” nutritionist Sweta Kuralla of Nandivalasa nutrition hub, a center under the Gosthani project to deal with nutrition-related issues, told VillageSquare.in.

About 88.9% of adolescent girls are anemic, 17.8% being severely anemic. Highest prevalence was seen in the age group of 12-13 and 14-15 years that is 85% and 86.5% respectively, says a study on anemia among adolescent girls in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 60% of women in Andhra Pradesh have anemia. Malnutrition being particularly common in the younger age groups of the scheduled tribes, 59% of children between the ages of 6 and 59 months are anemic. Girls are more likely than boys to have anemia.

While tribal mothers have high rates of anemia, and girl children receive less than the desired nutritional intake. All told, the whole tribal community is deficient in adequate food intake, says a report on reproductive health status, issues and concerns of tribal women.

Nutrition hubs

The nutrition hubs work to address the issue of undernourishment among pregnant women and children. Apart from advising them to take iron folic acid tablets during pregnancy, as provided by the government, “mothers are told to consume variety of vegetables, leaves and ragi in different forms for adequate micro-nutrient supplementation,” Kuralla said. “The nutrition hub trains the community on how to grow leaves and vegetables and prepare different types of foods for better nutrition.”

After years of efforts, “during pregnancy, women are now taking iron folic tablets,” Golleri Lakshmi, the accredited social health activist (ASHA) at Godiguda village, told VillageSquare.in.

However, there are many issues to be overcome for sustainability of the changes that have come after the interventions.

Child marriage

The primary social issue in the valley is child marriage. As per NFHS-4 data, in rural Visakhapatnam, 34% of women between 20-24 years of age married before 18, and at least 10.5% of women between15-19 years of age have either become pregnant or become new mothers.

The scale of child marriage and early motherhood could be higher in tribal population. At least three in every five marriages involve brides below 18 years of age. “Normally girls in the communities marry after 14 years of age,” B. Abhiman, a political worker in Araku valley, told VillageSquare.in.

It is established that girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and girls under 18 face a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries such as fistula. Infants born to early adolescent mothers have a three-fold higher risk of post-neonatal death compared with adult mothers, studies found.

Need for education

Promotion of education among girls of tribal communities can address the issue and minimize the risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, says UN report, The Girl Child. In Visakhapatnam, female literacy in the tribal population has remained 34.67% only, according to the statistical abstract of Andhra Pradesh government. Rate of girls completing 10 or 12 years of education is abysmally low.

In regard to nutritional status of newborns, it is believed that the newborn must not be fed with the first milk of the mother, which deprives the child from highly nutritious colostrum and the antibodies the first milk contains. Apart from this, the tribal people of the valley do not consume cow milk, believing that it’s for the calves only.

Encouraging outcomes

Changing customary and normative beliefs and practices take time, said Vishal Phanse, Chief Executive Officer of Piramal Swasthya. “However, through the interventions so far in coherence with the government and district administration and by making use of technology for social good and development in public health sector, maternal mortality rate in all registered cases in the valley has come down to zero,” Phanse told VillageSquare.in.

This is despite the fact that Visakhapatnam district has a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 115 per 100,000 registered live births. “Our focus is now on improving the status of health of adolescent girls,” he added.

Once restricted to their communities, pregnant tribal women are now showing interest in medical check-up, taking medicines and nutritional supplements, and in institutional delivery for their own safety and the health of the child, Vasanta, a pregnant mother of Muliaguda village said.

“Covering 181 villages under the Asara project, we deal with 250-300 cases of pregnant mothers almost every time,” said T. Swarnalatha, the program manager.

Changing scenario

Overall, the scenario is changing. Women have understood the benefits of modern healthcare facilities. As the women and others in the communities are changing their minds, the government mechanism has also become active to respond to health related issues of women, B. Abhiman said.

“Tribal women in the valley have become conscious about their health during pregnancy, a safe delivery and the health of their babies,” Sanmukha Reddy said.

Other than the issues like child marriage, education of girls and normative beliefs left to be addressed through a holistic approach to make the impacts sustainable, results of intervention in the arena of maternal health and nutrition in Araku valley, on the northern edges of Andhra Pradesh bordering Odisha's Koraput district, have no doubt made it a model for wider replication across tribal India.

This report first appeared at the VillageSquare on July 16, 2018.

March 28, 2014

BJD red carpet for royals, short shrift to women

Democracy, they say, begins where feudalism ends. But political parties in Odisha, the poorest state in the country, obviously have other ideas. At least 13 scions of ‘royal’ families have been fielded by various political parties for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state this time.

Curiously, as many as 10 out of the 13 have been nominated by the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a party that has never tired of tom-tomming its ‘pro-people’ and ‘pro-poor’ credentials. While seven of them have been fielded in Assembly elections, three have been nominated for Lok Sabha polls, ironically from constituencies that comprise some of the poorest regions in the state: Kalahandi, Bolangir and Kandhamal.

Known for the highest number of cases of malnutrition and starvation deaths in the state, Bolangir district alone has got five members from one royal family contesting the coming election. Of these five, three are from BJD – Ananga Uday Singhdeo from Bolangir Assembly Constituency, his son Kalikesh Narayan Singhdeo from Bolangir Lok Sabha constituency and Prakruti Devi, a woman from the same royal family, from the Patnagarh Assembly constituency.

The other two from the Bolangir royal family in fray this time are Kanak Vardhan Singhdeo and Sangita Singhdeo fighting on Bharitaya Janata party (BJP) tickets in the Patnagarh Assembly seat and Bolangir Lok Sabha Seat respectively.

In another glaring dichotomy between what he professes and what he does, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik has named only two women in the list of candidates for the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the seats, which accounts for less than 10%. It is hardly the kind of percentage that a party that incessantly talks of ‘women’s empowerment’ can be proud of.

The proportion of women in the list of candidates for Assembly elections is not much to write home about either. There are no more than 14 women in the final list of BJD candidates for 147 Assembly constituencies – which again works out to less than 10%. Revealingly, three out of these 14 are from ‘royal’ families.

The other major parties like the Congress and the BJP have not fared much better when it comes to fielding women candidates. But, Naveen and his party certainly deserve the lion’s share of the flak on this count since it is they who keep shouting from the rooftops about ‘women’s empowerment’.

Naveen’s claims on ‘women’s empowerment’ rest primarily on the large number of self help groups (SHGs) his government has helped form in the state and the reservation of 50% of seats in urban local bodies. But when it comes to the Big Prize of Lok Sabha and Assembly nominations, the BJD boss has been as stingy as the others in handing out party tickets to women.

This piece first appeared on March 26, 2014, at the Odisha Sun Times.

July 04, 2012

Violence Against Women: Issue of women safety needs to be seen from social perspective


Since the murder of a woman journalist Chhabirani in the year 1980 till date, thousands of women in Odisha have fallen victim to the heinous instincts of men. As per claims made by the President of Odisha Congress’ women wing on the basis of a white paper tabled in State Assembly, about 4,100 cases under section 376 (rape) were registered in different police stations of Odisha during last three years. The statistics is not only shocking but is also loud to explain how women have become vulnerable to the unmanly instincts of men in the society.
Even though women are considered to be the descent half of the society, they live a life of vulnerability and fall victim to atrocities and the criminal instincts of people of their own community with whom they grow from a baby girl to a woman.
The recent cases of abuse and atrocities on women in the state of Odisha have made social thinkers and even the common man to look for the reasons behind increasing vulnerability of women in the society.
While the much hyped case of alleged assault and attempt to kill the 19 year old girl from a dalit family of Arjungoda village under Pipili Police Station in Odisha’s Puri district hit the headlines of almost all media and impacted the state politics in the state where a Minister had to quit the cabinet to save the face of the government, a series of cases of attacks and atrocities on women have raised number of questions on the safety of women in her own community or society.
The victim of the Pipili incident is now struggling to come out of a coma stage she entered since the incident that took place between 7 AM and 8.30 AM, time of activities in rural Odisha, when the girl went to attend nature’s call.
The case of Pipili is not the lone case of assault on women in Odisha. Few months back, a girl student in Odisha’s Baliapal also fell victim to the demonic instincts of some men. Another girl who was travelling by a bus was not dropped at the destination and was allegedly raped by the bus driver and other staff. In the month of January 2012 alone, about 10 cases of rape, rape and murder, assault and attempt to murder have been registered of which one of the victim is an 8-year-old girl and another a deaf and dumb dalit girl. “The way such incidents where a part of the society suffers badly in the hands of the other half are increasing, many of us are forced to rethink if we are really living in a civic society”, says a Konark based social activist N A Shah Ansari who feels agitated while remembering the particular day of 2007 November when a young woman was dragged out of a passenger bus and was gang raped by four persons in a deserted spot beside the Konark-Puri marine drive road. “The incident shows how the society, once ruled by morals, is getting detached from the roots of it and how the individual morals are being degraded”, says Ansari.
When moral degradation is one of the primary reasons behind increase in the number of cases, the mechanism that should act strongly to locate the culprits in such cases and book them under law is also failing to deliver what is expected from it. For example, the police didn’t receive the FIR from the family of the victim girl from Pipili who battles for life in a state of coma. Nor did the medical officer attended to the girl who was in a serious condition. The medical officer could have treated the girl immediately and informed the police about the case. In stead, the doctor predicted a quick death of the girl and asked the family to take the unconscious victim back. Finding no other way, the family of the victim went to the State Women Commission and then to the State Human Rights Commission to seek justice and avail required treatment for the victim who struggled for life since more than a month. It was when the Human Right Commission realised the gravity of the case and ordered for immediate treatment in the hospital and immediate inquiry by the police that the victim was admitted to the hospital and police started investigation. However, things started after a month of the incident.
The victim girl was targeted because she was the only witness of a case of assault on her friend in the year 2008. While the girl who was raped in 2008 committed suicide a few days later, the surviving witness received repeated threats to withdraw the police case or face dire consequence, said the family members of the victim. Finally the girl had to pay the price for her courage. In stead of respecting her courage and acting promptly, the unwillingness of police to receive the FIR in the Pipili case indicates how callous the police is about the issue of safety of women. It’s only after strong directives issued by the Human Rights Commission that the Puri district police had to start an inquiry and the state government also ordered a probe by Crime Branch (CID) Police. ”Why after directives? What stopped the police from acting promptly against the alleged culprits? Can we expect more women to come forward against such injustice if the police continue to behave in a manner as it did with the Pipili victim? When safety of women is a concern for all and women are more often falling victim to very few of men with inhuman instincts, the police and other law enforcing agencies have to change their attitude and make the face more humane than the current one”, says a veteran journalist Prashanta Patnaik who also happens to be the Convener of civil society body Odisha Gana Samaja.
When the case came to light, political parties, social activists and civil society bodies came on roads to place the ruling party at fault and to build pressure on the government to nab the culprits and take action on all involved in it. This is definitely a good step by the opposition political parties to ensure justice to the specific victim. But, the larger issue of safety of women was again overshadowed.
During last 64 years, issue of women safety has been raised for political purposes and used as a weapon against the government and the ruling party. The game was always played with an agenda, mostly political, and the root issue of safety of women continued to remain a powerful evil in the society.
The first and foremost is that why and how a woman becomes vulnerable to the violent instincts of people with whom she grew from childhood? Why the society that often behaves to be protective fails to protect and uphold the rights of woman and secure her from any kind of vulnerability? ‘The primary reasons are lack of understanding of social relationship and almost no moral education’, says a veteran journalist and social thinker Vivekanand Dash adding that, ‘Such cases are increasing in our society because the current generation doesn’t take any interest in the moral roots and the parents also take least interest in moral teaching till something happens to them or their offspring’.
The police has to have a humane face and behave as responsive to any case of assault on woman. As seen in the case of Pipili and other places, instead of accepting the FIR and initiating quick action the local police officer took a condemnable role by denying to accept the complaint from the victim’s family. The rule of law has to be established. However, the dismissal of the concerned Police Inspector and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s strict instruction to all officers to receive the FIR and take immediate action in such cases bear some hope for sure in ensuring prompt aid to the victims.
What is most important in order to protect women from atrocities and provide justice to the victims of any kind of assault is that the rule of law has to be established with strong conviction. Any case of assault must be treated as violation of law of the land and the constitutional provisions that guarantee the individual rights of citizens and actions must be taken promptly as prescribed in the laws. Some even advocate for a strong law, like the one enforced to deal the acts of terrorism, and provisions of punishment in such cases. “The moral roots of Indian society must be restored to make women a respectable entity of the society and provisions of harsh punishments in such cases must be prescribed in the law to stop men from abusing women”, says Prashant Patnaik.
The recent observations of additional Sessions Judge of Delhi Kamini Lau in the case of rape of a six year old girl by her 30 year old uncle are surely some points to be given a serious thought by the leaders and legislators of India. While giving judgment on February 17, 2012 in the case, Kamini Lau observed, "Castration is the most befitting sentence which can be imposed on any paedophile or serial offender but the hands of this court are tied as the statute does not provide for it” while she urged that, “Indian legislators are yet to explore this as an alternative to conventional sentencing". The recent judgment reminds of legendary personality Biju Patnaik who, while was the Chief Minister of Odisha, openly urged that any person attempting to rape a woman should be castrated. Then Biju Patnaik’s wish was taken as a political fun which now seems more relevant to ensure safety to women from sexual abuse.
Not only the police and law enforcing agencies, but also the administration, judiciary and civil society bodies and the women rights bodies have a greater role in achieving social security and safety of women. The issue has to be seen from a social perspective than just a political agenda.
The article was first published on February 23, 2012, at HotnHitNews.