Towards Equality

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.” – Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.”
– Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“A woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes…” A statistic from the National Crime Records Bureau of India, which made international news this year with relation to the horrific cases of rape and violence towards women in India. Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008 and that 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011. The real situation in India is that the number of cases of gender-based violence is much higher, it just goes unreported.

The issues around why this culture of abuse and violence towards women exists are extremely complex. This is not a recent trend but one that stems from a deeply rooted and inherent preference for boy children and an undervaluing and lack of appreciation of girls and women. These statistics are more than just numbers to Save A Family Plan (SAFP), as the women and girls within our programs face this discrimination on a daily basis. We have seen the faces and heard the stories of those who have very real experiences with acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

SAFP is committed to the empowerment of the poor and marginalized people of India, and to promoting a society where women, men, boys and girls are valued equally. We recognize the important role that women play within their families and communities. Our programs encourage and support them to become decision makers within the social, political and economic spheres of their lives. As women gain confidence to fully and meaningfully participate within their families and communities, they can no longer be seen as objects of burden.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Our programs also show that women are more likely to give back to their families and communities once they feel they are contributing members. Statistics show that when women can make an independent income they will give 90% of it back to their families and communities. The story of Kavitha shows the personal change and growth that is possible through SAFP’s Family Development Program.

When Kavitha was born, she became the youngest of four girls in her family. Her parents were faced with the burden of paying a dowry for all of their daughters. At the age of eighteen Kavitha’s marriage was arranged, but after three months they had to separate. If she stayed in the marriage her life would have been in danger. Her husband was an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused and tortured her. After her separation, she became depressed, her community ignored her, and as a result she did not have the confidence to leave her parents’ house. She was traumatized by her experience and could not work or speak to anyone.

One day a social worker came to the village and gave an awareness training on the economic and social program available to the community. From this, she was motivated to join her local self-help group where she heard about SAFP. She became excited by being a part of this community of women and attended the meetings regularly. After some time, she was selected by the group to become a participant of SAFP’s Family Development Program. Through financial support she received from SAFP, she was able to begin her own clothing sales business, where she went door-to-door in the village to sell clothes. Kavitha explains how these small successes began to motivate her: “From this business I received a good income, which boosted my confidence. I received training in tailoring, and with all of these skills I planned to start up a tailoring unit.” Slowly her business grew. Initially, she used her home for a shop but eventually she had saved enough money to rent a store front nearby and purchase two more tailoring machines. She is now running her own small business, continuing to sell clothes within the community, and earning approximately $140.00 a month.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

Kavita expresses the change in attitude and confidence she has experienced and how she hopes to help others in the community do the same: “I am proud to say that through my small business I’m able to employ another girl from my village from a very poor family background. I am now able to help people who are also in difficult situations. Through my experience, I wish to teach tailoring to other widows and abandoned women in our community, so that they feel the same confidence and pride that I do.”

By Laura Stinson
SAFP Canada Staff

What does poverty look like?


Try to put faces to the many victims in these recent news stories from India…

June 2012: A 32-year-old woman in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu sold her five-month-old twin daughters for a promised Rs 25,000 (CAD$463) and Rs 15,000(CAD$278) respectively. The woman, named Selvi, is a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter. Her husband had deserted her and she was unable to provide for them, earning only minimal income as a daily wage labourer. She, and those who assisted her, were arrested and imprisoned for this crime (Times of India.) One of the twin girls later died after falling ill at a government-run adoption centre (Indian Express.)

June 2012: In Harda district in Madhya Pradesh, a 40-year-old farmer named Rajendra, his 35-year-old wife (name unknown), and their two boys Aniketh and Mohit, aged 14 and 11, committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. A police spokesperson said that the family had been in financial distress. (Times of India)

June 2012: Police rescued 108 child labourers from small-scale industry units in Mumbai, Maharashtra, and arrested 25 alleged employers. Aged 8 to 14, the children were working in bag and purse-making units, and zari manufacturing. (Zeenews.com)

June 2012: Two underage girls who were to be sold for Rs 5,000 (CAD$93) each have been rescued by police in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. One person has been arrested and two are being questioned. Police were tipped off that a person would be arriving at the city’s train station with the intent of trapping girls for prostitution purposes. The girls, from Bihar and Jharkand, were lured with promises of jobs. The accused admitted he looked for girls at Metro stations, railway stations, intersections, and slum areas, and that he had already sold five girls. (Times of India)

July 2012: In Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa, a 25-year-old woman, Basanti Mandal, killed herself by consuming poison. She also attempted to kill her two-year-old daughter, who is in serious condition after being rescued. Basanti’s husband had deserted her six months prior. She worked as a low-wage daily labourer in a small fishing village. (Times of India)

July 2012: After being lured away from their homes by child traffickers who promised them good jobs, nine boys from poor families in a small town in the East Champaran district of Bihar were rescued in faraway Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The boys, ranging in age from 13 to 18, were going to be sent to the industrial city of Tirupur to work as cheap labour in the textile industry. Parbar, a father of one of the boys, is a daily-wage labourer. who told authorities that the contractor had paid him Rs. 1,000 (CAD$18) in return for providing a job for his son. (The Hindu)

July 2012: As of July 1st of 2012, 422 farmers have committed suicide in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Farmers are distressed at the lack of rainfall due to the delay of the annual southwest monsoon, knowing that their crops will fail and they will be unable to pay their debts. (Thaindian News)

April 2012: A 13-year-old housemaid has been rescued and two doctors, a husband and wife, have been arrested in Delhi. The girl, from Jharkhand, had been held captive and starving in their home while the couple vacationed in Thailand. She was rescued after neighbours saw her crying on a balcony. The girl alleges that, prior to this incident, she had often received beatings from the couple during her term of employment. The two home-owners have been charged under the Juvenile Justice Act, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act and Indian Penal Code. (Expressindia)

The stories in the news speak loudly of hopelessness and desperation–of husbands and wives and parents and children who have been let down by the rest of us. Is there no safety net? Despite the massive investments of the Indian and State Governments toward programs that address poverty and inequality, there are obvious failures. Men and women continue to lose hope, and children are sacrificed.

Economic logic helps us to understand that people who are disadvantaged or without adequate financial resources cannot participate fully in society, whether it be as producers, consumers, or decision-makers. It is important to know this. Yet, for the most part, the concept of poverty remains impersonal and faceless. Who are these people that suffer the indignity of not being full and respected members of society?

Poverty is indeed personal, and has a face. Save A Family Plan and its partner agencies see the faces of poverty every day among the thousands of people in the many villages in which it operates in India. Those of us who have chosen to support this organization are first introduced to these people by reading their troubling stories and seeing their faces in photographs. I’m sure that most of us are affected, often disturbed–just as we are when we read news stories such as those above.

Recently, I was reading an article (Faus 2012, p16) that made reference to the writing of E. Levinas, a French philosopher. Levinas, according to Faus, believed that “the face is an appeal, a call to respect, to sustenance, to communion.” He goes on to say that, “…contemplation of the face transcends the simple recognition provided by sight and becomes a call which asks to be listened to…“. (my emphasis)

By looking at the faces of poverty, we are acknowledging the call which asks to be listened to.

SAFP’s family and community development initiatives allow us to look into the faces of those calling out to us. Our support has direct impact on the lives of the poor–helping them to build livelihoods that can provide a steady income source; ensuring that their children get educated; providing them with the information that allows them to access health and social programs; and helping them, both men and women, to know their rights–and more importantly, their worth.

LL Chan

India: 64 Years After Independence, Gandhi Still Inspires Peaceful Change

Local citizens, aware of their rights, organize to protest against an illegal transmission tower in Kerala. They are supported by SAFP partner organization, the Women's Initiative Network.

August 15th is Independence Day in India, a national holiday. This year, 2011, marked the 64th anniversary of the termination of British authority and the beginning of self-government for that country. The Indian Independence Act, which provided for Partition of India and Pakistan, was signed in August of 1947, with India and Pakistan becoming two independent nations following the transfer of power from Britain.

Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in helping India achieve its independence. Among other notable individuals, he helped to steer the country toward what was seen as its necessary development into a sovereign nation, freed from the demoralizing rule of its long-time colonial master.

Gandhi was an activist. Throughout his life he campaigned for civil rights, improved labour laws, and equal justice for Indians. He famously used non-violent civil disobedience as a means of advocacy, public engagement, and achieving reform.

Currently, in New Delhi, 74 year-old Indian activist Anna Hazare is fasting to publicly protest against rampant corruption in India. His long-standing campaign to have government pass legislation that would create an ombudsman with sweeping powers to probe corruption at all levels, has led to widespread public support and demonstrations all over India.

Like Gandhi, Hazare wants to make change happen; he wants people to be witness to his actions, so that they can be inspired to demand an end to the endemic bribery and misuse of public funds that stand in the way of equal rights and opportunities in democratic India.

Much public funding is earmarked for local village-level projects and programs in rural India. C. Griffin’s blog of July 12th addresses the issue of corruption and discusses Save A Family Plan’s role in promoting good governance. Properly informed, local citizens can be empowered to demand transparency and accountability from their local governing bodies. They, too, can be models for peaceful action and inspire positive change in their communities.

India was the British Empire’s “jewel in the Crown”. The journey to independence was fraught with incredible challenges that continue to trouble the two nations that emerged in 1947. That India today is world’s largest democracy, fourth largest economy, and a global leader in science and technology, is proof that this country has the resources and ingenuity to overcome a difficult past and achieve greatness.

However, the greatest challenge remains the inequity—the huge numbers of impoverished, marginalized, and oppressed citizens who have yet to experience the benefits of an independent, democratic India. It is these people for whom Gandhi acted—for whom others now act in defence of justice and equality.

Jean Vanier, humanitarian and founder of L’Arche (worldwide network of homes shared by those with developmental disabilities and those who assist them), is an admirer of Gandhi, whom he calls “a defender of the poorest and the weakest…a man with a vision of liberation through love, wisdom, and non-violence.” According to Vanier, non-violence is, “…an attitude where we do not hate or want to use violence, but where we want the oppressor to change and to grow in justice and truth.” (Jean Vanier Essential Writings, Whitney-Brown, 2008)

Independent India and Pakistan did not arise without violence; sadly, Gandhi’s attitude was not shared by all. However, his legacy continues to inspire individuals and organizations in India, and worldwide, who work in peace to ensure a dignified, secure, and healthy life for all.

L.L. Chan

Corruption – An Obstacle to India’s Development

Investigations into events such as the 2010 Commonwealth Games have brought problem of corruption in India to the forefront of international news.

Recent protests in India have brought attention to a serious issue that threatens the country’s potential for development – the problem of corruption. Corruption is a deeply rooted issue that penetrates all levels of government and directly affects a great number of people in India. On a large scale, there are reports of individuals and companies illegally benefitting from large government-funded projects, allocation of resources, and the illegal seizure of land. Down at the individual level, many people are required to pay bribes to access services promised to them by the government.

Since corruption of this kind is nothing new to India, why has it recently brought about such a strong reaction from the people? It has been suggested that the rising inequality that can be seen throughout the country is partially responsible for triggering the recent protests. As India sees vast improvements in economic growth and prosperity, the government has worked to develop a wide range of anti-poverty programs to ensure that the financial success of the country is felt by everyone. These programs cost billions of dollars and far surpass the efforts of other Asian countries. However, many of the programs have little chance of reaching those most in need, largely because of problems with corruption.

Corruption creates difficulties among many of the families and communities working with Save A Family Plan, as I discovered during my stay in India last year. In one small fishing village that I visited in Tamil Nadu near the city of Tuticorin, we met with several families headed by widows who had lost their husbands at sea. Although all widows living below the poverty line are entitled to a small monthly widow’s pension through the Indian government, only one of the women we met with was receiving it. We learned that all of them had been turned away by the local government official, except the one who was able to pay a bribe of Rs. 4000 (about $100) to have him accept her application. The conditions that all of these families lived in were appalling and as someone from outside, I found it shocking that such a needless barrier could stand in the way of them receiving the assistance that they needed so desperately.

The problem of corruption is a major obstacle to India’s development and to achieving justice for the poor. With more than 45 years of experience working in India, Save A Family Plan understands the seriousness of this problem and designs programs that work to challenge corruption at a grassroots level. All families and communities involved undergo awareness training to learn about their rights and what they should expect from the government. They gain experience organizing themselves through their participation in sanghams (self-help groups) and have the chance to discuss the problems that they are facing. By joining together, communities can work to challenge corruption within their local government and ensure that everyone can receive government services in a fair and honest way. SAFP works to support these initiatives and promote a society where economic development is paired with justice and good governance for everyone.

By Cassandra Griffin
Save A Family Plan Staff

India in the News – India’s Disappearing Girl Children

This year, India has undertaken the immense task of compiling the 15th National Census of the Country. As the data is assembled and analyzed, there has been much interest in what the numbers will show in terms of well-being and how much improvement has taken place since the previous census in 2001.

While many areas are showing improvement, one troubling finding that has been making the news in recent weeks is the sex ratio, a measurement of the number of girls in the population for every 1,000 boys. While nature tends to produce slightly more boys than girls (approximately 952 girls for every 1,000 boys), India’s population has seen a steady decrease from this number among children below the age of 6 in the past few decades. The 2001 census found only 927 girls per 1,000 boys in this age group and the number has fallen to just 914 girls in this year’s data. It is estimated that nearly 12 million girls have “disappeared” from the population since the 1980’s.

This trend reflects an inherent preference of male children within families. While many people are now choosing to have fewer children, the desire for male children, who are seen as able to generate income for the family, increases. Girls, on the other hand, require an expensive dowry in order to marry and are often unavailable to take care of their aged parents since they have responsibilities within their husbands’ family. In some cases, this negative view of girl children within families translates into the practice of female feticide and infanticide, as is clearly reflected in the falling sex ratio.

Save A Family Plan is committed to working with the people of India to promote a society where women and men are both valued equally within families.  By providing training in gender issues and creating self-help groups (or sanghams), our partner organizations help to encourage important discussions within communities on critical issues that negatively impact the perception of girls and women. SAFP also places importance on the education of girls and providing women with skills training and small business opportunities so that they can earn an income to support their families. Many move on to become leaders and key decision makers within their communities. When women are able to fully participate in the social, political, and economic life of their communities,  girls can no longer be seen as a burden on the family.

The data found in the 2011 census regarding sex selection of children clearly outlines the importance of the work that SAFP and many other NGO’s are doing in India. We have reason to believe that this trend can be reversed. If we consider the state of Kerala, where SAFP’s work has been concentrated for many years, we find extremely high literacy rates among women and a sex ratio that is increasing, in contrast to the national trend. As SAFP expands its programming to states and remote areas in the India where these problems are more severe, we believe that our work will promote a society where the roles of both men and women will be valued and celebrated.

By Cassandra Griffin