Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brenda Gael McSweeney Shares a Glimpse of Action-Research near Shantiniketan

Last month, Brenda gave a brief description of gender research initiated with colleagues in West Bengal, India, on their programs for self-reliant development. She first became involved in 1998 as the United Nations Development Programme representative providing support to Srihaswani, or “Creative manual skills for self-reliant development,” in West Bengal, India. This is the brainchild of development thinkers and activists Krishno and Chandana Dey and Shantum Seth.

This year the research of Brenda and Chandana with the latter’s Project Team focused on non-formal education. Brenda described some of the changes she had observed since she first visited the area.

A spate of progressive legislation has been enacted in India, ranging from 100 days of guaranteed work at the minimum wage in rural areas to mid-day school meal schemes, plus recent pace-setting provisions against domestic violence against women and child labor. It was fascinating for Chandana and Brenda to hear directly from women in the villages where different groups constitute the majority of the population – Hindu, Muslim and Santhal (tribal) – as to the actual impact of such measures at the grassroots level. Receiving “top marks” from the women was the employment guarantee scheme.

According to Chandana Dey, one of the most challenging issues that the villagers have been addressing with the Project Team is finding ways of getting children to attend school and other government-run programs such as the “Anganwadi” where mothers and children under six are given nutrition supplements. The women both forfeit work and face the dangers of travel with youngsters during the monsoon season. Hence the Team initiated pre-school activities right in the least advantaged neighborhoods. This approach tallies with UNESCO’s emphasis on the importance of early childhood education in its 2007 report monitoring global progress towards ‘Education for All.’

And once ‘hidden’ women were both visible and vocal, reflected in the snap above in a village outside of Shantiniketan, articulating their views on a range of development issues while attending an interactive gathering. Some of the women grew up in the same village where they later married. In their view, today, many things have improved including more access to education and work opportunities.

No comments: