It starts with the girls

February 6, 2015
By Rang De Team

“Our girls are leaving the boys behind. It is becoming increasing difficult to find suitable husbands for them.”

That little nugget of information was imparted to us by a US returned doctor who had spent a major portion of his professional life in the service of the marginalized tribal populations in Tamil Nadu. We were listening to him take us through the history of the efficient and truly impressive hospital he had helped build. Staffed and managed entirely by the community members, the hospital provides first rate curative health services to nearly 25,000 tribals.

Talking about the preventive health program led to a discussion about education which inevitably led to talks about higher education and the at-risk youth population.

“Girls are better than boys at studies, they are more focused. And that is true for most parts of the world. Girls are outperforming boys at highly competitive Medical and Business schools globally. In the communities we work in, you would find that ever since we started our work most of the young girls have completed their schooling but boys start dropping out after class 8th. “

The girls have gone on to become nurses/ teachers in the community managed hospital and school, and that has led to a new kind of social problem. In our society where manual labour is still a strong signifier of class and caste and education the most common agent of upward mobility, the boys had been losing out to the girls both in terms of education and social status.The organization is now launching a skill development/ vocational training program for the youth. The program will focus on the students who drop out of schools and hopefully redress the imbalance.

Shot at Charaka- a women’s cooperative society, in Heggodu district (Karnataka)

Development is a knotty challenge mainly because poverty and inequality manifest themselves within a society in complicated ways. Due to the overlap between social and economic spaces, interventions in one area sometimes have unforeseen impact on another one. For instance, studies indicate that increased participation of women in the labour force has a positive impact on the expenditure on children’s health and education. Or that there is an inverse correlation between child mortality rate and every additional year of education for women of reproductive age.

We are often asked why more than 90% of our borrowers are women. Are we prejudiced against male borrowers? The short explanation is no, we are not. We rely on our impact partners to identify borrowers and since Self Help Group/ Joint Liability Group is a concept that has worked far better amongst women, the applications we get are overwhelmingly from women borrowers

The complicated answer however is this. It has to begin with the women. For our borrowers, greater financial independence leads to a more active role in decision making. The confidence that the challenge of running a micro business imparts shakes up traditional patriarchal norms. And their men folk will just have to step up.

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