“Since you have been visiting, my mind has been opened. Before, we never met as a village. Women didn’t sit and talk. Nobody had knowledge. Now, we get together. We have relationships. We campaigned, and we got a road.”
Ram Saki’s reflection on how life in her Indian village has improved since TEAR’s partner, the Emmanuel Hospital Association, began ‘visiting’ is a telling insight into the power of collective action. For six years, EHA’s community worker has been equipping the families with the knowledge and skills to advocate for their government entitlements. Through this ‘rights-based’ approach, Ram Saki and her neighbours have campaigned for, and received, an electricity connection, public toilets, a water pump, and a sealed access road. It took a lot of paperwork and some determined meetings in the local government office, but they got them in the end.
They also discovered that the health worker was supposed to visit regularly, and that immunisations were available – so they campaigned for those too. As the women became more aware of gender discrimination, they have gradually worked to change entrenched cultural attitudes. Now, there is a support group for adolescent girls, marriages are discouraged until girls turn 18, and there has been a dramatic reduction in the abortion rate of girl babies.
All of these collective achievements are, for Ram Saki, the highlight of her involvement with EHA. There’s also a big change for her own family. With no land of their own, the family rely on a rented field to survive as farmers. Half of their produce is paid to the landowner. EHA has supported Ram Saki to start her own business raising chickens, and to improve the output of her crop with new seed and planting techniques. Her business is now generating steady income, and Ram Saki hopes to one day buy her own land.