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Tenth Plan: NE – Perspective for Women

Issues for Consideration

Over the years the planning strategies for women have evolved from welfare to development to empowerment. Policy planners have become more sensitive to gender and women’s issue in recent years. A large number of policies and programs have been brought out to improve the status of women. The programs and schemes have been targeted to meet specific problems and needs of women especially those that are disadvantaged and below the poverty line.

To further strengthen these efforts, legislative measures have also been enacted when warranted. While there is nothing amiss in the conceptualization of the schemes, yet when it comes to implementation and delivery of programs and services we seem to have faltered. Serious thought needs to be given as to why this is so. Perhaps, a sense of commitment is lacking, coupled with lack of skills and capability in handling the schemes. Hence, training of all levels should be an essential and mandatory requirement for these functionaries involved in executing programs. A sense of motivation to the task at hand must be instilled through the training process.

Further, we need to look at the way the services are delivered to overcome aspects that have not been taken into account or ignored. The Ninth Plan made two significant changes in the conceptual strategy planning for women:

(i) Empowerment of women – the approach being to create an enabling environment; where women can freely exercise their rights both within and outside home as equal partners along with men.

(ii) The adoption of a special strategizing of Women’s Component Plan through which, not less than 30% of funds/benefit should be earmarked in all women related sectors. This called for convergence of existing services, resources, infrastructure and manpower available both in women specific and women related sectors, with the ultimate objective of achieving the empowerment of women.

While the Central Govt. has come out with National Policy for Empowerment of Women, most of the states in the North East have yet to make any formal statement in the State’s Plan. A commitment has to be made to ensure that the right environment is created in the North-east. For this specific goal, targets and policy prescription needs to be laid down by each state.

As regards the Women’s Component Plan – while guidelines for reserving 30% of the funds/benefits may have been spelt out, this is not being adhered to in actual implementation. This reservation needs to be translated into action. Further, the convergence of services, which is sought between departments handling women sector specific, and women related have not materialized. Where attempts have been made, the efforts have been in a lackadaisical manner. What this calls for, is to clearly spell out the mechanisms by which the desired convergence can be achieved in a focused manner and the effort seen throughout joint training and closer inter department consultations are a must to ensure convergence of programs and services at the field level.

The Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance have issued guidelines for allocation of at least 10% of central funds for implementation of programs in the North Eastern States. Here, too specific guidelines and direction need to be spelt out for earmarking of at least 30% of funds/benefits for women to ensure creation of the enabling environment for the empowerment of women.

With reference to the North-East, the guidelines, norms and parameter for execution of Central Govt. Programs and Schemes need to be relaxed and made state/region specific. This is very essential in view of the special constraints and problems faced in the region. For e.g. STEP guidelines requiring minimum number of beneficiaries may not be workable in the sparsely populated hilly tribal regions. Similarly, the stipulation of minimum of three years’ activities in the related field as a prerequisite for financial assistance acts as an impediment in related field as a prerequisite for financial assistance acts as an impediment in respect of some areas of the North East Region, which do not have a long tradition of such activities in a formal manner.

On the other hand, there are a large number of traditional women groups, which carry out such activities in the informal sector. What needs to be done is to induct these women’s groups into the existing institutional framework. The governments of North East Region can be provided a special package of training to facilitate this process during the Tenth Plan Period. Gender-related data presently available for the North East is inadequate which hampers and distorts in the planning of programs for women. Special surveys and collection of data relating to gender indicators must be taken up. For instance the successive census shows that the sex ratio in the North East has shown a marked increase (though this is not as adverse as compared to the all India average). This is a concern, which needs to be enquired into, and trend reversed by adoption of various measures in the areas of health, education, nutrition and social attitudes etc. More studies and research therefore should be sponsored to get to the root causes for the increasing adverse trend.

The problems of insurgency and ethnic conflict in the North East have an adverse impact on women and children. Special package of programs therefore need to be formulated to resolve the conflict in general and rehabilitate in particularly children and women affected by these situation. Another area requiring immediate attention is the problem of HIV/AIDS in the region. Women and children have become hapless victims and need special support in combating and living with this phenomenon. Mechanism for coping and adjustment within the society needs to be formulated expeditiously and special allocation of funds must be made available for this purpose.

Programs for harnessing adolescent and youth power in the region are another area where action is required. This would divert their attention away from insurgency into more constructive areas. Awareness and Education programs on important issues likely to affect the lives of adolescents especially adolescents girls, needs to be drawn-up for their empowerment.

Another area, which needs to be flagged in the context of North East, is the issue of access to credit from the financial institutions. The positive experience of women’s self help groups in other parts of the country have not been replicated in the North East Region primarily on account of overall environment of access to commercial credit. The financial institution which have no doubt a poor experience of recoveries in the past have almost closed down lending activities, particularly for small and self employed entrepreneurs.

The financial institutions need to critically evaluate their non-performing accounts and analyze the more current trends rather than clubbing together with all historical Non-Performing Accounts (NPA’s) in one omnibus category. They should also keep in mind the experiences of financial institutions lending to women SHGs in other parts of the country as well as globally which has been extremely positive. There is no reason to believe that the response of women SHG‘s and credit societies of Manipur would be any different and to that extent, the financial institutions need to adopt a more focused approach towards such women based groups.

In fact, several such groups exist but have not been able to substantially expand their activities due to the lack of support from financial institutions. Their dependence on the informal credit system, which is based on various rates of interest, has been a major handicap in the financial empowerment in the region. For example STEP guidelines requiring minimum number of beneficiaries may not be workable in the sparely populated hilly tribal regions.

Similarly, the stipulation of minimum of three years activity in the related field as a prerequisite for financial assistance acts as an impediment in respect of some areas of the North East region, which do not have a long tradition of such activities in a formal manner. On the other hand there are a large number of traditional women’s groups, which carry out such activities in the informal sector. What needs to be done is to induct these women’s groups into the existing institutional framework.

The Governments of the North East Region can be provided as special package of training to facilitate this process during the Tenth Plan Period. Good and dedicated NGO activity and network needs to be encouraged in the North East. Each state should strengthen and build up partnership for the development and empowerment of women and community.

Lastly, a need to review the customary laws and practices particularly those relating to inheritance and succession and property rights. While the women in the North East enjoy a better social and economic status than her sister counterparts in the rest of the country, yet her position is undermined as she is unable to participate in the political and decision making process. It is therefore, imperative to remedy this present situation by providing opportunities for her participation in these fields.

One of the constraining factors is the customary laws and practices. Hence, there is a need to initiate a dialogue with the local communities and women groups to bring about positive amendments in the local laws and customs. This would go a long way in improving the women’s status in the North East. Women must also find a place in the political and decision-making processes such as the village authority and councils. Only then can women’s empowerment can take root.

*The article is written by Smt C R Chhibber

*The writer is principal secretary, SW, TD, MOBC & Hills, Government of Manipur. This approach paper was presented in a regional consultation meeting on the 10th Five Year Plan approach, organized by the NEN at Shillong on November 23, 2001.

(Courtesy: The Imphal Free Press)

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