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Improving Women’s Lives

All of Seva Mandir’s development activities impact on women’s lives. Our work on WASH has reduced the time spent by women walking kilometres to collect water, and made open wells safer, thus reducing the frequency of accidents involving women falling into deep wells. Easily accessible clean drinking water has made families, especially children, healthier. Toilet-building has given women and girls a degree of privacy which was not possible when they had to relieve themselves in the fields. We have also involved women in designing the Ecosan toilets built for communities, thus ensuring that we offer what women want (including a private space for personal and clothes washing). Women have been at the forefront of efforts to persuade rural people to use these toilets and end open defecation.


All our initiatives to improve the conditions for farming, the amount of farmland that is cultivable, the variety of crops and agricultural yields (see Natural Resources) have improved the lives and livelihoods of women as well as men. Afforestation interventions have given women the ability to collect fodder to use on their farms, or to sell at the market.

Knowledge and awareness of issues surrounding women’s and children’s health have been the target of sustained campaigns by Seva Mandir’s health experts, with particular attention paid to reducing levels of anaemia, increasing rates of immunisation in women as well as children, providing access to safe, supervised childbirth, reducing recourse to unqualified local ‘quacks’, and advice on diet. Our introduction of a Reproductive Health programme in the 1990s allowed women to talk about this type of problem for the first time, and to seek help and understand the causes. It also encouraged men to be sensitive to these issues.

Our team of Balsakhis visit women in their homes and offer advice during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Our trained community healthcare staff (midwives as well as the Balsakhis) have for years accompanied women and children to government health facilities and often supplemented the care on offer. By increasing awareness and encouraging communities’ familiarity with institutional services, Seva Mandir has encouraged women to demand better healthcare and to use the facilities provided, not least for childbirth.

Our provision of full-day Balwadis offering day care for children aged between one and five is a key tool in empowering women. Knowing that young children are being cared for, fed and stimulated allows women to attend to other activities, including paid work. It also means that elder siblings, often girls, are free to go to school instead of babysitting. Our work to support and improve government-run Anganwadis increases the effectiveness of these institutions, though the fact that they do not operate for a full day limits their value to working mothers. The recipe demonstrations and kitchen gardens recently introduced as part of the project have also been widely appreciated, and our staff take the opportunity to talk to mothers about nutritious food, good diets and the need to make sure that they themselves eat enough.

A project to provide cleaner, more efficient cookstoves (using less firewood, therefore saving women’s time collecting it, and producing less harmful smoke for them and their children to inhale) began life within Seva Mandir, before becoming a core activity of the now independent Udaipur Urja Initiatives Producer Co. Ltd

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