Confident, trained slum women’s groups negotiate to make urban governance more responsive and overcome socio-environmental exclusion

Confident, trained slum women’s groups negotiate to make urban governance more responsive and overcome socio-environmental exclusion

Paper presented at: 13th International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) San Francisco, California, United States of America, Apil 3, 2016

Siddharth Agarwal1, Shabnam Verma1, Neeraj Verma1, Agarwal, Kabir2, Sharma M.R1, Sharma C.B1, Shrey Goel3

Urban Health Resource Centre, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi 110029, India

2Dept. of Economics, Univerity of Mumbai, Kalina Santacruz, Mumbai-4000098

3 Univerity of California, Berkeley, USA

Abstract              Read Full Presentation

Purpose: The urban vulnerable are excluded from the benefits of India’s urbanizing economic progress. Women are worse off, having lower social status and weak control over finances, decision making. The urban disadvantaged, including women contribute cheap labour towards India’s GDP as construction site, brick kiln workers, labourers. Excluded from availing education, healthcare, social-opportunities, entitlements and services in city. With restrictions on freedom of movement; weak social- networks; little awareness of opportunities, services, child-bearing migrant-girls, women faced greater risks. Urban Health Resource Centre (UHRC) works across 410,000 slum/informal-settlement population in Agra and Indore to form women’s groups improve social cohesion, collective negotiation to improve urban governance.

Methods: UHRC advocates for efforts to address vulnerability of urban slum/informal-settlement populations, and facilitates civic authority action in response to community needs.  Platforms for interaction are created for these purposes.  Slum women are trained and mentored to submit need-specific petitions, send reminder requests, maintain paper trail, negotiate tactfully. They are motivated to persevere and succeed through focussed efforts at accessing government/civic services and entitlements.  Schemes and entitlements are also explained to women.

Outcomes: Slum women’s groups gradually contribute to a positive gender equation at family and society levels, provide social support to needy families. Women’s enhanced access to resources and greater capacity to take timely care of themselves, children, and the family helps the family and community. In a patriarchal society, women’s groups contribute to increasing women’s autonomy in decisions on healthcare, children’s (including girls’) education, associated expenditure and promote savings. They prevent early marriages of girls in a society where some families considering girls unsafe marry them early[i] and reduce number of alcohol vending, gambling joints.

In Indore-Agra, during April 2013-March 2015, negotiation capacity cultivated in women-groups with training, skill-building, mentoring led to 37000 persons among urban vulnerable communities benefitting from piped water supply, 12000 population benefitting with metered electric connections. Streets in 33 slums were paved benefiting 100000 urban slum/informal-settlement population, 140,000 population benefitted from regular cleaning of drains. 14000 persons not previously having government ID and proof of address obtained these crucial documents which enable legitimacy as citi-zens and facilitate access to government schemes and services. Appreciation, sustained mentoring, training builds collective confidence, negotiation skills among urban disadvantaged communities to work towards overcoming exclusions, vulnerabilities and enhance access to services, entitlements. Social recognition, respect, confidence and skills acquired are factors that keep women motivated.

Conclusions: Lessons from Indore and Agra, have resulted in Government of India’s National Urban Health Mission (NUHM) mandating Women’s Health Groups (Mahila Arogya Samiti) as the demand side intervention[ii]. The approach of slum women’s group led negotiation for services, entitlements is adaptable across growing Indian and other developing country cities.

[i] 26 per cent women age 20-24 became mothers before age 18 years against 8 per cent among the rest of the urban population – quartile analysis of Urban component of NFHS-3, India.

[ii] Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2013). National Urban Health Mission: Framework for implementation. May 2013.