Mothers in rural India who participate in vocational training programmes get, in return, an increased bargaining strength at homes – thus significantly improving their children’s consumption of rice and dairy.
“There is evidence that if women have more bargaining power in the household – particularly in developing countries where cash is very tight – quite often more resources go toward the kids,” said economist Kathy Baylis from University of Illinois.
Some of the women initially said things like, “I never knew anybody like me could work outside of the home” and “I never knew anyone like me could stand up to her husband”.
“But after participating in the Mahila Samakhya programme, even if they did not go out and use that vocational training in jobs, they felt that they had a little more right to exert more of a say over household resources,” Baylis explained.
“We went into homes with bowls and asked how many bowls this size of rice did your kids eat yesterday? Not only do we see evidence that more is going to kids, but more food is going to girls in particular,” she noted.
In India, over 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.
This is despite the fact that per capita income has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and agricultural production is at an all-time high, with large buffer stocks of cereals in government granaries.
In the study, 487 women were surveyed from six of 13 districts in Uttarakhand.
Baylis said that the study shows that women who are more empowered, educated and mobile can actually change the village culture.
After participating in Mahila Samakhya, women realised they have their own identity, that they can work if they want to and that they can influence household and community decisions, stressed the study.
According to Baylis, domestic violence is a huge problem here.
“In several villages, we heard of support groups where women would go knock on doors and threaten to expose men if they did not stop the violent behaviour”.
“The idea is to bring together women in villages with some training and set up a support group,” Baylis said.
This study is one of the first to study how peer networks affect female bargaining power and child welfare and one of the first evaluations of the Mahila Samakhya programme since it began in 1995 to educate and empower rural Indian women.