Asmita Resource Centre for Women

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The Asmita Resource Centre for Women is an Indian NGO based in Andhra Pradesh. It works to better the socio-economic status of women and communities in India as it strives to "build a cadre of young women who are capable, efficient and feminist in perspective and who can oppose violence and corruption with visions of an alternative".[1] Through outreach programs, research, publications, and media campaigns, the center creates a safe space in which women, men, and youth can engage in critical dialog on and analysis of feminist issues and other critical issues that the collective identifies.


A grassroots organization initially formed to conduct training and prepare training materials for other women's efforts groups, Asmita was founded on August 15, 1991. Its original members included teachers, poets, social scientists, doctors, and other socially conscious professionals and community members. This core group has expanded, as have the outreach programs of the Women's Centre.

Cultural context[edit]

Asmita plays an important role in a wider social context: with other NGOs, the center seeks to redress social issues that have a great impact on India’s female and youth populations. Issues of particular interest include addressing the disparity between illiteracy rates of young men and women, the drop-out trend in urban areas that particularly affects young women, and the lack of economic opportunity faced by many Indian women and urban residents. Indian women have the lowest literacy rates in Asia. In a 1991 survey, less than 40 percent of the 330 million women aged 7 and older were literate. Literacy plays a much bigger role than simply being able to read or not. Literacy has been correlated with high levels of fertility, mortality poor nutritional status, low earning potential and little autonomy.[2]

This work is plagued by a cultural, economic, and educational tradition that reinforces patriarchal attitudes. Women’s roles are traditionally inferior. As women gain increasing access to education and economic opportunities, however, centers like Asmita gain important local support that creates a haven within a society that, facing significant social difficulties, is ill-equipped to deal with social change. Difficulties include the engrained structural makeup of the Indian workforce and the design of the educational system. Youth make up 22% of India’s population (World’s Youth 106) and between 10 and 33% of the Indian workforce in certain industries (WY 120). Centers like Asmita give children opportunities for education and growth while also providing supportive atmospheres that hope to keep children from being exploited in the child labor market.

Gender differences in education[edit]

Disparities in education are vast between the genders: fewer women are enrolled in school then men, and many of them drop out. In 1992-1993, 61% of girls aged 6 to 10 were attending school. About 45% of women will drop out between the grades of 1 and 5. Drop out occurs mainly because of family responsibilities, or as a result of parental efforts to prevent female children from interacting with boys.[2] One of the many major barriers to education for women is the inadequacy of schooling and school facilities, which include a shortage of female teachers and a gender-biased educational system. The facilities at many of the schools lack sanitary water and/or bathrooms. A 1997 survey estimated that 54% of schools lacked sanitary water and 80% lacked bathrooms. The population boom in the youth of India also contributes to the overcrowding of school facilities—there is simply not enough space within the schools to accommodate the children.

At the primary level, 78% of teachers are men. This percentage demonstrates the lack of female involvement in the formal education process. This can produce a cyclical effect: seeing few women teaching, girls may feel even less encouraged to continue their own educations and to pursue careers in education. There is also a lingering negative perception of "the educated woman." The education of women may still be seen as a waste of resources because, historically, men are supposed to work, which now necessitates education, while women are supposed to take care of the home.[2]

Inequality in the work force[edit]

A lack of equal work opportunities for women forces many to work in low or unskilled labor markets, including agricultural work. This relegation of women to unskilled, low-prestige work, long hours, the lack of job security, and lack of adequate payment contribute to a marked absence of women’s empowerment in the workforce.[3] The additional cultural expectation that women be chaste, modest, and deferential can also contribute to gender-biased employment opportunities. Families may look at female members as economic opportunities for the unit, expecting women to work and earn money for the family instead of continuing an education. In a one study, two-thirds of women felt that they had to work much harder to receive the same benefits of men [4]

While many women are working in unskilled, low-paying jobs, the number of women in the formal and professional work place is on the rise. A 1991 survey showed that women main workers raised 40% while men only raised 23%. Indian women seem to be following the model of Western Women in their attempt to gain equality.[4] Central desires are improvements in health care, education, favorable legislation, and job opportunities.

Government role in establishing equality[edit]

The struggle for women's rights in India exists against the backdrop of a society that was and is traditionally patriarchal. This inherent hesitance regarding formal and informal assertion of gender equality has been spurred forward somewhat by government involvement in creating a socially acceptable and responsive women's movement. Governmental policies in India have tried to enforce gender equality through various additions to the constitution and legislative acts formed after gaining independence from England.[5] These laws and amendments include: Article 14, which expressly states that there shall be equal protection of the law and equality before the law; Article 15, which guarantees the right not to be discriminated against; and Article 16, which asserts that there exists a right of equal opportunity in matters of public employment.[6] While these and other legislative acts and policies theoretically work to guarantee gender equality* [6] there are still significant cultural barriers to be surmounted. Domestic abuse is, for example, still a problem: over 18% of men report sexually abusing their wives in the northern districts of India, while* the incidence of domestic abuse increases over 25% once a woman becomes pregnant*.


The Asmita collective organizes and supports a wide range of programs that aid women and communities. These programs include legal aid and counseling for women who are victims of harassment (wife battering, family harassment, dowry harassment, and so on), conducting training on issues of socio-economic justice that focus on gender, the Panchayat Raj System, health, leadership, and education, as well as many programs on youth and adult literacy and education.

Children's Resource Centre[edit]

In 2000, Asmita opened the Children’s Resource Centre, having as its objective the goal of creating "a space, a proper learning environment and security for children of nearby slums who are school drop-outs" and who have no or inadequate resources for education. These learning spaces seek to be non-violent atmospheres in which a rapport can be developed with children; this atmosphere can allow children to perceive themselves not only as learners, but as "individuals with their own rights." Having served a total of 200 boys and girls between 3 and 18 years of age, about 50 students on average at a given time, this outreach program is an example of how a locally based NGO can significantly encourage the social development of children while simultaneously providing an environment that encourages literacy, work skills, self-expression, and leadership development. The educational activities implemented include workshops, theme projects, theater, children’s education, and skill training. Children within the program have expressed that the center offers them an alternative source of education where they are able to express their creativity.

Asmita's Resource Centre for Children gives these youths an opportunity for continued education, self-maturation, and growth while also providing a context that may keep children from entering an exploitive child labor market. School drop-outs and non school-going children may join the program. They are able to do structured learning, reading, oral exercises, group activities, physical exercises and creative work. An afternoon session also permits school-going children to be involved, encouraging a children from somewhat varied socio-economic backgrounds to participate. Formal educational activities are interspersed with play and creative work. This allows the creation of an environment that children, "could consider their own. Instead of coercive literacy it provided the possibility of learning through different activities. It offered a range of interaction and experiences essential to a healthy childhood but unavoidable to disadvantaged children” [7]

Two workshops were created in the early phases of this children's program. The first workshop focuses on allowing the children to use their imagination by creating different works of art. The children involved in this workshop work closely with other kids from middle-class families in the neighborhood. They work with paper, glue, and different colors to create paper sculptures, murals, and several other small crafts. Following the completion of their items the children are able to display their works throughout the center. The second workshop focused on puppet making. Different waste materials are used to create puppets and masks, as well as for different murals. This 10-day workshop helps facilitators implement different, low-cost learning aids at the centre. These help make the learning process fun and interactive.

Sultan Shahi Centre[edit]

Asmita helped to found the Sultan Shahi Centre, which seeks to specifically to address concerns of young Muslim women. The inward-centered nature of the communal neighborhoods may place young Muslim women at particular risk of isolation. Lack of employment, poverty, and the social isolation of the community lead to a disparate number of these girls being removed from or never entering schools. This centre serves the two-fold purpose of supplementing education and also pulling-in drop outs. It assists girls and women to pursue educations, provides a safe environment outside the home, and encourages involvement in programs that discuss health, education, civil rights, and gender issues.


Outreach programs also include the Mahila Chaitanya Jatra. The Jatra is an event which seeks to reach out to illiterate and neo literate women from rural areas. Transforming what was a traditional temple festival into an adult learning event, women are able to learn by engaging in theatre, folk song, and dance activities. These activities emphasize the importance of reproductive health and information on Platform for Action, an agenda focusing on the empowerment of women and female children. The project has as its aim the removal if all obstacles to women’s full and active participation in all aspects of public and private life, including seeking equal shares in economic, social, and cultural involvement and political decision-making. The texts used in the Jatras provide women with simplified information that may otherwise be difficult for them to attain. Themes of the Jatra focus on human rights, rights of female children, violence against women, reproductive health, political participation, and Panchayati Raj.

The Mahila Chaitanya Jatras education camps have reached over 15,000 women in rural areas of India. And through plays, audio cassettes, and broadcasting, information provided through the Jatras has reached over 75,000 women. This may show that an audiovisual-based approach, as used in the Jatra, can provide an extremely important means of reaching non-literate and neo-literate women. [7]


  1. ^ (NGOs, 2005).
  2. ^ a b c Velkoff, Victoria. "Women's Education in India" (1998)
  3. ^ (2005) Nandal, Santosh. "Extent and Causes of Gender and Poverty in India: A Case Study of Rural Hayana" Journal of International Women's Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 182-190, Nov 2005
  4. ^ a b Dunlop, J., Velkoff, V. "Women and the Economy in India" (1999)
  5. ^ Gender, Class, and Cast Schisms in Affirmative Action Policies: the Curious Case of India's Women Reservation Bill."
  6. ^ a b Women in India: the Good News and the Bad
  7. ^ a b (Asmita, 2004).

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