March 2023

How we do gender at Saamuhika Shakti: Partner Perspectives

A meeting of women's self-help groups in Banashankari.

Gender and equity are specific focuses of the Saamuhika Shakti collective impact initiative. What does this mean on the ground, for our implementing partners? And what does it mean for The/Nudge Institute, as the independent backbone? 

The collective uses a multi-dimensional approach that simultaneously addresses several challenges women face, with the partners working directly with women waste pickers and the critical stakeholders in their lives - their spouses, parents and children, community leaders, teachers, potential employers, and even, residents of the city.

To make this effort stronger, the project is putting in place a vision that all Saamuhika Shakti partners work towards. With the help of a technical partner, the nine partners, and The/Nudge Institute are reflecting on the collective's interventions to see how gender can be better integrated into all programs even more profoundly. 

For International Women's Day in March, we asked each partner about their gender work over the past three years.

Here are some insights into their thinking and how it has worked for them. 

BBC Media Action

Q: What are the different considerations BBC Media Action keeps in mind while reaching women audiences through online content and campaigns? And, how do you tailor your messaging for women audiences?

A: Only 26.5% of social media users in India are women, according to a report by We Are Social. BBC Media Action optimised media strategies so that women social media users have a fair chance to engage with their #Invaluables campaign, which aims to shift how the general public of Bengaluru looks at informal waste pickers and their work.

They did this by:

  • Engaging women influencers: 7 out of 11 influencers who have been part of #Invaluables social media intervention were women.
  • Monitoring social media ads performance and optimising it to reach more women.

And the result?

  • So far, women constitute 37% of audiences reached by the #Invaluables campaign. The team has also observed a higher engagement on video content among women audiences.
  • And, impact monitoring research after the campaign showed better recall among women, especially for the #HappyNumber music video.

CARE India

Q: How do you engage men and boys to support women in the community? 

A: Equity, equality and women’s rights are all about men too.

CARE India provides life skills and entrepreneurship training for waste pickers and also helps them form self-help groups to learn to save their income, open bank accounts and begin small businesses.

While more women than men take part in these training sessions, engaging the male family members is an integral part of CARE India’s work: 

  • The training modules are designed to be gender-sensitive; men are also mobilised to attend soft skill training sessions; and men who have been supportive of their wives, sisters and mothers attending these training sessions are felicitated as male champions to encourage other men to support women.
  • CARE India has also developed a gender dialogue toolkit, through which the team holds regular conversations with both men and women to initiate discussions on gender.

Hasiru Dala

Q: How do you support survivors of domestic violence and substance abuse, and how do you provide mental health support to women waste pickers?

A: One part of Hasiru Dala’s work is to address issues of domestic and gender-based violence, as well as substance abuse and child marriage. Hasiru Dala works with women, girls, men, and boys to break down gender-based stereotypes and stigmas and runs interventions to support women, children, and community members against gender-based violence, domestic violence in the home, and violence within the community.

A team of peer counselors, and health and social services coordinators work across the city to raise awareness against the normalization of domestic violence, substance abuse, child marriage and child labour, and offer paths for therapeutic support, rehabilitation, and schooling, along with judgment-free spaces where their agency is respected.

Other interventions provide support for community members and children against substance abuse and addiction, with help from NIMHANS and other institutions.

With the Centre For Mental Health Law And Policy (CMHLP), the team also empowers a cadre of community peer counselors who are able to reach out to their neighbors and community members and offer mental health support.

Sambhav Foundation

Q: How do your training sessions help women become entrepreneurs?

A: Sambhav Foundation’s skilling program for women from waste-picking communities covers the entire cycle — from training and upskilling to mentoring and market access for their new businesses.

Sambhav Foundation’s entrepreneurship development course helps women learn business planning, financial management, marketing, and sales.

The team supports the women entrepreneurs with six months of handholding, helps them network with women from previous training batches, provides a starter kit so they can set up their businesses (tailoring or beautician therapy), connects them with funding and formalization of business through the National Urban Livelihood Mission, and helps them with market linkages for orders.

Save the Children, India

Q: What are adolescent girl groups and what do they discuss, and how do you make spaces safe for children? 

A: Save the Children, India, has formed adolescent girls’ groups in all their intervention areas in Bengaluru. Apart from providing a safe space for adolescent girls from waste-picking communities to discuss issues that affect their lives, the team brings in technical experts to speak about personal health and hygiene, with a special focus on menstrual health.

The girls have raised questions on safe and unsafe touch, and to cater to this demand, the team has also ramped up awareness sessions on staying safe at home, in school, and in public places.

Impact beyond numbers: the adolescent girls in these groups are taking the lead to make their localities safer for the younger children by sharing their learnings and raising awareness of personal health and ‘safe and unsafe touch’.

Social Alpha

Q:  How have you helped founders consider equity in their organisations and pilots? 

A: As a part of Saamuhika Shakti, Social Alpha has actively worked with founders of start-ups to build capacity and practices to promote gender, inclusion, and diversity across their value chain.  

Most of these start-ups are in the early stages of their operations and while this adds an additional layer of challenges in integrating a balanced gender-responsive approach, it is also an important time in an organization’s journey to start thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Among the steps taken by Social Alpha to encourage start-ups to take adequate measures to solve some of these challenges is co-identifying non-financial milestones — such as the hiring and formalization of women waste pickers in the companies as one of the indicators of demonstrating progress— an unconventional practice for investors in the industry.

WaterAid India

Q: How do your software interventions (awareness and training sessions) help women? 

A: There are clear benefits to women from waste-picking communities having easy access to clean toilets and safe drinking water, which helps ease the load of their daily chores and ensures better physical health. But what can help them have better agency over their lives, bodies, and daily routines?

WaterAid India goes beyond just ensuring access to toilets and water:

  • Menstrual health: The team holds regular sessions for women and girls to reinforce and improve hygiene practices. For the women, this is a space to shed inhibitions and discuss their health issues openly. For younger girls, these sessions help prepare them for the changes their bodies go through, the types of menstrual hygiene products they can use, and how to safely dispose of them.
  • Operation and maintenance committees: WaterAid helps the residents of waste-picker localities form these committees to take ownership of operating and maintaining shared toilets while also learning how to resolve issues among themselves. Women are a part of these committees, actively bringing up their problems and ensuring decisions suit all women. Their participation also helps promote leadership qualities.
  • Hygiene: In most cases, women are engaged in water collection and child care, so sessions on hygiene awareness and ways to store water are directed at them to help keep their families healthy.

Working on gender and equity is an ongoing process and calls for constant reflection and checking of one’s own biases. Saamuhika Shakti attempts to keep women waste pickers as focal points, designing social interventions that bring them together and create safe spaces for them to reflect on their journey. They are exposed to opportunities to pick up skills that can create an alternative source of livelihood if they so choose to move out of waste picking. 

We strive to continue challenging the systematic invisibility of women in waste work. 

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