New Delhi: In a society where girls often get married by the age of 17 and have four kids by the time they turn 21, women typically face violence in one form or another, be it physical or mental, says Preeti Soni from Kutch, Gujarat. Soni is the executive director of Kutch Mahila Vikas Samiti (KMVS), which has been working to improve the lives of women for 20 years.
Last year, the organization started Hello Sakhi, a mobile helpline for women, in conjunction with the local police department. A special cell has been set up to handle calls from women in nearly 940 villages in the west zone of Kutch. The initiative provides support to women through counselling, provides them shelter and, if need be, helps them file police complaints. It also gives training to groups of women to stand up against physical and mental harassment. Soni was in New Delhi on Friday to receive the Manthan Award, South Asia, for digital inclusion for development under women innovation for mobile awards.
“We have suffered, that is why we are here,” she says when asked how her organization came up with the idea to start the helpline. “We had been working on this for quite some time, but it could take shape only when we received positive response from the Kutch police.”
The initiative also informs village women about their rights, particularly property rights, and domestic violence. It works with a paralegal team—a group of two to three village women given training in the judicial system and basic rights of women. At the block level, the group conducts counselling for distressed women with the help of lawyers. Since the launch of the helpline in March 2010, some 670 women have received direct help through calls and 300 women have attended counselling services through the helpline. The group also has more than 200 paralegal cadres.
Another winner of the award was Barefoot College, a 40-year-old non-governmental organization, for its programme titled Empowerment of 25,000 poor rural women through mobile phones and Tilonia community radio. The programme educates 25,000 poor women, widows or physically challenged rural women in Tilonia, a village in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The community radio station, which covers 15 villages and reaches 100,000 listeners, shares knowledge on water management techniques, healthcare, environment protection, use of renewable energy, employment and self-employment opportunities.
Half the listeners who contact the community centre use their mobiles to get in touch with the staff for help and enquiry. “It’s very empowering for me and other women who are part of this programme,” says Norti Devi, who has worked to bring pay parity for men and women. A research for Vodafone India Foundation by Vital Wave Consulting says mobile phones represent the largest opportunity to address women, who suffer from pervasive inequality and have distinct health, education and economic needs, with 225 million women with mobile phones.
The Maternal Health Services on Mobile, an initiative started in October 2009 to circulate vital information regarding reproductive and child health to women using localized SMSes in Hindi, was the third recipient of the award. This project is implemented by the Datamation Foundation Trust, a community organization working for healthcare, livelihood and education. Microsoft Research is one of its partners. There were 12 nominees for the awards.