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Accounting for skills
Ajitha Menon

GENDER: Women in Purulia are busy acquiring literacy skills to back their financial independence  

The women of West Bengal's Purulia district have been striding towards change for the last few years now, transforming the livelihood status and economic condition of hundreds of families. Today, for instance, women of 184 SHGs in the Barrabazar Block have managed to build a collective corpus fund of Rs 1.9 crore in the bank -- no small feat for those who have spent the greater part of their lives living below the poverty line. But with the money coming in another critical concern started plaguing them: As illiterate or semi-literate women, how were they to manage their earnings?

Says Sujala Murmu, 35, of village Tuima Baradi, “We feared that we might be cheated. We were making payments, takings loans, paying interest to the bank - all blindly, on trust. This concerned us greatly. We wanted to learn to read and write, to know the numbers.”

Literacy has never been strong around these parts - even the 2011 Census gives Purulia an average literacy rate of 65.38. The female literacy rate is a dismal 51.29 compared to a male literacy rate of 78.85.

That's when Pradan stepped in and initiated a literacy programme, under which village-level Functional Literacy Centres were set up with the support of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust.

Despite a laborious day working in the fields, managing their household chores and collecting firewood from the forest for fuel and for sale, Sujala, Sadmoni, and 2,413 other women in 108 centres, religiously attend class. As a result, they can now read and write in Bangla and do basic mathematics.

The idea has been to impart literacy and numeral ability to women to make their organisations more relevant for them. "At the same time, we expected the enlightened women to help their respective groups in ensuring greater participation and transparency, adds Khumbakar. That's exactly what happened.

Take Baramani Maji, 33, the coordinator of Tuima Baradi village. Herself a school dropout, she is now taking classes for the illiterate women of her SHG, Turla Utnaoi Mahila Samity.

"Once the basics are through, in the second phase, the women learn to handle calculators, read newspapers and do paragraph writing. They are taught to fill forms as well. So our focus remains functional learning," points out Banerjee. For training and consulting for this project, Pradan has tied up with Delhi-based women's resource centre Jagori and Nirantar that empowers women through education. (WFS)

Source: Accounting for skills