WOMEN BUILDERS: Breaking barriers in earthquake-torn villages

Published by: Books for Change, Bangalore
Written by: Max Martin

A decade after the 1993 earthquake that devastated it, Usturi village of Latur, Maharashtra, has new gender equations. Groups of women move around to check if their schools and health centres function properly, admonishing errant teachers and health workers. In Ambulga village, they break into the Gram Panchayat, an old male bastion, and try to impose a ban on liquor shops.

In remote villages of Kutch in Gujarat that are still recovering from another earthquake, women dramatically lift their veils to speak up in the Gram Panchayat, upsetting caste and gender equations. They run flourmills and dairy farms, build rain-harvesting structures and manage village water supply.

Sometimes it takes an earth-shattering event to break social barriers.

WOMEN BUILDERS is an account of women breaking barriers, rebuilding habitats and restoring livelihoods after disasters. It tells how women's groups take the lead when there is space to take part in rehabilitation and development, with a little help from the Government, donors and NGOs like Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), Mumbai, whose work is the focus of the book.

The book was released in Latur on September 29, 2003, at a meeting of over 4000 women on the eve of the earthquake decennial. It describes how local communities address poverty, unsafe housing and disaster risks while trying to rebuild their neighbourhoods.

In Gujarat, the women who rescued people caught in the rubble left by the 2001 earthquake, are now initiating credit and livelihood activities. Whereas in Maharashtra, a decade after the Latur earthquake, the women's groups that spearheaded the rebuilding process are now trying to ensure better health services, water supply and education facilities for their villages. Most of these women first took part in community affairs while rebuilding houses after the earthquakes. This little book strings together stories of many such women and their villages.

The publisher, Books for Change, Bangalore, brings out publications that address issues of poverty, development, gender and human rights. Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS) International that has supported this book project is a network of women's organisations worldwide.

* Max Martin is an independent journalist based in Bangalore.

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