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‘Bindis’ (auspicious red dots) lend glimmer of hope to the lives of mothers and children
Women's Day Special – 7 March, 2011 [English translation of original Hindi]
Illiterate, yet achieving success through courageous efforts
Amidst lack of awareness and sub-optimal healthcare services, women of the slums of Agra received rude shocks every other day by events of death of mothers and children. As part of an initiative of Urban Health Resource Centre, women in 45 settlements were encouraged to get organized into women's health groups or committees. Fifty-five such women’s health groups are active in these under-served settlements. Even though most of them are illiterate, they have developed such simple ways of taking care of pregnant women and young children that today there is hardly any chance of women and children being left uncared. On a hand-drawn map of the slum, a red dot (worn in India in the centre of the forehead by married women) is placed on the house of pregnant woman and soon after delivery of the baby a smaller red dot is stuck on the same house on the map. Using these maps with the red dots as a mechanism to track all pregnant women and young children, the women’s groups take care of the mothers and infants.

In a slum located in the Trans-Yamuna area of Agra, named Marwari Basti, UHRC motivated women of the slum to form a women’s health group and then provided the training on maternal, infant and child health issues. Ten women members of this group started saving five rupees per month. The President of the women’s group Mrs Jamuna Devi says that prior to this initiative, all deliveries in the slum used to take place at home. The women’s group went house to house and generated awareness among families and women. Today, the women’s group encourages women to delivery in the government hospital and is able to help a large proportion of women deliver in hospital. In many cases the group utilizes its collective savings fund and gives a loan to cover out-of-pocket expenditure. Most pregnant women deliver the savings we offer to go to the nearest government hospital. The women’s group members utilize the training they have received from UHRC over the past five years, ensure that one of them is present in event of home delivery, thereby facilitating clean delivery practices. Working towards saving mothers and infants and helping families overcome healthcare challenges, these are not the ASHA volunteers from the government, but slum women who work selflessly, pool colelctive savings in their group's health fund and provide a protective shielf to mothers and babies.

26-year-old Baby, a member of the women’s group of Marwari Basti said "We prepared a map of our neighbourhood in which all the streets have been marked and responsibility for areas divided among the 10 members. Since we are not educated, we use red dots (‘bindis’) to mark houses of pregnant women and infants on the map of our neighbourhood. Pregnant woman is denoted with a large red dot, while the infant is denoted with a small red dot. This way all of us are able to remember. After the baby is older and all vaccination is compeltd, the red dot is removed.

Gaining greater recognition with economic strength

Most families make decorative hunters from waste strips of leather. They save 100 rupees every month. The group gives loans for health needs at an interest of 2% per month and at an interest of 3% per month for other purposes. Earlier our life was without hope, but today we have the economic strength and recognition. Baby does not know about the International Women's Day but says that if women are determined, they can leave men behind.
In another slum Kachpura, the 'Taj Mahila Arogya Samiti' a women's group comprising of 11 women has collective savings of sixty thousand rupees. The group offers loans for health purposes to group members as well as other families in the slum at modest affordable interest rates. According to the treasurer of the women's health committee, Sunita, facilitating deliveries in hospitals and vaccination of children is our responsibility which we carry out with pride.
Despite funding for our health project having ended in 2009, UHRC continued its efforts to enhance capacity and strengthening women's groups. In the Trans-Yamuna, Shahaganj, Rakabganj areas of the city, there are 55 women's groups across 45 slums. In addition, eight to ten groups have been helped to form a larger federation. Three such federations of women's groups are actively working towards improving health and wellbeing in slums. They are economically empowered. Today women have become quite aware about their health.
---- Naushad Ali, City Partnership Officer, UHRC, Agra

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