Collective Voices | India

Collective Voices towards attaining Livelihood and Sustainable Development

Partner | Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre

Location | West Bengal, India

Overview

This project supports marginalised indigenous communities to understand, enact, and promote their rights in four key areas: education, protection, health and nutrition.

Collective Voices focuses on communities working in remote tea plantations in the Darjeeling region of India. These communities have no access to government services, and there is a lack of awareness on issues such as human trafficking, domestic violence and child abuse. It is common for children to receive a low standard of education, if at all, and most adults do not understand their fundamental rights. Women make up over half of the tea plantation workers, though cultural values continue to disadvantage women in every aspect of their lives.

Collective Voices began in Panighatta, Darjeeling, on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2009. The project’s goal was to create a model “Woman-Youth-Child Friendly Community” whereby women, youth, and children are helped to participate in community planning and gain access to vital needs. Though the project has evolved over the years, it still aims to encourage local leadership, access to government services, demand basic rights and educate on issues relevant to the community.

Challenges

Many of the communities where Collective Voices operates are still unaware of their rights and the strict laws regarding protecting those rights. Without awareness, women and children become vulnerable and exposed to many forms of social abuse, such as domestic violence. This situation has worsened since the pandemic, leaving many women without an income or only part of an income for the same amount of work.

Lack of opportunity to earn an income or livelihood in these remote communities increases the possibility of human trafficking. Many young people are lured to big cities by ‘agents’ with a promise that they will get well-paid work, only to find they are isolated and trapped without money or family support.

Impact

The long term aim of Collective Voices is that women and children from these vulnerable communities can secure their rights in health, nutrition, education and protection.

Using a participatory approach, participants network by forming self-help groups (SHGs) and linking themselves to regional offices, panchayats (village councils), banks and other government and non-government agencies. This approach provides participants with a level of self-determination and control over their choices and lives.

The project also includes forming a ‘children’s parliament’ comprising 35–40 children aged 12–17 years. The parliament meets weekly for at least two hours, during which the children learn about child rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the United Nations. Like the SHGs, the children’s parliament provides children with the opportunity to feel that they have choices and direction in their own lives.

Ultimately, this project will result in less human trafficking, lower domestic violence and child abuse levels, improved health outcomes, and greater access to legal entitlements within the most vulnerable communities in India.

Activities
  • Link women’s SHGs to local banks so they access government services.
  • Provide women’s SHGs with skills development training.
  • Conduct legal workshops for communities, focussing on the rights of women and children.
  • Rescue trafficked and abused women and children and support their rehabilitation.
  • Conduct evening classes to develop basic writing skills.
  • Finalise children’s parliament ministries to cover all aspects of the SDGs.
  • Organise health check-up camps at each project location.

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ON OUR ‘collective voices’ program