Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women
The advancement of women is, in the Baha'i view, essential for social progress. Therefore, the majority of Baha'i development programmes include activities which attempt to improve the status of women and their socio-economic position within the community. Women serve on Baha'i administrative bodies and are encouraged to adopt positions of responsibility at all levels of Baha'i community life. Consequently, many programs, whether or not they target women specifically, involve women in all phases of project planning, administration, implementation and evaluation. Non-formal education projects, which include tutorial schools, literacy learning centers, and pre-schools, are by far the most common type of Baha'i development effort. Education projects increased by 22 percent, from 573 to 697, between 1988 and 1990. More than 50% of these projects are in Asia and the Pacific. The Baha'i teachings stress the importance of education for all, with preference given to educating girls, the primary educators of succeeding generations. Consequently, many Baha'i schools have a high proportion of female students. Recounting the number of Baha'i activities which specifically address women tends to give an inexact picture of the amount of work being done by Baha'i communities in this field. However, there are excellent examples of Baha'i projects which do focus specifically on women's issues. For the purposes of this report we will discuss four of them: (a) Personal and Family Development Program for Women in Malaysia; (b) Baha'i Vocational Institute for Rural Women, Indore, India; (c) New Era Development Institute, Panchgani, India; and (d) Traditional Media as Change Agent Project in Malaysia. For the purposes of this report, we will describe all four projects first and reserve comments on replicability and transferability to the end. You will see from the descriptions that, although the projects themselves vary, the methodology underlying all of them is the same. It is this methodology that we believe is replicable and universally transferable.
2. Personal and Family Development Program for Women Baha'i Women's Committee of Malaysia
2.1 Description of Initiatives/Activities to Alleviate Poverty
The Baha'i Women's Committee of Malaysia, a committee of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Malaysia, has branches in over 50 districts throughout Malaysia. The committee, working through its branches, is attempting to alleviate rural poverty and improve the status of women through a five-year Personal and Family Development Program for Women. The program aims to assist women, especially those in the rural and squatter areas, to become more self-reliant so that they can realize and develop more of their potential. The program began in 1988 with health awareness and will eventually include literacy, self-management, and confidence building. This report will focus on the Health Awareness portion of the program because it is well underway.
2.1.1 Main Elements of the Program
Phase One laid the foundation for the entire five-year project by improving health immediately, generating interest in better health, and building a good relationship with the local women. Families were attracted to health care centers by the offer of direct medical care: deworming, delousing, and scabies treatment. Talks and demonstrations were held along with the administering of treatments. Local women were involved as organizers and translators, and their opinions were sought. Phase Two of the Health Awareness Program is motivating women to strive for better health and to be involved in the development of their children. Health and child development education are being provided with the aid of videos, and learning environments are being created in each community to expose mothers to the benefits of child development practices that differ from their customs.
The project is founded on spiritual principles. The basic concepts of education and social change that guide Baha'i development projects are that the world is in transition to a more stable, cooperative, and mature condition; that development happens through both individual transformation and the creation of new social structures; and that participation and service, as expressions of the inherent nobility of human nature, constitute both goals and strategies for development. The project emerges from the grass roots. This project, like most Baha'i projects, is a response to needs articulated by local women. Women said their lack of knowledge made them feel inadequate, so the Baha'i Women's Committee organized seminars. The success of these seminars convinced the committee to try to reach more women, especially those in impoverished rural areas. Plans unfold organically. Phase One began by providing medical care to remote rural areas that was generally available only in urban areas. Phase Two was developed on the basis of needs identified during Phase One. Misinformation and superstitions kept some people from accepting treatment, and parents awaiting treatment didn't talk to their children or give them toys to play with. Thus, the planners decided to focus Phase Two on Education for Health and Child Development. The other three segments -- literacy, self-management, and confidence building -- are being developed and implemented first in urban areas. They will then be adapted to the needs of rural women.
2.1.3 Institutional Arrangements
Baha'i institutions, both local and national, support this largely volunteer effort. The Baha'i Women's Committee, operating under the guidance of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Malaysia, is responsible for planning, implementing and monitoring the project. The Local Baha'i Women's Committees manage the projects in their respective areas. These local committees are responsible for organizing the monthly sessions for local women. They identify, contact and work with qualified personnel in their areas to carry out the various aspect of the project.
Local volunteers are an important resource. The project has no budget for salaries. This extensive campaign is carried out as a voluntary service given by Baha'i women. They also provide their own transportation and the use of their own portable television sets, portable video cassette players, slide projectors, and cassette players. Moreover, the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Malaysia contributes the administrative costs of the project. Using locally available resources keeps costs to a minimum. Project planners make extensive use of local expertise, and search out appropriate educational materials and approaches that have already been developed. Funding for medicines and materials is sought from sources outside the Baha'i community. Funding has come from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and from organizations such as Lions, Rotary, Pharmaceutical firms, and the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), who assisted with or cosponsored projects in one or more locations.
2.1.5 Other Key Aspects
Like all Baha'i education and development projects, this project serves the entire local community, not just Baha'is. Anyone in the target area who wishes to participate is welcome. Moreover, the target communities were chosen strictly on the basis of need and receptivity. Involving fathers in making tables for the children proved a very successful activity. Not only does the table provide the children a place to read and write, thus creating a reading environment in the home, but it stimulates an interest on the part of parents in the education of their children. One innovative aspect of this particular program was the development of a Health Awareness Workbook without any text. This approach was implemented to overcome some of the difficulties posed by illiteracy in the target populations. The lack of text also allows inter-country use of the workbook as a health teaching aid.
2.2 Impact on the Improvement of Socio-Economic Conditions of Poor People
Response to Phase One was overwhelmingly positive and the health of participants measurably improved. In the three areas funded by CIDA, for example, an average of 100 people were present at most visits. A total of 437 women, men and children received treatment for scabies; 904 took deworming treatment; and 910 were treated for lice infection. Records on infected families, updated at bimonthly visits, showed an improvement in personal hygiene and a marked decrease in worms, scabies and lice. Local women are realizing their potential. Local women called upon to help set up programs and serve as translators are coming forward, and their capacities are being recognized by the community. Many are speaking up during consultation, offering suggestions for improving their socio-economic status.
3. The Baha'i Vocational Institute for Rural Women, Located at Indore, India
3.1 Description of Initiatives/Activities to Alleviate Poverty
The Baha'i Vocational Institute for Rural Women, which was inaugurated on 24 February 1983, is centrally located within Madhya Pradesh in a region which is both economically deprived and socially disadvantaged. The rural poor in this part of India are among the most impoverished in the country. Therefore, the Training Institute was developed to address directly the needs of the local community. Training is intended to provide not only income-earning opportunities, but also to foster new attitudes about women among the participants and their families. Changing attitudes of families is essential in an area where women are largely considered valuable only for reproduction and manual work, where over 90% of women are illiterate, and where the neglect of girl babies and deprivation of grown women makes the mortality rate for females significantly higher than that for males.
3.1.1 Main Elements
At the Vocational Institute, crafts training is supplemented by literacy classes and daily informal discussions, which stimulate self-expression, sharpen thinking skills, and awaken an awareness of both problems and possibilities. Literate women trainees tutor the illiterate ones; health and hygiene information is included with discussions of the spiritual and moral education of children; and useful village technologies, such as a fuel-efficient, smokeless stove, are introduced. Respected male members of the national Baha'i community speak to the men of the community about the principle of equality of the sexes and urge husbands to take pride in their wives' accomplishments. In addition to the residential courses conducted at the Institute, staff members also pay frequent visits to the surrounding villages where they conduct extension activities and assist with community consolidation. One such extension activity focused on the eradication of Guinea worm from the drinking water of 302 villages in the Jabhua district of central India. Awareness was generated among the affected communities using folk drama. Tribal women were given health and environmental education and empowered with simple techniques such as sieving drinking water and using safe sources of water.
The Baha'i development methodology derives from the conviction that spiritual principles are truly practical. The Institute endeavors, therefore, to integrate the spiritual and practical aspects of education and training. Reflected throughout the training is a commitment to Baha'i principles, including the need to develop individual spiritual awareness, recognition of the oneness of mankind, and commitment to the equality of men and women. Consultation is used at every level of program planning, implementation and evaluation. By using consultation, the local council, the women trainees, and the staff work together to determine, often through trial and error, how to apply the relevant spiritual principles. By participating in daily consultation, the women trainees learn to articulate their ideas, explore new ways of contributing to the welfare of the community, and begin to see themselves as equal in capacity to men. Through consultation with Baha'i elders, young men are allowed to explore how they as husbands and fathers should vigorously defend women's rights, protect women's interest, and promote the development of women's capacities.
3.1.3 Institutional Elements
The Institute relies upon national and local Baha'i councils. It is guided and supported by the national Baha'i council of India. Local Baha'i councils, composed of both women and men, help select the trainees, monitor the institute's programs, and offer suggestions for improvement. Thus, when the women return to their communities, the local councils encourage and assist the women to contribute their new knowledge and skills to the community as a whole.
Initially the Institute was entirely financed by Baha'i sources, but the success of its operations encouraged the Government of India to collaborate by providing funding to run some of the programs. The Canadian High Commission contributed money toward the construction of buildings at the Institute, and individuals assisted in the purchase of a jeep, essential for transport between Indore and the nearby centres.
3.1.5 Other Key Aspects of the Institute
Economic development and ethical development are viewed as complementary and highly integrated activities. Values of human dignity and honor, of trustworthiness and mutual support are emphasized in the Institute's program. The conscious integration of economic development with the promotion of civic values is especially critical in a crafts training program, as economic ventures may be crippled by corruption or lack of trust. The Institute values the influence of personal morality and seeks consciously to cultivate it in both staff and trainees.
3.2 Impact on the Improvement of Socio-Economic Conditions of Poor People
Women trained at the Institute gain self-respect and confidence from their experience at the Institute and their newly acquired skills; their income-earning potential raises their status in the eyes of their menfolk; and their education in literacy, health and hygiene has helped to raise significantly the material standard of their lives. Through the influence of the women, many of the men have stopped drinking alcohol. According to government authorities, Guinea worms have been completely eradicated from over 300 villages. The lives of the 752 people, infected before the project began, were saved, and the 211,813 people at risk were protected. Tribal communities became aware of their need for health and environmental education.
3.3 Possible Initiatives at the Regional Level to Foster Better Regional Cooperation Among NGOs
Regional conferences and site visits allow NGOs to consult with each other, share experiences and inspire one another. The Director of the Vocational Training Program for Rural Women, Janak Palta McGilligan, was invited to present one of approximately 200 success stories to the United Nations Global Assembly of Women and the Environment: "Partners in Life," 4-8 November 1991, in Miami, Florida. This global conference is an example of one valuable way to encourage cooperation among NGOs. Providing women, in particular, the opportunity to participate in such exchanges is an important way to transfer lessons across countries and regions.
4. The New Era Development Institute at Panchgani, India
4.1 Description of Initiatives/Activities to Alleviate Poverty
The New Era Development Institute in Panchgani conducts an extensive regional development program. While there are some specific programs aimed mainly at women, it would be misleading to assume that other activities do not incorporate women-related issues in their planning or implementation. The concept of women, their empowerment and development, is an intrinsic element in the goals and all operational objectives of the Institute. The Institute adopts an integrated approach, not a vertical or compartmentalized approach, to its activities and hence ensures that the development and training needs of women are systematically fused into all training and field application processes. This goes for all programs: health education, afforestation, adult literacy, rural technology, animal husbandry, and rural schools.
4.1.1 Main Elements
The scope of the New Era Development Institute's training program covers all of India, Sikkim and the Andeman Islands. Its one-year training course for Community Development Facilitators aims at training social entrepreneurs, young men and women. Graduates of the course are capable of initiating rural development activities at the grass-roots level, and working with communities through local decision-making institutions. They help communities develop strong self-reliance, develop their abilities to assess their own capabilities, plan community goals and priorities, and assist in mapping out community projects. Adult literacy has also been a major focus of NEDI's program. In collaboration with the government of India, by 1984 New Era had established 30 literacy centers where 900 adults, 750 of which were women, came to learn. This effort expanded over the next several years, eventually including 100 centers in 60 villages, serving more than 6000 people. It came to be known as the most successful literacy program in the western part of India. Unfortunately, the Institute was not able to continue this government-funded program after 1989-90, but efforts are now underway to reestablish this relationship. In the meantime, NEDI has continued to promote literacy in the villages surrounding Panchgani and is developing new literacy materials in the Marathi language, incorporating generative themes which aim to promote spiritually centered personal growth and constructive social change. NEDI's government-sponsored program had an average of 25 to 30 learners per center, about 85 percent of the participants young women or mothers aged 13 to 40 years. Each center had an instructor, 80 percent of whom were young girls/mothers who had been trained by NEDI in its course for literacy instructors. Each cluster of 15 centers operated under one supervisor; more than 50 percent of these supervisors were women, also trained by NEDI. As high as 80 percent of women attending literacy training are able to complete the entire 10 months of training. Benefits of the program are not limited to the ability to read and write, as information about health, nutrition, cleanliness and the importance of sending children to school was integrated into literacy materials. Follow-up post-literacy courses were also held. In addition to its one-year training course for facilitators, NEDI also undertakes a series of short-term training courses for women and young mothers from surrounding communities. An average of about 6 courses are conducted in a year for village level workers, midwives or local health workers, all of whom are women. Each course has an average attendance of 20 to 30 participants. Shorter-term refresher courses for these are held at least three to four times in a year. Participants in these programs usually work with and through rural families.
4.1.2 The Methodology
Consultation, a method of non-adversarial group problem-solving, is the preferred method of decision-making and administration in all activities. A crucial element in the Institute's training programs is the development of consulting skills to enable graduates not only to consult with the rural leadership of communities, but also to enable them to teach rural people how to practice the art of consultation as a tool for solving problems. Ensuring that women are an essential part of that process is a key feature of the program. Changing the prevailing attitudes toward women is considered essential for community progress. The Institute envisions a development process which aims at bringing about fairness and justice to all rural people. Thus full and meaningful participation of women, the significance of whose contribution to development has not often been recognized, is an implicit part of the Institute's vision. Trainees are assisted to see how encouraging women to develop their capacities will benefit families and the society as a whole. In practical terms, the Institute attempts consistently and systematically to inculcate in the minds of young men receiving training at the Institute the need for them to "own" the concept of equality, and to ascertain that this ownership is reflected in their planning and designing of rural programs. Unity is the most important factor in development. Trainees are taught that their ability to foster unity in the community is more important than any technical assistance they might offer. The high level of involvement by women in NEDI's programs is a direct result of the Institute's belief that a project must first of all endeavor to bring about a unifying influence upon the members of the community. Rural development is a "joint enterprise" the success of which lies in "unity action." All members have a key role to play and the right to benefit therefrom.
4.1.3 Institutional Elements
The New Era Development Institute is closely associated with the New Era School in Panchgani, India, which serves more than 750 students from all over the world. The New Era School has made community service an integral part of it curriculum since it opened its doors in 1945.
The New Era Development Institute is funded partially from Baha'i sources and partially from government grants and contracts for specific projects. The one-year training course for Community Development Facilitators, for example, was initiated and supported through funds provided by the Norwegian government (NORAD) and the Baha'i community of India. NORAD also furnishes funding for short-term courses. Support for its rural technology and other short-term programs has been received from the Indian government's Council for Advancement of People's Action and rural Technology (CAPART) and the Canadian International Development Agency through the Canadian High Commission.
4.1.5 Other Key Aspects of the Programmes/Projects
At the New Era Development Institute, the periods of central training are then interspersed with months of work in their home communities. When trainees return from the field, they share their experiences and receive more training. This pattern ensures the relevance and transferability of their training to their local communities and allows them the opportunity to interact with co-workers from other regions and countries. Living together in an environment shaped by recognition of the oneness of humanity enables trainees to break down traditional barriers of prejudice. The New Era Development Institute also provides extension training programs, which take training to the setting in which the community development workers will serve. The Ministry of Rural Development in Sikkim funded a 14-day, hands-on training program for youth, which was provided in a rural location in Sikkim by a team from the Institute.
4.2 Impact on the Improvement of Socio-Economic Conditions of Poor People
Perhaps the most profound improvement can be read in the joy on the faces of the women. In this society, which has no belief in the potential of women, the trainees experience a very marked expansion in their level of consciousness, a new sense of awareness and joy, a feeling of becoming more human. For Baha'i women, there is particular joy in increased access to the Baha'i Writings. The women also exhibit increased ability to communicate and improved perceptiveness; expanded control over their own economic transactions and relationships; improvement in decision-making capabilities; and, with the awareness of options, improved ability to make viable choices for themselves. Students have reported the reduction of dowries for marriages, the elimination of intake of alcoholic beverages, adoption of new agricultural techniques, the use of new seed varieties, and an improvement in their social situations.
5. Traditional Media as Change Agent in Malaysia
5.1 Description of Initiatives/Activities to Alleviate Poverty
Begun in October, 1991, the Traditional Media as Change Agent Project is an experimental communication project aimed at changing the community's perception of women. By using traditional media to draw men into a discussion of changes in women's status, this community-based project is attempting to alleviate fear -- on the part of both men and women -- about women's changing roles in society. The project will seek to enhance the status of rural women by emphasizing a consultative approach to community development and requiring the participation of both men and women. It will also test the validity of using traditional media, judiciously supported by simple electronic media in the hands of the community, to educate the community and to allow the community to set its own priorities for change.
5.1.1 Main Elements
During the two-year life of the project, the following activities will be carried out: a. Training and data collection on women's exclusion and constraints. Country Project Coordinators will work with local councils to identify priorities. Local councils will receive training in rapid assessment techniques, consultation, and local project management, including record-keeping and organization. They will also receive training in managing the specific dynamics of behavior change projects. Coordinators will receive on-the-job training in collecting an analyzing research data, as well as management and development communication skills. b. Translation of case studies and data into appropriate cultural media (plays, stories, songs or dances). Local artists and other members of the community will be responsible for this element. c. Pre-testing and modifying of the plays, dances, songs and stories developed. Presenting them to the community, discussing the presentations and the issues raised. Many women and men will be called upon to assist in the project, especially youths. Involvement will lead to higher awareness in the people involved. Then they can help to assist in changing attitudes of others. The women, especially those from other areas, will take the ideas home to their own community. d. Incorporation of the results of discussion into more folk media which will be presented to the community for further consultation and action. e. Development of long-term and short-term action plans based on discussions. The action plan will be presented to the local council for implementation.
5.1.2 The Methodology
This project assumes that sustainable improvements in the status of women must be anchored in principle. Implementing the principle of equality between men and women in a society that has traditionally insisted that women are to be seen and not heard is not easy. It requires a shift in values from exterior beauty to beauty from within: substance, character, personality, how one carries oneself. Women must be aware of their rights and their capabilities and they must have a desire to improve themselves and realize their potential. The project also assumes that social changes are best institutionalized through community-based efforts. Baha'i communities have a built-in cultural and social elasticity, which project planners believe can be stimulated in favor of women when the status of women is consulted upon in a rational, non-threatening manner. Women must be in the forefront of change, but there is little they can do without the support of men. Therefore, men must be given the opportunity to realize for themselves that giving opportunities to women does not mean that they will be deprived. Traditional media are being used to stimulate dialogue that can galvanize community commitment to improving the status of women. The choice of folk media as a vehicle to introduce social messages is based on the following assumptions: (1) Folk media can educate community men and allow them to redefine village and community priorities; (2) Folk media are especially useful with non-literate people, who take seriously what they hear; (3) Traditional media are often interactive, engaging audiences in the learning process; (4) Traditional media are cost effective in comparison to mass media. Participation of the community in all aspects of the project is expected to infuse more harmony into the change process. Once the community has discussed the pace and direction of change, they can then discuss development support to buttress those changes. In other words, first comes the recognition that women's lot is not a good one, then some recognition of the arenas in which it could be improved, and finally some specific recommendations that can be translated into projects.
5.1.3 Institutional Elements
Self-identification by both the national Baha'i communities and local Baha'i communities ensures willing participation. National Baha'i governing councils have committed national resources, both human and financial, to the planning, management, implementation, and evaluation of the project. These national councils have also demonstrated their ability to support local communities in the next stage of the process: i.e., planning and implementing sustainable activities to address local priorities identified by the community. Local communities were selected using the following criteria: strength and maturity of the Local Assembly (supplemental training will be provided where necessary to carry out the project); development needs of the local community (thus both rural and semi-urban communities have been included); access to the community; and commitment of the Local Assembly to raising and enhancing women's status.
The project is being funded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and administered by the Baha'i International Community. Local and national Baha'i communities are contributing volunteers, use of facilities and equipment and administrative support.
5.1.5 Other Key Aspects of the Programmes/Projects
The project has been designed to be replicable. This replicability is being tested by using the same basic project plan in Baha'i communities in three countries: Malaysia, Bolivia, and Cameroon. National Baha'i communities with experience in supporting social and economic development projects have been informed about the project and have been given the option to participate. Already the Baha'i community of Nigeria has asked to be included in the project at their own expense. Activities in each community will be video taped and the tapes will become training tools for other communities. Appropriateness and empowerment of local communities will be ensured by relying heavily on voluntary participation of local councils, by engaging local artists in selecting and using appropriate folk media, and by providing training that will make possible maximum local participation in every phase of project planning, implementation, evaluation and follow-up.
5.2 Impact on the Improvement of Socio-Economic Conditions of Poor People
The project has just begun; therefore, no results are available as yet. However, the following results are anticipated. If the project is successful, a majority of people in the catchment area should be aware of the project and its goals. The members of at least three Local Assemblies in each target area (total of 27 per country) will be trained and sensitized to the use of communication as a development tool and the use of consultation as a development tool. Local Assembly members will be trained to manage and implement behavior change projects. A reasonable number of sustainable activities would be recommended for future implementation as a result of the consultation on women's concerns and needs by a large number of participants, and suggestions for solving women's problems would come out of discussion and consultations. As much as possible, these future activities would rely on local resources, requiring little external assistance.
6. Analysis and Recommendations
6.1 The Way Successful Experiences Could Be Multiplied/Replicated to Other Areas
None of the projects described in this report is necessarily replicable, but the methodology is. These four projects are only examples. Throughout the world, local and national Baha'i communities are trying to alleviate rural poverty and contribute what they can to building a better world for all people. Whatever the specific differences among successful Baha'i projects, all rely on the same methodology. Simply put, successful Baha'i projects are grounded in spiritual principle; they use consultation at every stage to ensure full participation by the local community and relevance to local needs; and they rely on local consultative decision-making bodies for support, thereby strengthening the community's institutional capacity to sustain development activities.
6.1.1 Begin with a commitment to principle.
Spiritual principles are practical. The principle of the oneness of humanity is the foundation for all Baha'i projects. Therefore, they are designed to benefit the entire community and promote its unity. The Baha'i teachings explain the practicality of the principle of unity in the following words: "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." Unity cannot be coerced. Therefore, any project that aims to unify must be genuinely participatory. Within the overall framework of unity, each project will focus on the application of one or more specific principles. Efforts to improve the lot of women spring from recognition of the principle of the equality of the sexes. The Traditional Media Project in Malaysia acknowledges that a community must share the commitment to equality if lasting change in the status of women is to be achieved; therefore, it focuses on changing attitudes toward and perceptions of women. The Vocational Training Institute for Rural Women at Indore teaches women the values of human dignity and honor, of trustworthiness and mutual support as essential to the success of economic ventures. The New Era Development Institute emphasizes the principles of fairness and justice in order to inspire the young men to "own" the principle of equality between men and women, so that each graduate will consider it his personal responsibility to ensure full participation of women in any development projects he initiates. The adherence to principle promotes personal growth. However, the growth of the individual must go hand in hand with the transformation of society. When individuals develop moral capacities and spiritual qualities, the skills and knowledge they acquire are likely to promote the well-being of the community as a whole. Consultation translates personal growth into community growth.
6.1.2 Use consultation to ensure participation.
The consultative process itself promotes personal growth and collective solidarity, indispensable elements in true development. Through consultation, women and men together learn to gather facts, to identify relevant principles, to express their ideas clearly, to listen respectfully to the opinions of others, and to arrive at a decision that everyone can support. Because this approach to consultation is at the core of any Baha'i project, the process is as important as the achievements; the changes in attitudes as important as the development of skills; the intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth of the trainees as important as the economic growth of the community. Consultation among the members of the Baha'i Women's Committee in Malaysia led to the creation of The Personal and Family Development Program. These women first identified their own need for information and organized seminars to meet that need. Their success empowered them to reach out to other less advantaged women. Motivated by the desire to serve, they offered health services and information to rural women. The offer of services gave them the opportunity to meet rural women and find out from them what they felt would assist them. The development of a Health Awareness Workbook without text came about because the project planners paid close attention to the needs express by their rural counterparts. Thus, the program continues to grow organically. Consultation empowers women. Daily consultation among trainees is an essential component in the program of the Baha'i Vocational Institute for Rural Women at Indore. At the Institute, consultation involves not only the local council and the staff but the trainees themselves in every phase of program planning, implementation and evaluation. The very act of being consulted promotes their development and empowers these women. By the time they leave the Institute, they have discovered and honed capacities that make them invaluable assets to their families and their communities. Consequently, they themselves replicate and multiply the effects of their training. Consultation can lead to changes in attitude. In order to win men as advocates for the rights of women, three of the four projects described -- The Vocational Institute for Rural Women, the New Era Development Institute, and the Traditional Media Project -- use consultation. Through consultation, each projects engages men in considering the harmful effects of inequality between men and women not only on women but on the family and the community as a whole. Consultation allows an open examination of fears and misconceptions, the gathering and presentation of facts, the identification of relevant spiritual principles, and a collective exploration of ways to implement those principles so that unity is preserved and enhanced. Consultation, flexibility, and patience are indispensable to a successful project. For example, in the early days of the Vocational Training Institute, the program faltered for lack of assistance in marketing. Consultation led to the addition of extensive follow-up with graduates in their villages. Now the Institute, often in conjunction with various private and state agencies, continues to assist the village women to acquire sewing and knitting machines, looms and other tools need for their new activities; to secure contracts for production of finished products; and to receive raw materials for their work. Consultation can be taught to anyone. The New Era Development Institute teaches their trainees not only how to consult, but how to teach consultation as a valuable problem-solving tool. They learn at the Institute that the involvement of women is essential to the consultative process. By participating in local consultations, women can demonstrate their value as part of the decision-making process. Participation through consultation infuses harmony into the change process. Change is difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. That is why it is often so slow. However, by allowing those who will be affected plenty of time for full, frank, and open consultation, and by allowing them to control the direction and pace of change in their own lives, projects encounter much less resistance. When people direct change through consultation, it becomes substantially less frightening, and the changes are likely to last. Consultation must be institutionalized within the community by creating or strengthening decision-making bodies which rely on consultation and aim to serve the community as a whole.
6.1.3 Strengthen local consultative decision-making bodies.
Baha'i communities all over the world elect their own local governing councils, called Local Assemblies. These governing councils are given an overall mandate to care for the spiritual, social and material well-being, not only of the Baha'is, but of all members of their community; and within that framework, they are empowered to select their own priority issues and address them in the way most suited to that local community. This ensures appropriateness and relevancy of their programs and allows them the relative autonomy so necessary for true grass-roots work. Even projects proposed from above, like the Traditional Media Project, are never imposed on national or local communities. Participation is always voluntary and usually requires the commitment of some local resources. Local governing councils also play an important role in sustaining and multiplying the effect of changes brought about through development projects. Local councils encourage the young women trained at the Vocational Institute in Indore to participate in community consultations when they return to their villages and sponsor classes through which they can pass on their new knowledge. Community development facilitators trained at the New Era Development Institute work directly with these local councils, thereby strengthening the community's institutional capacity to sustain unifying community development activities. Criteria for election to the Local Assembly is adult residence in the community, commitment to the goals of the community, and possession of the trust and confidence of the community. Neither literacy, educational attainment nor previous experience are considered relevant. Consequently, the Local Assemblies participate at the pace at which any local community functions -- sometimes slow and persevering, but understanding that unified thought on an action is half the development battle. In many villages the only women who serve in decision-making capacities are Baha'i women who have been elected from their local community to the Local Assembly. Local Baha'i councils are highly decentralized in their decision-making and implementation capacity. Once a local council has decided on a course of action, resources and assistance may come through the national Baha'i governing council, which has overall administrative and guiding responsibility. In the countries selected for the Traditional Media projects, the Baha'i governing councils are NGOs and already provide some socio-economic assistance at the grass roots. Because these councils are made up of elected men and women, their knowledge of local issues is quite profound, as is the trust in which they are held. They also have a good grasp of which local communities can manage and implement these projects with some degree of success, given a minimum infusion of technical knowledge and resources.
6.2 Lessons for Inter-country Comparison and Transfer of Such Lessons Across Countries and Communities/Geographical Areas Within Countries
Commitment to spiritual principle, use of consultation, and reliance on local Baha'i governing councils for guidance and assistance in planning, implementation, and evaluation, have proven effective all over the world. Local initiative and local control, when guided by such progressive spiritual principles as the oneness of humanity, equality of men and women, and the right of everyone to an education, offers flexibility, local commitment to the project, and relevance to the local situation.