Friday, October 07, 2005

Advocacy Group - A Formal Introduction

I have mentioned the advocacy group in the blog before. Some of the members of the group have even posted article on women's status in India. Below is a more formal introduction to the group, its aims and activites written by Raghav and edited by Paramita.

The Asha Advocacy Group: Means of Change

Asha for Education does an excellent job of partnering with various groups in India that perform grass roots work. For this purpose, Asha solicits donations which are then disbursed at zero overhead. A lot of work is involved in this seemingly simple process, such as identifying genuine partner groups, evaluating their proposals, maintenance of regular contact with the partner groups, publicity for various fund drives, keeping accounts of the disbursed amounts for tax auditing, etc. Today, Asha has over sixty chapters world-wide and raises over one million US dollars annually. All of these funds are maximally utilised for grass roots activities for bringing about socio-economic changes through education. Quite impressive indeed!

The time has come to ask whether a large organization such as Asha should merely continue doing what it already is doing, namely being a “slam dunk” charity, or expand the nature and scope of its activities. While what Asha currently does is immensely valuable, it does not directly influence government policy or bring pressure on the government for better implementation of existing policies. Let’s consider the implementation of some Government schemes in schools as an example. Several reports had showed that Government policies such as the mid-day meal program can have a huge impact on education. It is well-known that introducing the mid-day meal program into schools tremendously increased attendance in schools. To quote the renowned development economist, Jean Dreze, "…well-devised school meals have much to contribute to the advancement of elementary education, child nutrition, and social equity". However, while examining the history of the mid-day meal program implementation in India, we learn that this was not done at the behest of well-intentioned government officials. Rather, it was the widespread lobbying of grass root organizations that this scheme finally saw the light of the day.. The “Right to Food” campaign (web site is was instrumental in leading upto the Supreme Court ruling on November 28, 2001 asking all states to introduce cooked meals in all government and government-assisted primary schools. There are many other groups working towards policy-level advocacy. Another example is CRY (Child Relief and You) which is engaged in promoting NAFRE, the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education.

The Advocacy group at Asha-Seattle was recently initiated with the intention of utilising Asha's influence to lobby for policy-level changes in the educational system of India. While we began by analyzing the current NCERT curriculum framework for middle schools , the topic for future focus that has emerged from our discussion groups is gender-based issues, including education. The rationale for this,, other than the obvious moral imperative, is that studies have shown that women's empowerment has far-reaching consequences on overall development. For example, women's education is the single most influential factor in improving child health and in reducing infant mortality. Women's education also directly impacts the fertility rate, which is the average number of children per couple. A fertility rate of 2.1 is the replacement rate, whereby a population replaces itself. Recent statistics show that India fares very poorly in women's education. As of 2001, only 47% of adult women were literate in India, in contrast to figures like 97% and 88.6% for Cuba and Sri Lanka, respectively. In fact, India is much worse than Bangladesh on several human development factors, even though India’s growth rate (in terms of GDP) is much higher. For instance, maternal mortality rates in India and Bangladesh are 540 and 380 per 100,000 live births, respectively. Several indicators of gender bias, such as the female male ratios in primary education, and labor force participation also place Bangladesh in a more favorable light. Very laudably, Bangladesh actually spends almost double the amount that India does, as a percentage of the GDP, on public health. All of this goes to show the utterly lop-sided and distorted nature of India's development strategy. Even within India, the disparity between the various states is quite striking (please see the following article “Looking Beyond Numbers”). For example, the fertility rates in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are less than 2.1 (the replacement rate), whereas the fertility rate of Rajasthan is 4.2. Similarly, while the overall female male ratio for India is 1058:1000, the corresponding ratio in specific pockets like Haryana is much lower, at 861:1000. Indeed, one of the primary reasons why states such as Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have much higher literacy rates is because these states have ensured empowerment of women through various policy implementations.

It is worth reflecting how a free and open press in a democratic society ought to handle these issues. If we are to believe the often repeated clichéd taglines of media empires, , we would expect these issues to make the headlines of our papers. However, as we know from media reporting today that nothing could be farther from reality. This real picture of India, being far removed from the image of a glitzy, booming software empire that is emerging as a major economic superpower, is simply not newsworthy always! It is preferable or rather “fashionable” to express outrage, instead, at the plight of women under the Taliban while turning a blind eye to the atrocities at home. This ought to tell us a good deal about the intellectual and moral culture of our times.

The Advocacy group continues to study these and other issues. Our findings are posted as referenced blog entries, accompanied by pertinent bibliography (please see These articles are meant to provide information to the reader and also to intiate discussions. The advocacy group plans to network with other like-minded groups in India and US and through petitions, focus on lobbying-based campaigns to bring about changes in exiting policies.The other goal of the group is to spread awareness among the local community and among volunteers. We plan to do this through blogging, public presentations/workshops and discussion fora. If you are interested in joining the group or knowing more about it, please contact

The ideas and views expressed in this article solely belongs to the author and in no way represent Asha for Education’s viewpoints.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

a well written explanation and introduction, Rahul.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger