The Ahimsa Messenger Programme of the WCD Ministry needs a compensation element so that grassroots workers have an incentive to carry out one more function

Against the backdrop of increasing violence against women and children across the country, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development had launched the ‘Ahimsa Messenger’ Programme in last August to address the critical issue at the grass roots level through creating numerous Ahimsa Messengers.

The messengers would be generating awareness on basic legal rights, procedures and provisions amongst women and children; they would also serve as link workers in case of any violence and facilitate for suitable redressal. There is also an intensive training and sensitisation module in it, to the different cadres of grassroots level workers under various programmes across the country.

However, there remains the question as to who will perform this mammoth task. The programme is so designed that the implementation would be through all anganwadi centres, all Panchayati Raj Institutions, SABLA girls (in the age group of 16-18 years) and Poorna Shakti Kendras (PSK) coordinators.

The programme involves awareness generation, training and capacity-building, which requires some level of skills in terms of educational qualification, experience, knowledge about the service, etc. But what would be the compensation for this skilled ‘economic’ activity? And how will those performing this task be recognised — as workers or as volunteers? What is the incentive element into it? What additional compensation will be given to the frontline workers for this additional task?

The huge cadre of anganwadi workers and helpers in more than 13 lakh (1,318,912) anganwadi centres all over the country is discontent with the extremely low honorarium that they receive (Rs. 4,500 for workers and Rs. 2,500 for helpers). There are no social security benefits, no annual increment, lack of funds, poor working conditions, delayed reimbursement and other issues.

Benefits for SABLA girls include nutrition provision (600 calories, 18-20 grams of protein and micro-nutrients for 300 days); Iron and Folic Acid supplementation; health check-up; education in nutrition and health; counselling on adolescent reproductive and sexual health, childcare practices and home management; education in life-skills and on accessing public services; and vocational training services through the anganwadi centres. The number of SABLA beneficiaries varies by its nutrition and non-nutrition component. In any case, there are no stipend/monetary allowances for them. Therefore, if SABLA girls are to work for Ahimsa Messenger Programme, it will simply mean exploitation.

There are only 19 PSKs till date across India and it is not that in every one of them recruitment has been done. PSK coordinators have started working only recently and they receive only Rs. 5,500 per month.

No fund has yet been allocated for this programme; therefore, it is likely that the messengers will have to work without any monetary compensation. The government has actually calibrated this campaign through its existing cadre of volunteers; there is no pay element in the programme, and since by definition it is not a work, therefore no job security, no fixed working hour and definitely no social security benefits.

The recent National Sample Survey 2011-12 shows that there had been a steep decline in the workforce participation rate; the number of women workers declined from 112 million in 2004-05 to 101 million in 2009-10 and further lowered to 95 million in 2011-12 by principal status only (working for majority of the reference period). In 2011-12, however, there were 34 million subsidiary workers among women — a 7.4 million increase since 2009-10. Among these 34 million women subsidiary workers, 30 million are in rural areas only. The fall in the number of women workers is actually more pronounced in rural areas. Along with an absolute decline in the number of rural women workers, the number of women engaged in domestic duties increased from 25.6 million in 2004-05 to 37.7 million in 2011-12.

It is often argued that women are withdrawing from the labour market because they are either going/continuing into education or their household income has increased so much so that they are withdrawing from the labour market. Had that been truly the reason behind declining female work participation, women would not have joined this type of voluntary work. It is the need and the hope to be absorbed in a job with a decent remuneration, job security, dignity and most important a recognition as a worker, that pulls these women to join this voluntary work.

These scheme workers basically provide a subsidy to the public sector provisioning in the economy; these volunteers bearing the expenditure which otherwise the State has to incur. The government cannot end its responsibility in designing and rolling out the scheme. The design itself should contain how it will be delegated.

(The writer is Deputy Director, Institute of Applied Manpower Research, New Delhi)

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