Summary of Good Practices
Sulabh International’s work with the widows of Vrindavan started early in 2012 and has now spread to Varanasi, and Deoli, Uttarakhand. Vrindavan has been known to harbour a large number of aged women, mostly widows, abandoned by their families, living in poor conditions at ashrams with no healthcare or sustainable income. The plight of these women was such that the Supreme Court requested Sulabh International to initiate an intervention in Vrindavan to improve their dreadful condition. Sulabh International began by providing financial assistance to make these widows economically independent; later they also started providing medical facilities such as ambulances and covering the cost of prescription drugs and treatment of ailments, providing vocational training as well as language classes, and a helpline for widows in need of assistance. The project was implemented across eight ashrays (homes), covering approximately 800 widows. As a result of this intervention, there is a marked difference in the lifestyle of these women. They live independently, work on various vocational projects and are more aware of their rights. All these are signs of active ageing which Sulabh International has been able to bring about in the lives of these widows.
Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (ENSS) is a collective for widows and other single women in the tradition-bound and highly patriarchal state of Rajasthan. The social and economic isolation faced by widows in India led to the establishment of this organisation that now challenges the patriarchal system and helps organize women who are abandoned or rejected by their families and societies. Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan was established in 1999 and currently has 43,006 members from both rural and urban areas of Rajasthan. The organisation believes in ‘collective power’ i.e., if people unite and organize themselves, they can bring about reform in social customs and policies. They deal with social problems of women at the community level and issues of entitlement directly with the administration. ENSS aims to help as many single/widowed women as possible to help them claim their rights and lead a dignified life in the community.
The International Longevity Centre-India (ILC-I) is a voluntary organisation in Pune working on issues of Ageing since 2003. ILC has initiated many activities with the aim of providing a healthy, productive and participatory life to the elderly, especially women. There are currently three projects – Aajibai Sathi Batwa, a unique field project providing partial medical assistance to needy elderly women through sponsorship; ’Elders’ Volunteers Bureau, a group of senior citizens working on a voluntary basis on various projects that give them financial independence which also helps in addressing loneliness; and Athashri Housing project which are residential complexes built exclusively for the aged. ILC’s successful and innovative projects have provided a platform for other NGOs to replicate and enhance them at the national level.
The Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology (CMIG), Kolkata was started in 1988 with the objective of promoting research in the field of gerontology and implementing the findings. Kolkata is home to one of the largest number of aged persons, mostly women living in poor conditions. Social security is almost non-existent in the state and very few programs are initiated by the Government to support these women. Though a research institute, CMIG believes in turning its knowledge and values into actionable goals. A wide range of programs have been initiated, ranging from day care centres to provision of livelihood and a holistic healthcare system by running mobile clinics in slum areas. CMIG’s unique and successful approach has been recognized by the Ministry of West Bengal for its positive impact on the lives of the elderly in West Bengal.
Nightingales Medical Trust (NMT), Bangalore is one of the first recognized providers of quality “age care” and dementia services to persons suffering from Alzheimer’s belonging to all socio-economic groups. In India, dementia is still viewed with ignorance and social stigma. It is more challenging for older women who are economically dependent on their families. To address this, NMT’s innovative telemedicine enabled centre has enhanced the access of elderly persons to high quality dementia care in a cost effective manner. Apart from that, the specially designed infrastructure and medical facilities at the Centre for Ageing & Alzheimer’s provides comprehensive residential care for both short and long term stay. As a result of its path-breaking work in the field of dementia, NMT has been recognized by Alzheimer’s & Related Disorder Society of India (ARDSI) as the promoter of its Bangalore Chapter.
SEWA Bank, Gujarat works to provide financial support to aged women from lower economic sections of the society. SEWA Bank started as a microfinance organisation providing financial aid to women in the non-formal sector but very soon realized that it needed to reach out to elderly women. Hence the Life-Cycle Approach for financial inclusion of women was started, whereby women would be supported throughout their life beginning with household emergencies, children’s education, improving their housing or income and preparing for old age. The SEWA Bank is a pioneer in microfinance, serving more than 350,000 women, providing savings, loans and access to insurance and pension products.
Old Age Homes: Focus on Mumbai is a study of four institutions from the city to showcase essential features of old age homes that make them examples of innovative practices. All the institutions studied here have shown good policies of healthcare, constant presence of caregivers and promotion of a support system among the aged that help them to become more self-sufficient. In addition, some of the institutions have also implemented innovative techniques like intergenerational programs, involvement of community in care-giving, vocational training and agefriendly infrastructure and environment that fosters positive integration of the older generation into these homes. These are important features that old age homes across the country can learn from and adopt to provide better quality of life to their residents.
HelpAge India’s Vidarbha Project was implemented to reduce the financial burden on aged women who were victims of the epidemic of farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra. In 2005, more than 70 per cent of the farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra occurred in the Vidarbha region. HelpAge India, with its primary intervention aimed at providing short-term credit loans to these widowed women expanded its project to cover nine villages in the area. Beginning with Elder Self-Help Groups (ESHGs) for microfinance, various other interventions were introduced such as income generating training and activities, initiation of government schemes and healthcare through mobile medical camps. The ESHGs were able to reduce the debt burden on lonely widowed women, resulting in economic independence and sustainable livelihoods. The project was also able to reduce the number of farmer suicides in the area and led to the promotion of women’s participation in small business activities, boosting their self-confidence and promoting women’s empowerment.
State Initiatives of Kerala: The study looks at a few schemes for the aged which are state driven and specific to Kerala. This is done to draw attention to the fact that though most states are able to implement programs run by the Central government on age care, Kerala has gone a step further by taking up the issue of old age, especially older women who are in need of special attention and care. Kerala has been the frontrunner in not only coming out with a State Old Age Policy (2013), it has also amended the Kerala Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (2007). This study looks at some of the schemes for the aged implemented by the state, which are innovative, replicable and have had a tremendous impact on the life of the elderly. They stand as examples for other states to emulate and scale up to larger, more sustainable projects.
Please note: The case studies mentioned in this publication have not been organized in any order of priority.