VIBHA GUPTA

India,

Dr. Vibha Gupta is bringing the benefits of science and technology to India's rural women in an effort to raise economic productivity, increase health and quality of life, and reduce the drudgery of everyday labor.

This profile below was prepared when Vibha Gupta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.

Fellow Sketch

Dr. Vibha Gupta is developing and promoting economically viable and environmentally appropriate technologies for rural women to become self sufficient. Her institution, Centre for Science for Villages (CSV), is delivering the benefits of science and technology to India's rural women in an effort to raise economic productivity, increase health and quality of life.

Rural women often engage in work that is extremely labour-intensive and hazardous. With less than 1 percent of science and technology funds going to villages, none are used for generating women-friendly technologies. This led Vibha to create the Centre for Science for Villages, to develop & promote economically viable and environmentally appropriate technologies for rural women. The Center has developed over 70 technologies in the areas of renewable energy, mud housing, low cost sanitation, agriculture tools, organic agriculture, improved tools for artisans, and rain-water harvesting technology.

Vibha and her CSV technical staff design and test simple technological tools at their field-based laboratory in Wardha. The staff trains women to use the tools and provides support for maintenance and repair,  thereby simultaneously empowering and encouraging them to use technology. She also introduced the ‘Young Scientists Scheme’ and ‘Senior Scientist Scheme’ in the agenda of Science & Society Division of Department of Science & Technology, to support and encourage the spirit of innovation, work on new frontiers of knowledge, assist learning in India and abroad and encourage projects on societal problems.

Vibha also works towards empowering rural women, farmers, and artisans by reducing their dependence on exploitative forces and systems like money lenders, market forces, and Government policies. She has mobilized over 10,000 rural women  to advocate for improved sanitary conditions and water access and formed 600 Self Help Groups in 100 villages. She influenced the policy that mandates houses constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana - Rural Housing Scheme be entitled to both the female and male heads of the family. As an expert advisor to the Women, Science and Technology Division of Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, she assisted in setting up Women Technology Centers in the critical arid and desert areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Vibha has brought to the national forum the issue of lack of appropriate technologies for rural women working in the farm, field and factory. To highlight the technologies essential for the rural women she has compiled seven books on ‘Technologies for Rural Women’. Most recently, she formed the Academy of Young Scientists  where she hopes to inspire more women to find solutions for society-related science & technology problems

This update was created in March 2014. Read on for the Election Profile.

 

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Vibha Gupta is bringing the benefits of science and technology to India's rural women in an effort to raise economic productivity, increase health and quality of life, and reduce the drudgery of everyday labor.




THE NEW IDEA

Vibha is training rural women in simple scientific skills and techniques that can broaden their sphere of knowledge and increase their quality of life. With training from the Centre of Science for Villages (CSV), rural women are building skills that help increase their income and make everyday work more bearable. The center also helps dispel general stereotypes surrounding the notion that science and technology are subjects that rural women find useless and difficult to understand.

Vibha and her CSV technical staff design and test simple technical tools at their field-based laboratory in Wardha. The staff trains women to use the tools and provides support for maintenance and repair. Women become more confident in the technology and themselves, using their newfound autonomy to increase productivity and decrease health hazards associated with their daily work. The CSV also specifically trains women to use technology to create economically productive enterprises. Small-scale processing units, alternative energy devices, training on maintenance and repair of household goods and electrical appliances are examples of potential projects. The CSV completes instruction with tips on product marketing.

Vibha is planning to engage a multidisciplinary team of young scientists to structure an interactive approach that involves women at every step of technology development. Vibha hopes to encourage the scientific community to think on a broader scale, resulting in more women-friendly products and technologies.




THE PROBLEM

In all major aspects of women's lives–food, clothing, housing, sanitation, tools, protective gears, transportation there is a total absence of technology oriented to women. Women and men have different body compositions and their capacities for physical labor are different. For example, women in rural areas use four to five times more water in their work than men, but the strength of a woman's body can really only handle carrying about one-fourth of her own body weight. A majority of poor rural women fetch and carry water equal to her body weight from wells, yet no one has thought of a simple design to increase the operational efficiency of the pulley that draws water from the well. Most of women's work is extremely labor-intensive and hazardous. Injuries from carrying and pulling massive loads, cuts and burns, aches and pains and allergies are common problems for rural women. In addition, less than 1 percent of science and technology funds go to villages and none are used for generating women-friendly technologies.

This absence of technologically advanced tools, the significant drudgery of daily work, hazardous working conditions, extremely low wages, and lack of legal protection affects women's participation in economic activities. In South Asia, women make up two-thirds of the population in absolute poverty. Neither domestic work nor women's contribution in the field are recognized as real, productive work. Contributions to the family income thus become "invisible," relegating women to an inferior status. The impact is so intense that often a woman starts believing she actually is inferior.

Simple adaptive technologies can improve women's quality of life and provide them with additional income. Women can learn science and technology and apply them in life to be economically active and independent.




THE STRATEGY

So far they have invented 102 technologies suitable for village life, 75 of which were made exclusively for women.

Vibha's first strategy is to elect a highly dedicated rural technical team comprising female mechanical engineers, health workers, doctors, mechanics, and volunteers. The team is trained and given a chance to interact with experts in specific subjects of interest. CSV organizes site visits to places where similar work is being done. Technologies are field tested for ground reality and sustainability.

Next, villages are selected to participate in the technology program. Currently, 10 villages are running the intensive, women-oriented programs. Trainee selection is the next important step. A woman must meet several criteria to become a CSV trainee. She must become a member of a self-help group and contribute financially to an individual or collective enterprise. She also must be literate up to the 10th standard and should have family support for undertaking training and being self-employed.

The technical team then trains the local artisans in the villages. To reduce the number of drop-outs and assure continued interest after the instructional process is over, trainees must pay for their tools kits at the beginning of training. Besides being a necessary teaching tool, the kits are essential when the women launch their own enterprises. After training, women establish a number of enterprises based on their skills and interests. Some women set up rural service centers to repair sewing machines, bicycles, mixers, grinders, or kerosene stoves. Others work in rural pathology labs, administering pathology tests under the guidance and supervision of local doctors. Women may also develop processing units for selling nutritious food supplements, herbal medicines, jams, jellies, and squash made from organic fruits grown locally for extracting banana fiber for making paper. The latest venture is repair and maintenance of devices based on renewable energy like biogas and solar energy.

Training programs also provide strong marketing support to ensure a broad base of knowledge. Women are taught how to apply for subsidies, how to sell, display, and store the finished products. Workshops are organized for repair and maintenance of the tools, and training is provided on bookkeeping, sale procedure, maintaining stock, pricing, and bank transactions. Even mobile marketing units, where women pile bicycles with their products and travel from village to village, are introduced. Vibha is currently looking for funding to set up a mobile marketing van.

To date, more than 5,000 women have passed through Vibha's science and technology training program. Around 50 voluntary organizations have made use of the training and are disseminating these technologies and services in Karnataka, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Vibha has also conducted special trainings for architects and town planners from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh under UNESCO. Some of these trainees have set up their own organizations spreading Vibha's teachings even further.

Vibha is now planning to engage a multidisciplinary team of young scientists to structure an interactive approach involving women in each step of development. She plans on identifying scientists from the Regional and National Laboratories, School of Planning and Architecture, Engineering Colleges, National Institute of Design and Indian Institute of Technology. The team will interact with rural women to identify problems and work out a mechanism that the existing scientific structures can integrate as part of their work plan. This effort will enable scientists to interact with rural realities and develop processes and products oriented toward women




THE PERSON

In 1980 Vibha compiled a report for CSV on Women Agricultural Labour of Wardha that opened her eyes to the hardship rural women go through because of lack of technology and tools. This, and a study she did on the plight of women artisans in the same region, made her scour science laboratories all over India for technologies that could assist rural women. The picture was dismal. Vibha started collecting information on women-specific technologies, convincing CSV to start working on women-oriented technologies.

Inspired by her Gandhian father who was a scientist, Vibha was interested in social contexts right from childhood. Trained as an economist, Vibha's Ph.D. thesis was "Transfer of Technology Amongst Rural Women." She did her postgraduate degree on social work at the Institute of Social Science in Amsterdam and attained a diploma of community development in Canada.

Vibha's father set up CSV in 1976 in Wardha in Maharashtra. Vibha was interested but chose to stay away, doing her own work in Delhi. A chance attendance at a meeting her father was holding in Delhi made her realize that the heart of India lies in the villages and that that is where she needed to be. Somewhat later, Vibha joined her father at Wardha.

In 1981-82 Vibha helped set up the Academy of Young Scientists in Delhi. With the team, she traveled throughout India as part of a year-long project of the Planning Commission on "Involvement of Young Scientists in Undertaking Society-related S & T problems." This led to the inclusion of the Young Scientists Programme in the Departments of Science and Technology.

Vibha is now assisting a special program for rural women under the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare called Swashakti (meaning self-empowered). Through it she is helping map the drudgery levels of rural women in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, compiling 300 technologies for women, designing toolkits, and developing self-empowered villages in seven states of India. This work will benefit some two million women.

Vibha has also influenced policy by persuading the government to allot houses under government housing control in the name of both the man and the woman.