Let us look at the Eleutheros Christian Society (ECS) example. The ECS based in Tuensang has been making such a great difference in the lives of the people in and around Tuensang, and is spreading out to neighbouring districts. Initiated by Reverend Chingmak Chang and his wife Phutoli, ECS has taken the idea of empowerment to a whole new level. It is inspiring and highly encouraging and forward looking. This is what a dedicated team with visionary leaders can achieve. There are many areas they have successfully ventured into, including Employment avenues for educated unemployed youths, Springshed development and construction of a link road in the Sangdak range. This article will discuss only three of the ways in which ECS goes to work to show the manner in which the society achieves empowerment of women eventually leading to all-round empowerment of the community.
The ECS primarily began by concentrating on economic and financial empowerment of female members because they saw that when a woman was financially empowered, it ‘provided leverage for her to have a voice in decision-making’. Investigations revealed that men tended to use money on buying land and property, while women used money on children’s education and health. Men were more vulnerable to money lenders but women proved more prudent and thus became bankable. The women worked in groups that existed in a wholly organic manner as they were already divided into the Edou, the work-groups that cultivated jhum fields according to the communal pattern of helping each other to finish tilling their individual portions of jhum areas. When the women groups had saved a substantial amount of money, they were introduced to the banking system and ECS gave them matching grants for the money they had saved. Thus, the women experienced financial gains and it led to gaining status and leverage by being economically empowered.
The second phase, more importantly, was the involvement of the women’s groups in community development starting with the preschool level. The rural women’s groups adopted nurseries. Young mothers joined their pre-school children in the nurseries, and participated in their children’s activities as they learned about health care even as they took an active part in the feeding program. Today the church has also become integrally involved in the pre-school program and it helps in constructing feeding spaces and attached kitchens. Feeding is conducted four days a week divided into two days for mothers and two days for children. The women’s groups also formed mothers’ clubs. The mothers’ clubs help pregnant women to access health care. Mothers’ clubs became a very strong support system for the members. For example, they would order ambulances to take expectant mothers to hospital in time. The members of the Mothers’ clubs also help the pre-schools by collecting firewood for the centre, and helping in cooking, and cleaning the compound. A sense of ownership has been instilled in the members and that fuels their participation.
Phase three was the inclusion of fifty percent of women on the church board. The spread of awareness about the inclusive factor of Christ’s teachings helped to open up a male bastion to include women on the board. Women members are trained to take on responsibilities in the church and in the Chang churches, if the pastor is away, the pastorni takes over as chairman, filling in an important gap.
Thus, there are many areas in which the ECS has helped empower rural women in its own areas and it continues this work by giving them skills to continue their empowerment.
The respective Naga communities can take what works for them from the ECS example and apply it and gain from it.
The work of ECS is enlightening as it can lead to much more than the empowerment of Naga women. It must be understood that as women are empowered, it will lead to empowerment of the society as a whole. As the society gets economically empowered, a change will come about that will affect the present Election scenario and change it from the money game it has degenerated into. When members of society are empowered to make good choices, they will not sell their votes. They will have a completely different understanding of voting which will guide them to elect efficient leaders. They will participate in activities that ensure development for their areas, they will campaign for good roads and good public health systems and improved life in all spheres.
This would become real empowerment, an empowerment that is not confined to gender but Is able to permeate into all strata of society and bring real and lasting change. The work of ECS is vital because of the future that it can lead us into.