India: Ginny Shrivastava

It is a long way from Canada to working at the Indian grassroots with tendu patta (tobacco leaf) collectors and widows, and clashing with the authorities-but Ginny is finally home.

— Ginny Shrivastava

Ginny Shrivastava (born 1943), a Canadian by birth, has been working with women in Rajasthan since 1970. The main driving force behind the Association of Strong Women Alone, a registered society of low-income single women, Ginny has focused on building the leadership capabilities of grassroots women. Also actively involved with tribal groups, Ginny mobilized them to pressure the government to give them minimum wages for collecting tendu patta (tobacco leaves), and helped them form a Tendu Patta Cooperative.

The Canadian Ginny arrived in Udaipur in 1970 after marrying an Indian. Her doctoral thesis was on nonformal education programs for women in Indian villages. She studied the social change and leadership patterns through her thesis work. In 1986, Seva Mandir (an NGO working on rural and tribal development in and around Udaipur) abruptly terminated her services without notice: the organization was getting nervous about her increasing clashes with the local authorities. Ginny and some friends formed Astha, also based in Udaipur, focusing on awareness generation through training programs, action, and reflection. One of Ginny's most crucial contributions is her work with low-income widows and separated women. In India, social restrictions on widows force them to live in subhuman conditions. Ginny and her team mobilized widows in many districts of Rajasthan. Today, there is the state-level Association of Strong Women Alone (Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan-Aswa), a registered society. Aswa is a splendid example of the success of Ginny's efforts in building the leadership capabilities of women at the grassroots level. It was built entirely by grassroots women, and they handle their organizational responsibilities very effectively. Ginny is also actively involved with tribal groups. Her most successful effort was in mobilizing tribals to put pressure on the government to give minimum wages for collecting tobacco leaves, and, more recently, helping them form a Tendu Patta Cooperative to tender bids for tobacco leaf collection. Ginny works to build people's movements around issues of social justice, livelihoods, environmental issues, women's rights, and human rights. Her forte is her great faith in the ability of the people to better their own lives.

Astha Association of Strong Women Alone (Aswa) Budget Analysis Rajasthan Center (Barc)