Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health ( SWASTH )

Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST)
Government of Bihar initiative supported by Department for International Development, UK


SHGs ushering a silent revolution in Bihar through Gram Varta

Thousands of women from rural areas gather in Patna to share how the Gram Varta initiative has brought about a change in health, nutrition and sanitation aspects of their lives.

Patna, Bihar: Asserting that Self  Help Groups (SHGs) are crucial for women empowerment, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that they are ushering in a silent revolution in the state.
Kumar was speaking a state level event held in July this year to showcase the successful adoption of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approach through their intervention – Gram Varta for improved Health, Nutrition and WASH outcomes.
The event was jointly organised by the Women Development Corporation (WDC) and Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST).Assuring government’s continued support to women’s empowerment, Nitish Kumar said that SHGs were playing a catalytic role in a sweeping social change at the grassroots level and tackling issues like malnutrition, child marriage, hygiene and sanitation.
Applauding Gram Varta for spreading awareness about Health, Nutrition and Sanitation, Nitish Kumar said that if Self-Help Groups are sensitised and women are empowered to take up these three key areas, entire communities can hope to become healthy.
Kumar asked the Managing Director of WDC to scale up the Gram Varta programme across the state.
The event highlighted the change brought in the roles of rural women through Gram Varta, a programme that has helped them to negotiate new practices with family members, share information among their family and peer networks, and foster community support for action.
The community mobilisation approach has promoted healthier family practices, raised demand for primary Health Nutrition Water & Sanitation (HNWASH) services, and stimulates local action for change.
The workshop also aimed to reflect the need for intersectoral coordination among various departments for ensured delivery of services to fulfil the demand generated through Gram Varta.
The event also intended to draw the attention of bureaucrats and policy makers on the potential of Gram Varta to address the social determinants of health, and the social norms and power dynamics that influence care practices and health care access, particularly gender and social exclusion.
The event was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, and attended by Minister of Social Welfare, Health and Rural Development, senior government officials, members and representatives of donor agencies, DFID including members of SHGs.
Approximately two thousand women from various districts attended the event. Women from community shared their experiences eloquently at the event and presented how Gram Varta had brought about a change in them and their families.
Dr Vijaylakshmi, Managing Director, WDC, addressing the audience in the opening session briefed the gathering about the intervention and informed with a sense of pride as to how in a short span of time Gram Varta had spread across 14 districts, covering eighty thousand SHGs.
Taking the lead from the intervention, she shared the department’s vision to bring women in lead role to take charge of their health, nutrition and WASH issues for combating malnutrition. She also spoke about the evidence from large scale trials in India and other countries which showed that women’s groups working through PLA approaches can improve maternal and neo-natal health in fairly short time.
Based on a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) technique, the aim of Gram Varta is to improve the health and nutrition status of rural people through community mobilization, through a series of meetings and interactive sessions. These Gram Varta sessions take place approximately every fortnight, in a 20-meeting cycle, and use PLA techniques like role plays, games, discussions, problem tree analysis, and so on.
Gram Varta is implemented through the Self Help Groups (SHGs) of JEEViKA, WDC and the Bihar Mahila Samakhya. It primarily involves women members of these SHGs who meet regularly to engage in these sessions. These women undertake community needs assessments, identify and prioritise local issues, draw up a community action plan to respond to these issues, implement the solutions as well as monitor the progress.
It also includes non-SHG members, men and women, adolescents, the wider community, and frontline workers –- in some of the sessions and wider meetings -- to encourage collaborative learning and action.

The Gram Varta PLA cycle encourages local communities to become aware, recognise problems and act on issues such as good nutrition for pregnant women, complementary feeding for infants, family planning methods, birth-preparedness, harmful effects of open defecation and many other topics.
Dr Ellen Wratten, Country Head, DFID-India, hailed Gram Varta for empowering women and said it was a promising approach. She said the confidence and knowledge that the women had shown in talking to a large audience at this meeting was the real evidence in itself of the extent to which change has been achieved through Gram Varta.