IGNOU in Pursuit of Women-Empowerment Through Education in North East Region

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By Dr Bini Toms

Regional Director, EDNERU Headquarters, IGNOU

Although the population of women in India is more than the overall population of many countries, facts reveal that women in our country, in general, do not enjoy even basic rights to health and education. The situation in the North East Region (NER) of the country is not much different, rather grimmer.

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The North East Region of India is ethnically distinct from the rest of the country and has strong ethnic and cultural ties with Southeast Asia. It has advantages due its strategic location and because of the boundaries it shares with our neighbour countries, which can facilitate cultural and educational exchange. The region has tremendous potential in terms of its natural resources and scenic beauty. However, it cannot be denied that there are lacunae owing to the educational deficit that the region faces. Today, we realize the importance of human resource development for the overall development of any region.

An academic organisation has a greater role in empowering to the society especially neglected sections like women, by giving them, access to education, equal opportunities to which they have a right and thereby the hope of an equal world. As rightly said, “Women’s empowerment is intertwined with respect for human rights”- Mahnaz Afkhami.

The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), through its unit, the Educational Development of North East Region Unit (EDNERU) with its excellent team of people in the NER is in the forefront in the development of NE states. The unit was initially sanctioned as the North East Project (NEP) in 2000 by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) out of the Prime Minister’s non-lapsable funds. Since then, it has contributed significantly to the establishment of a network of open and distance learning (ODL) in the region, supplementing the conventional forms of education. With the mandate of providing access to higher education, uplifting and empowering the weaker sections including women in the NER, EDNERU has opened five institutes and 9 regional centres (RCs) in all the eight states of NER, including Sikkim. The study centres of IGNOU form an important part of the overall structure of the University and are designed to provide extensive and efficient student support services to its learners. In pursuit of reaching the unreached, some of these centres are in remote, inaccessible and far-flung areas. In pursuit of women empowerment, special study centres have been set up for women in the north eastern states.

Fund AllocationFunds earmarked for north east India by the government have increased each year: 21.58 crores in 2008-09; 28.28 crores in 2009-2010 and 30.09 crores in 2010-2011. This has facilitated the activation of special study centres for women and to take on new initiatives for women’s development. There are proposals in process, focusing on development of women, on developing courses for women and on setting up an institute for women.

As a part of its commitment towards development and welfare in North East Region, IGNOU through its Special Study Centre in Central Jail, Shillong has imparted short term vocational training programmes to women inmates

Besides the regular programmes offered by IGNOU, need based education and training/entrepreneurship development programmes are also being developed and conducted. Considering the importance of creating an environment for entrepreneurship development, training programme in small sectors like fruit processing was conducted by the EDNERU’s Regional Centre (RC), Agartala and Institute-ICRTA (IGNOU Centre for ODL in Research and Training in Agriculture), Agartala, for women trainees in the State of Tripura. ICRTA has conducted several trainings exclusively for female agricultural labourers. In the past one year, more than 150 women have been trained by ICRTA.

RC Shillong has recently conducted a training programme on handicraft and loofah for women. As a part of its commitment towards development and welfare in NER, the University, through its Special Study Centre in Central Jail, Shillong has imparted short term vocational training programmes to women inmates. RC Imphal is also working on similar lines for the benefit of jail inmates. As an increasing need is being felt to protect and improve the quality of life of women and girls, RC Imphal and Aizwal have activated a course on anti human trafficking, developed by the school of law which is the beginning of a sensitisation programme by these centres to eradicate social evils.

IGNOU Aizawl Regional Centre, with the help of the state government and existing non-government organisation like Young Mizo Association (YMA), women organization named Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), Hmeithai Association and other Self Help Groups, the Regional Centre has been involved with education extension activities like training in food processing, poultry farming and other skill development trainings all over the state. In this connection, special emphasis has been given to empowerment of women in particular.

The IGNOU Institute of Vocational Education and Training (IIVET), Shillong has conducted several training programmes exclusively for women some of which include Communication Skills & Computer Literacy for School Dropouts/Domestic Workers; Fashion Designing; Interior Decorations; Electronic and Conventional Tailoring for women; Theoretical Course on “Physics of Welding” for girl students; Multi-skill Development to develop an integrated view of Skills Development and Kouna – Chumthang Crafts for women in Manipur.

Till date, over 200 women have been imparted vocational education through IIVET. The future plans are to have repeat of a Kouna-Chumthang Crafts training programme, multi-skills for women, tourism, citizen journalism, fashion designing and interior decorations etc. and to conduct these on a regular basis. All these vocational courses and trainings have well-designed follow-up strategies, whereby students are placed or given financial assistance and guidance to develop into entrepreneurs themselves. The regional centres and institutes carry out regular awareness campaigns to sensitise the population  on need based issues like the one conducted by RC Guwahati on the world environment day.

Through its institute the North East Centre for Research and Development (NECRD), Guwahati, the university also provides funding to major and minor research projects in order to provide opportunities to researchers to undertake advanced studies and research on issues pertaining to the NER. As a part of its research activities, the EDNER unit runs a full-fledged fellowship programme of Research and Teaching Assistantship (RTA) for researchers working from North East and also for those from outside working on North East issues, on the lines of UGC fellowship, to pursue Ph.D., majority enrolled being girls.

The nine RCs functioning in NER have a total enrolment of about 10,000 female students, enrolled for this academic year. Efforts are being made by these RCs to encourage female candidates for pursuing higher education in ODL mode. Further, IGNOU, through the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education and Development (MGIED) in Nagaland is running a full-time, regular masters programme in social work in which the number of girls enrolled this year is much more as compared to the previous year when there were more boys. Under the supervision of RD Kohima and PD MGIED, the Institute is all set to take major strides in imparting education in the face to face mode in agriculture, Gandhian philosophy, Naga art and culture and provide vocational and teachers’ training.

As IGNOU continues its efforts for empowering women through education, let us hope that the nation as a whole realizes that, “The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all”-Aung San Suu Kyi.

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