Married young and living in a society where women traditionally do not have a voice, Nirmala’s journey to becoming a part of the What Women Want campaign has been remarkable. She counts herself fortunate to have a husband who encouraged her to go back to school after their marriage and later taught tailoring skills to other women in her community who needed to make a living. That’s when she realized how many women were struggling; women who had been abandoned by husbands, were widowed or caring for other family members. She saw that domestic violence poisoned almost every household. “Either women are being beaten, or they are under the threat of physical or verbal abuse and control,” says Nirmala. “It is domestic violence which stops so many women from seeking the healthcare which is their right. Even if a girl gets education and skills, as soon as she is married, she has to live under the rules of her husband’s family, and you don’t have a voice.”
Now in her forties, Nirmala insisted that her own daughter was educated and has gradually emerged as a leader in her community. She founded and leads Ragho Seva Sansthan (“In the service of God”), a community-based organisation in Sheikhpura District, Bihar and has mobilized volunteers to help gather the voices of more than 4,000 women from the Sheikhpura and Munger districts of Bihar for the What Women Want campaign.
“This campaign has been a game changer in bringing women’s and girls’ health to the attention of our law makers,” she says. Previously, the local Member of Parliament, Chirag Paswan, did not consider maternal health a priority. But we organized district level events where more than 300 women told him they needed doctors, medicines and ambulance services to save lives. He immediately procured an ambulance from his Local Area Development fund. I continue to engage with him and he is now committed to supporting women’s health issues. Women had never been asked before to think about their own needs. They were used to giving answers about needs of the community–such as water and electricity–but this campaign for the first time made them aware that they had rights and could demand them. Until now women were ignored in the decision making about their own health. Now women have a voice.”