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Sanumaya’s Tale: Policy Response

Sabina Panth's picture

In my previous post, I narrated Sanumaya’s tale in the context of how development that looks good from the above can be problematic when viewed at the local level, particularly for socially and economically marginalized populations.  The village was building a road that connected to the highway.  Everyone was excited at the prospect of economic prosperity.  Except, it came at the cost of dislodging the poor and vulnerable, like Sanumaya, whose poverty, illiteracy and social status became her entrapment. 

The research findings and recommendations from The Access Initiative project of the World Resources Institute (WRI)  point out that the global standards for access to information, public participation, and access to justice have to specifically characterize the impediments faced by the poor and vulnerable to ascertain equal benefits from development.  I have consulted the findings from the WRI research (A Seat at the Table)  to provide policy response to Sanumaya’s predicament.  Here are some highlights:

Focus not just on the availability of procedures but also on their usability
In Sanumaya’s case, the government had followed all the procedures to make the information on the road project available to the public.  It had put out notification on the internet, newspapers and official billboards.  But none of these procedures served Sanumaya who is illiterate.  Language barrier has also been perceived as an impediment for those who do not speak the official language (tribal people) and even for people who are literate, the technical language of the notification has proven difficulty to comprehend. 

Use appropriate communication channels
As explained in the WRI findings, enthusiasms over e-government, mobile phone and other forms of ICT can be misplaced in the context of poor countries, where majority of the population are already hard pressed to locate basic information.  While ICT has its own benefits, alternative channels of communication, such as street theatre, community-radio and other traditional means of communication, such as announcement in the weekly market, water collection sites, religious sites and other locations, where local people congregate and conduct their activities should be located and utilized.  Similarly, cultural groups, local leaders and civil society representatives can be mobilized to carry out information dissemination.  In Sanumaya’s case, the women’s savings and credit groups would have been a perfect target for information dissemination. 

Compensate for time, travel, and other risks associated with participation
As a single mother, Sanumaya has substantial domestic and economic responsibilities. In order to apply for compensation offered by the project, Sanumaya has to travel a long distance and by foot.  This requires forgoing her daily wage income, her domestic chores and seeking child care.  Other risks associated with participation and travel have been identified as physical danger (harassment faced as a single woman) and property loss (burglary – including her goats).  The research also explains that poor often receive psychological threats from those having a stake in avoiding their participation.  Also, some government require processing fees to submit official applications.  This should be waived for those who cannot afford through careful verification.

Provide legal aid to secure entitlement to the poor
It was impossible for Sanumaya to claim her entitlement to the compensation offered by the project.  Illiteracy, lack of information, gender discrimination and social exclusion served as her impediments.  She did not have proper documents (citizenship, marriage certificate) to prove her relation to the owner of the property (the property was registered in her husband’s name).  To consider cases like that of Sanumaya, the government can contract civil society organizations to help access legal aid for the poor and vulnerable.  In the meantime, policies for joint property registration by husband and wife can be advocated.  As a first step, the government of Nepal has provided a 20% tax break to encourage registration of land and property in a woman’s name.

Take gender equality and social inclusion measures
As explained in the WRI publication, "the social and economic status greatly affect the willingness of individuals to solicit information, participate in public consultation and challenge authority.”  The village meetings tend to be captured by elite interests and the dominant opinions belong to men. As a result, the poor and women who are not educated or politically influential do not find voice in the decision-making.  The WRI research points out that even when the participation of the majority is required by the project, the ‘tick box’ approach is generally practiced in the name of public participation and this compromises the quality of participation and input, especially from the perspectives of women and the marginalized population.  In some cases, the project design have been diverted in the aftermath of the public meetings without any further notification to the villagers.  To avoid this, civil society organizations have to be mobilized to take charge of monitoring, vigilance and sensitization against gender discrimination and social exclusion practices.
Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection 

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Submitted by Keepa on
Loved reading the article, so informative & clear (for someone like me). Keep up the good work.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you for such a great article. I agree with Keepa in that it always help non-sociologists (like me) understand the intricacies of an issue/problem when it is expressed as an example instead of having it littered with official/technical jargon that Sanumaya and myself would have trouble understanding.

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