A Gendered Perspective: Reflections on the MDG and the potential of the SDG

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By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

katies mdg

A woman closes the door behind her and sets off into the early light of dawn. It’s the pre-monsoon season in India, and the air is thick with heat as she walks to her small kitchen garden. What began as a grant of seeds, has transformed into fertile beds of earth that are all her own. From her garden she can produce crops to both feed and financially support her family. From her garden she has been able to build alliances with other local women’s collectives around the importance of organic farming and how to improve their own self-sufficiency. From her garden her future is now one of abundance and opportunity.

This is our vision for the world because, we believe that when women thrive, communities thrive. When women are supported and resourced, they are able to lift their communities out of poverty, increase economic stability, and provide countries with sustainable practices to address and combat climate change. In light of this, the member states of the United Nation’s have been awarded a rare opportunity. As they reconstruct the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that will be adopted in September, these nations and participating NGOs have the potential for being the spark that makes the WEA vision for the world—a world where grassroots women leaders are heard, and their knowledge is honored and uplifted for the betterment of us all—a reality.

In 2000, the eight MDG were established by the UN to target global issues identified as being some of our world’s most pressing concerns. Over the past fifteen years, great strides have been made towards accomplishing these goals. The percentage of those living in extreme poverty has been reduced nearly by half, from 1.9 billion to 836 million. More girls than ever are now enrolled in schools, and gender equality in secondary schools in 36 developing nations is no longer just an aspiration, but a shining reality. Access to clean drinking water has also seen an increase for up to 90% of the global population. But while this incredible progress represents important steps toward creating global equality, the work of the MDG isn’t finished. We cannot regard this progress as a landmark triumph while millions of people—particularly women and girls—continue to face severe poverty, basic human rights insecurity and deep inequity.


In this way, the MDG have come up short in shedding light on the intersectionality of the original goals, especially with regard to gender. In the final progress report the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, noted that of all the goals, gender equality and woman’s health were the most neglected. Even with an advanced education women around the world continue to earn 24% less than men. Less than 20% of government leaders in the world are women. And women in developing nations are fourteen times as likely to die as women in developed nations. When we look at this reality, we can clearly see how issues of climate change, food security, and environmental degradation continue—these are interconnected challenges existing in an ecosystem that is our world, and one challenge cannot be addressed while ignoring another.

Come September, all countries that participated in the MDG must re-evaluate and submit new goals, which will become the SDG. Of the seventeen SDG declared so far, one goal directly focuses on women, while many others have the potential to impact gender in positive and critical ways. Goal #5, the aim of achieving gender equality and empowering all girls and women, is only one of many and yet impacts almost every other issue at stake. In fact, a 2014 study by the Copenhagen Consensus Center providing guidance on which of the drafted SDG targets were the best investments rated those aimed at gender equality among the highest. Still, many governments fail to invest in the leadership and capacity-building of women, they fail to increase resources to address violence against women or to ensure access to reproductive health care, and they fail to recognize the disproportionate financial and environmental burden women bear as food producers and providers, community caretakers, and natural resource stewards. The global success of women represents our greatest hope for a reconciled world, and this is something that must be taken seriously by the SDG and world nations.


The Millennium Development Goals gave us a glimpse of a world where change is possible. Through WEA’s vision of recognizing essential women’s rights, and building global networks of empowered female leaders, the Sustainable Development Goals have the potential to create a world where change truly is sustainable.

Further Reading


Sowing Seeds, Supporting Women Farmers in India

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By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern


“Seeds have no caste, creed, religion, or gender. They are universal and secular. We nurture this sentiment strongly in our work with various communities,” says Manorama Joshi, a farmer in the Malnad region of Karnataka, India. A mother and wife, Manorama has also gone on to become the spirit of local women’s agriculture and a seed leader in her community.

Manorama is an integral member of Vanastree, a grassroots collective that works in Southern India at the intersections of gender disparity, traditional knowledge and sovereignty. Since 2013, WEA has collaborated with Vanastree to uplift women seed savers and small-scale forest home gardeners by helping them to organize meetings and festivals, collect and share knowledge on seed strengths and weaknesses, and carry out key community programs.

Through her work as a program coordinator and seed leader with Vanastree, Manorama helps to support this peaceful seed revolution to identify forest gardens as longstanding food repositories, to highlight traditional knowledge, and techniques of farming and gardening, and to empower the women who tend these places as influential agents for addressing food scarcity.


In India today, although these women are the primary advocates, and cultivators of the forests their families have called home for generations, women have little say in policies that impact the land and forests, and which often result in the environmental degradation of their natural resources. In fact, women make up around 60%-80% of all India’s agricultural labor, and remain unrecognized as farmers, who are largely considered to be men with land titles. Women on the other hand, legally own less than 10% of the lands they work to cultivate and protect. Furthermore, of India’s natural resources, where the country once had 14.8 billion acres of land forested, by 2013 this had dwindled to 8.6 billion acres due to large-scale agriculture and land grazing for cattle. Due to this widespread deforestation, sustainable management such as seed saving and traditional food knowledge remains unrecognized. And such practices will only continue to be lost whilst mainstream agricultural practices of mono-cropping and chemical pesticides exacerbate issues of climate change.

And yet there is hope as women like Manorama and organizations like Vanastree work to preserve and promote the knowledge and culture of seed savers. Over the course of our collaboration, WEA and Vanastree’s partnership visited 120 small-scale women farmers and 15 seed groups in the region, ascertaining the community’s needs, and holding a communal space for the women to gather for monthly meetings. This was a time for them to exchange seeds and share skills, or find opportunities to teach courses in Organic Kitchen Gardens to rural youth. Manorama herself was responsible for organizing the area’s Tuber Festival, which supports the protection of forest home gardens, and educates on the importance of biodiversity in the name of food security.

Through this life-giving partnership, Manorama has been able to take seed knowledge and protect it’s future continuance. Today, she has more than carried out her family’s legacy, and is now referred to as “the backbone of the initiative… seek[ing] to overcome the invisibilisation of women in agriculture.” By planting her traditional wisdom throughout the community, Manorama can ensure her seedlings will be powerful enough to support both her people and her forests.

Building Solidarity Around Resource Management for Women

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

For Nanu Ghatani of the Lalitpur District in Nepal, staying silent in the face of injustice and oppression was never an option.

Nanu’s strength, courage and determination was first tested when she moved villages to be married at the age of 14. She soon learned that she was not permitted to use produce in the forests surrounding her community. Nanu was told to remain silent and sneak the supplies she needed, but instead, she refused and organized an oppositional campaign. She then mounted campaigns against regional human trafficking, and though her husband threatened to leave her, Nanu again refused to back down. Said she of this time:

“I did not stop because I knew what I did was right.”

For Nanu, the next steps in her local movement came after she began attending trainings with the Himalayan Grassroots Women’s Natural Resource Management Association’s (HIMWANTI).

HIMWANTI is an organization that focuses its projects on the issues of gender justice, environmental protection, and land and resource rights. In partnership with WEA, the group is continuing its work to both develop the aptitude of local women leaders like Nanu in natural resource management and to document the success of women who have led community forest management practices.

While women are the primary providers for their families in Nepal, this also puts them at great risk to gender-based violence and harassment as they travel great distances from their homes in search of food and water. Nepal reported that nearly half of its country’s women had experienced gender based violence during their lifetime, and this dramatically increased for women in rural areas, and with lower caste or economic standing. And, as climate change makes basic natural resources scarcer, women are forced to travel to increasingly isolated and dangerous areas. With 75% of rural women engaged in agricultural production, the depletion and degradation of forest resources is felt deepest amongst them, especially because their share of earned incomes is 1/3rd that of men. Thanks to the efforts of women like Nanu, and the support of HIMWANTI-Nepal, there is change and progress on both these fronts.

Nanu Ghatani, president of the HIMAWANTI-Kavre District Chapter, speaking during a training session. Photo: HIMAWANTI

By providing rural women with the opportunity to come together and build solidarity around natural resource management, access, and the equitable distribution of their benefits, HIMAWANTI and local female leaders are doing critical work to sustain community forestry. HIMAWANTI achieve their vision through district-wide events, conducting studies, policy reviews and gathering recommendations for a gendered analysis of rural women’s rights and natural resource management strategies. Today it is Nanu, and other inspired women leaders, who are able to bring forth the issues of the lack of female voice in local land decisions, the benefit of agricultural sharing, domestic violence, and how to create future opportunities of leadership roles for women in forest food sourced communities.

After her HIMWANTI training, Nanu conducted literacy campaigns in her region, advocated for her community’s access to free electricity, formed more than 20 women’s savings groups, and rose to president of HIMWANTI-Nepal’s Kavre District Chapter. Although she received little support from her family, Nanu persevered on to create a support system for the women of her community, and to become a central voice of female leadership and forest resource management.

There is hope for the future, and as Nanu says:

“Change is possible…if you don’t believe just take me as an example.”

When Weather Turns Unfavorable, Farmers Lose Hope

Project: Women and Food Learning Exchange in Northern India

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Tragic farmer suicides sweep India
Tragic farmer suicides sweep India

According to a report by Al Jazeera, “agricultural investment in India is a big gamble. Farmers usually take out bank loans against land to buy seeds and fertiliser, pay salaries, and acquire irrigation equipment.”

However, unforeseen and unwelcome weather patterns can strike at any time, and with less than 20% of Indian farmers insured, this can lead to disastrous results. And for many farmers, in the face of enormous debt, feeling like there’s no other way out.

The suicide rate among Indian farmers was 47 percent higher than the national average, according to a 2011 census. Forty-one farmers commit suicide every day, leaving behind scores of orphans and widows.

You can read more about this tragic epidemic here.

A Mother’s Day Call to Protect the Earth

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This Sunday is the day of the mother, the day we honor the source of life. As we give thanks for our very existence, for all the nurturing and resources our mothers provide for us so that we may grow and thrive, we also celebrate our shared mother—the Earth itself. Without her flowing waters, warm sun, rich soil and fresh air, even our most advanced technologies wouldn’t be able to sustain our collective life here. 

It feels like just yesterday that WEA’s Co-Directors, Melinda and Amira, were both becoming new mothers—and then mothers once more! But today, they each have two sons, all under the age of three, and it’s taken us just a moment to realize how quickly time has flown. 

The women of RENAMITT. Photo by: Semillas, a partner of WEA

At its heart, our work here at WEA has always been about nurturing women at the grassrootshonoring and uplifting the work of women and community caregivers around the world who are mothering children and mothering movements. We do this because we recognize the undeniable connection between our experiences as women—as mothers—and the experiences of our first mother, our shared planet earth. 

Last week, WEA had the oppotunity to attend the Indigenous Birthways convening at  BirthKeepers Summit here in Berkeley, CA. There, we heard Mohawk elder and midwife, Katsi Cook, speak about these links, and her wisdom is reflected in her written work. “Women are the first environment,” she teaches. “We are privileged to be the doorway to life. At the breast of women, the generations are nourished and sustained. From the bodies of women flow the relationship of these generations both to society and to the natural world. In this way is the earth our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are the earth.” 

Our grassroots partners around the world remind us of the truth in these words. In India, the traditional knowledge women hold of seed saving, home gardens and climate adaptation help rural communities usher in locally-centered and sustainable futures. And in North America, young indigenous women leaders resisting environmental violence bear witness to the simple truth that everything connected to the land is connected to our bodies. 

These fierce women are birthing transformation, not only in their communities, but in the world. WEA is committed to standing alongside these leaders as they do the essential work of safeguarding our environment and generations to come. 

This Mother’s Day, please consider making a tax-deductible gift in honor of Mother Earth and the amazing mothers in your world. Your contribution will help us to continue supporting grassroots women today who are stepping forward to demand clean water and healthy food, protect sacred lands and traditional knowledge, resist dirty energy that harms our lands and bodies, and design sustainable solutions.

Most of all, we invite you to take a moment today to stand on the earth, give thanks for all that she provides, and make a commitment to protect her, for the sake of future generations and all life.

We wish you a peaceful Mother’s Day.