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[In the News] A Look at Land Rights for Women Farmers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Here at WEA, we recognize that women are the backbone of communities and often play a much more significant role in community care-taking and resource management (i.e. food, water, energy, etc.) than they are often recognized for. This article published by The Indian Express discusses this dilemma. Women comprise up to 65 percent of all agricultural workers, yet despite their work and contributions to both family and community, they are still not legally recognized as farmers. This is because of current land ownership laws — ownership of land by women is not something that is protected or governed under the law. This often exacerbates unequal gendered norms, such as a lack of access to bank loans, crop insurance, and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

Source: Express Photo By Prashant Ravi

As many as 87 per cent of women do not own their land; only 12.7 per cent of them do. There are two primary reasons for the alarmingly low number: One, land being a state subject is not governed by the constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens but rather is governed by personal religious laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance. Second, the cultural aspect of the deep-rooted biases that hinder women’s ownership of land in patriarchal societies cannot be discounted.

Providing women with access to secure land is key to incentivising the majority of India’s women farmers. This, coupled with the need to make investments to improve harvests, will result in increased productivity and improve household food security and nutrition. As has been determined from numerous studies conducted worldwide, women have a greater propensity to use their income for the needs of their households. Land-owning women’s offspring thus receive better nourishment and have better health indicators. Land-owning mothers also tend to invest in their children’s education. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation all around — for the farmer, her family and the larger ecosystem.

Another recent article published by The Daily Mail discusses this issue of a lack of land ownership recognition of women even further:

Nearly three-quarters of rural women in India depend on land for a livelihood compared to about 60 percent of rural men, as lower farm incomes push many men to the cities for jobs. Yet land titles are nearly always in the man’s name. Only about 13 percent of rural women own land, which keeps them from accessing cheap bank loans, crop insurance and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

The macro-level results of securing women farmers’ land tenure are clear, but consider for a moment the impact it would have at the micro-level — the wiping away of the debilitating feelings of insecurity and vulnerability for rural women. The chance of propertied women being physically abused is reduced from 49 per cent to 7 per cent due to an increase in the wife’s bargaining power. If female farmers are provided security of land tenure, they will be officially recognised as farmers and hence, will see their household bargaining power increase. Women farmers’ self-confidence and agency will slowly grow and expand outside just their household.

These articles underscore the need for investments in locally-led grassroots efforts to secure land rights for women farmers. For these reasons and more, WEA Projects over the years have focused on these very issues. For more on our work to support rural women farmers in India, visit our Projects page.

Read the full article by The Indian Press here, and the full article by The Daily Mail here.

 

Malnad Mela Festival in Sirsi celebrates seeds and artists

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In June, WEA’s Seeds of Resilience project partner, Vanastree, held their 17th Malnad Mela in Sirsi, India. Vanastree has held this festival every year since 2001. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and products — strives to bring awareness to the environmental challenges in the Western Ghats region of India, and highlight the important role of women as ambassadors for food security and seed sovereignty in their local communities.

Vanastree vendors talking with Mela visitors.

The Mela is a community affair — bustling and full of action. Highlights from the festival included displays of organic seeds, tubers and diverse planting materials, traditional foods and crafts and even a pickling competition! In addition to the goods and demonstrations available for visitors, Dr. A.R. Vasavi, social anthropologist and founder of Punarchith (a trust based in Chamarajnagar that also partners with Vanastree), also gave a keynote address discussing the critical challenges faced by rural and agricultural communities, especially women.

“It is imperative and urgent that the women of Malnad recognize the wealth that is within their boundaries and their own roles and positions that are tied to this.…At a time when social changes are taking place at a pace far faster than we can comprehend and adapt, it is important that we recognize that seeds are for the wellbeing and future of communities. They are meant to be shared, sold, and exchanged among people and as the Vanastree members have shown us over the years, their place is with and among us as it is in this mela.”

– Dr. Vasavi, founder of Punarchith, giving the keynote address of the Malnad Mela

An exciting addition to the June’s Mela was a photo presentation given by women and youth photographers participating in Land and Lens – the new storytelling component of the Seeds of Resilience project. Land and Lens has three simple goals:

  1. Mentor rural women and youth in advanced camera skills
  2. Encourage participants to fearlessly reveal their land, lives and inherent creativity through the camera lens
  3. Provide rural women and youth with venues, as artists, to share their work.

At the Mela, Land and Lens artists and Vanastree members answered questions and fielded interest in the program, while showcasing their stunning photography of their connection to the lands and environment they live in. For the first time, Vanastree also had select Land and Lens photographers be the official photographers for event.

Land and Lens booth, where Mela visitors ask questions of the photographers about their art.

Land and Lens…is an extension of [our] mission — in discovering the many talents that individuals in our community did not know they had, and then applying those talents to further enhance and protect the natural and social environment of their home lands.”

– Sunita Rao, founder of Vanastree

Many participants and visitors of Sirsi’s Malnad Mela reported back that this annual festival is about more than just trade; the value of the Malnad Mela each year has been a day of gathering, conversation, seeds, plant and information exchange and an atmosphere of conviviality. This is the sort of thing that has no price tag, and we couldn’t be happier to have been involved!

 

WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project kicks off Storytelling Initiative

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , ,

Volunteer photographer Batt introduces the instructors at Punarchith Training Centre to the donated equipment. Photo: Vanastree

In March, WEA Project Partner Vanastree held their first photography training session, kicking off a storytelling initiative within our joint Seeds of Resilience Project. This unique storytelling initiative supports the project’s ongoing efforts to ensure seed and food sovereignty and the transfer of traditional knowledge in Karnataka State, India.

In storytelling workshops, participants are gaining skills in multimedia and storytelling to craft and share their own narratives. These women and young people are learning how to use cameras, recording devices, and laptops, as well as how to master effective storytelling and dissemination techniques. 

The Vanastree team gathered for three days at the Punarchith Training Centre in Nagavalli village, where Vanastree Director and Project Lead Sunita Rao, and volunteer photographer Batt Anderson, introduced the Punarchith staff to the equipment donated by WEA supporters and partners. The Vanastree and Punarchith team spent the day creating a curriculum to introduce the training participants to photography and ensure they felt comfortable and confident with the equipment

The next day, seven enthusiastic young women participants had a full day of photography lessons. This was the first time most of the participants had ever handled a camera in their lives. They were excited and ready to explore all of the endless possibilities of this form of self-expression.

Photo: Vanastree

Do you remember the first time you saw your world through a new lens?

After a request to let their fears dissolve and imaginations run unbounded, they were off! Participants set out in pairs and threes to try out taking portraits of each other. They took the cameras on a stroll through courtyards with drying areca, forest gardens, quiet dark corners with snoozing grandmothers, and the ancient kitchen where masala majjigay (spiced buttermilk) was being churned in the heat of summer. Participants got to see their photos uploaded onto a laptop and learned more about framing, lighting, and the possibilities of digital editing.

The young women then set out a second time with the cameras that afternoon, this time with some guidelines to pay attention to color, pattern, and texture. Batt accompanied the group to provide guidance and answer questions.

Participants experimented with texture and color. Photo: Vanastree


While they uploaded and reviewed their second round of photos, participants discussed how photography could be used to engage in topics such as family, land, water, relationships, feelings, women’s tasks and other pertinent issues.
 They spent some time talking about how to let their minds and imaginations run free.

When the training weekend ended, the group decided that the equipment would remain at the Punarchith Training Center so that it could be checked out when someone wanted to work on their photography — this way, it was accessible to even more people than we originally anticipated.

Sunita remarked on the great joy and attentiveness the group showed as participants took photos and everyone got to share and discuss each other’s work. Later the women talked about how grateful they felt to be trusted with the equipment and how they had only ever seen cameras in other people’s hands. They celebrated the opportunities that presented themselves now that this remarkable tool was accessible to them, too.

Soumya and Radha taking pictures. Photo: Vanastree

Thank you to all the incredible WEA allies that donated tech equipment to this project and to other WEA projects. We are thrilled to see the results of this first wave of Storytelling trainings, all part of of our larger capacity-building trainings happening in partnerships around the world. The possibilities abound when the agency of women to share their own stories and experiences is respected and honored!

63 million people in rural India are living without access to clean water.

Project: Together for H2OPE

Topics: , , ,

Here, the day after World Water Day, comes a report on the state of world’s water from Water Aid. In its’ summary of the report, The Hindustan Times underlines how the water strain in India is especially damaging to country’s rural communities.

This report is a reminder that water conservation efforts and the efforts of those working to bring underserved communities access to clean water has no specific day or active season. Our project, Together for H2OPE will help to ensure clean water to over 6,500 tea farmers in Assam state, India. For our amazing project partners on the ground and people fighting all over the world to bring this essential life resource to every person, every day is World Water Day. The time is now, yesterday and tomorrow!

Samir Jama/ HT Times file photo

 

Lack of government planning, competing demands, rising population and water-draining agricultural practices are all placing increasing strain on water, said the WaterAid’s report.

Without access to clean water, 63 million people are living in rural areas in India. Diseases such as cholera, blinding trachoma, malaria and dengue are expected to become more common and malnutrition more prevalent, it said.

Rural communities dependent on farming to make a living will struggle to grow food and feed livestock amid soaring temperatures, and women — typically responsible for collecting water — may have to walk even greater distances during prolonged dry seasons, the report forewarned.

Read the full article here, and find the report here.

 

WEA Celebrates World Water Day with Together for H2OPE!

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Happy World Water Day! Today, we celebrate all the amazing work grassroots change-makers around the world are bringing forth to ensure more women, more children, more families and more communities have access to clean water and healthy water systems. We couldn’t think of a better way of doing this than by uplifting the incredible efforts of the Together for H2OPE Project and its partners in Assam, India!

 

Together For H20PE

In the Spring of 2016, WEA partnered with Numi Organic Tea and the Numi Foundation on Together for H2OPE, a project committed to ensuring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Assam State, Northern India. Along with the Chamong Tea Company, which manages Tonganagaon’s tea leaf production, and local NGO partners Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) and Social Action for Appropriate Transformation and Advancement in Rural Areas (SATRA), this project is supporting Tonganagaon in implementing a multifaceted and comprehensive water system that will ensure clean and healthy water in their community for generations to come.

Assam state is famous for being one of the world’s largest producers of high quality black tea, and the Tonganagaon tea community is also Numi’s largest supplier of organic, Fair Trade black tea. However, the region is one of the poorest in terms of access to clean water; fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. The Numi Foundation has committed to ensuring that all of Numi Tea’s source communities have access to clean water, and reached out to WEA to collaborate on a comprehensive approach to ensure safe water access to all 12 villages of the Tonganagaon tea garden.


Why Water and Women?

It’s no secret that access to clean water is crucial to eradicating extreme poverty; when the UN introduced the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, they included a goal to ensure that everyone has access to safe water by 2030. Water is an essential building block of life; a community whose water sources put them at risk for illness face barriers of mobility. Water is often the first step toward ensuring a communities livelihood.

Furthermore, challenges to accessing safe water disproportionately affect women and girls, particularly in rural communities. It is most often women who collect water for households, risking their safety and health by traveling for hours a day to and from a water source. Water is a WEA issue because access to natural resources, education, and health are all women’s issue. When women thrive, communities thrive. 

 

WASH and the Importance of Grassroots Implementation

Ensuring a community has access to clean water is often more complex than providing a well. Public health workers use the term WASH to refer to the interconnected variables of water, sanitation, and hygiene. These are the measurable pillars that make up a healthy water system. If latrines aren’t up to date or well-placed, a monsoon could contaminate an otherwise safe water source; if clean water is stored improperly, contamination can make that water unsafe. No one principle of WASH is effective if all three aren’t implemented.

The goals of Together for H2OPE are in-step with a comprehensive WASH program:

  • Improve Infrastructure. Reduce contamination of the 900 existing wells by ensuring proper drainage and upgrading hand pumps and other hardware.
  • Ensure Treatment. Help the community learn how to boil and filter water to minimize bacterial contamination and iron, especially during the monsoon season.
  • Safe Storage. Support community members to safely handle and transport water once it is treated so it does not become re-contaminated.
  • Upgrade Latrines. Provide guidance to Chamong Tea Company, who will be improving existing latrines and constructing 900 new facilities over the next 3 years.
  • Engage the Community. Implement a training program that supports the community’s adoption of good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene.

The residents of the Tonganagaon tea garden will have safe water systems for generations to come. A safe water system is not just built by the engineers who are updating and adding safe and strong wells, but by members of the community who are deeply involved in and vital to their own transformation.

Water is a WEA issue because effective water solutions are never a top-down operation. Water solutions live within communities and the grassroots leaders like Bondita Acharya, Director of PBET, who explains that, “PBET’s role is to bring women into the core of the discussion on safe drinking water. Women spend most of their time, especially in the rural areas, tea gardens and hilly regions, fetching water from far flung areas. But when it comes to decisions on managing water they are sidelined. Access to safe drinking water is a basic right of every citizen, and is directly linked with reproductive health rights. However, it is not possible to access it if it is not integrated with sanitation and hygiene.”

As part of this integrated approach to ensure a sustainable impact for generations, in Tonganagaon, key members from each of the 12 villages will become WASH leaders and practitioners themselves. They will be trained to become trainers, holding demonstrations to educate their neighbors in healthy hygiene and sanitation practices.

 

A Unique and Effective Partnership

The partnerships of Together for H2OPE are in-step with what makes the WEA model so effective while remaining adaptable and light-framed. By connecting with mission-aligned partners like Numi Foundation, and woman-run local NGO’s like PBET, the project is ensuring that solutions are in reach of the visionary community leaders invested in their lasting application. This is how WEA and our partners support communities to thrive on their own terms and in ways that will have lasting effects.

This unique collaboration leverages local leadership to ensure relevance, while providing access to the globally recognized best practices and needed resources. We believe it’s a model that will maximize impact and sustainability, ensuring the farming community enjoys access to clean, safe drinking water for generations to come.  — Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation

Join us this World Water Day to ensure that women, families and communities have access to clean drinking water. By supporting grassroots leaders, we support sustainable and long-term solutions to one of the world’s most most pressing concerns. You can learn more about this work here. Thank you for standing alongside us!