Blog by Rucha Chitnis, Former WEA South Asia Program Director
“A woman is not recognized for her work,” declares Yashoda, a woman farmer in the drought-prone area of Challekere in Karnataka, India.Yashoda is among many women farmers, who believe that they are not valued for the multiple roles they juggle as farmers, resource managers, caregivers and homemakers. “Sometimes I wonder why I work so hard when the land is not on my name,” Yashoda continues.We are on a small family farm, meeting women farmers, who share how gender discrimination defines how women’s immense contribution to agriculture is often overlooked and undermined. Gender inequalities also erode women’s ability to access and manage land and other productive resources and pose as a significant barrier to promoting their economic security and self reliance.
According to the United Nations Populations Fund, women work longer hours than men, in almost every country, but are usually paid less and are more likely to live in poverty.This is the same case in agriculture as well, where gendered roles imply that women perform almost all aspects of farming and post harvest activities but receive little recognition for their efforts. In India, as in many parts of the Global South, women farmers are key food producers and biodiversity managers, yet their labor remains invisible and unrecognized in their own communities and in broader policymaking.
A series of grants from Women’s Earth Alliance is enabling our partner, the GREEN Foundation (GREEN), to address this gender bias in agriculture and mentor women farmers, like Yashoda, as community leaders, who in turn will act as mentors and resource people to other women in their communities in sustainable agriculture and promote rights of women as farmers.
Over the past 18 months, the GREEN team has worked hard to offer a holistic capacity building program for women farmers; these include peer to peer exchanges with farmers who are pioneering sustainable agriculture practices and are diversifying their livelihoods through poultry management and growing fruit trees with food crops. Challekere is a drought-prone area and women, as water primary water collectors, bear a disproportionate brunt of this scarcity. Recognizing the impact of these gendered roles on women, GREEN has also trained them on making “wicking” beds, a water efficient and space saving method for vegetable cultivation and on other dry land management practices.
“We aim to break through mental, social and cultural barriers that define women’s lives, in order that they may become true leaders of their communities. An important aspect of our approach, therefore, involves initiating discussion platforms that create an inclusive, safe atmosphere for women to express their struggles and gain the confidence needed to become strong advocates for their own cause,” notes Veena Hassan, a gender expert and the former project director at GREEN.
Rural women are often sidelined in political leadership and decision-making, and GREEN staff have oriented women farmers on Panchayat (local self governing units) schemes and services and have mentored women to embrace their leadership in their respective villages so that they can demand their rightful entitlements by forming peer pressure groups if they were denied any services due to corruption or exploitation of poor farmers.
Veena believes that self-sustenance of women at, both, individual and community level is crucial and that promoting sustainable agriculture practices with a strong framework of human rights is an approach that has great potential for creating a peaceful, ecologically balanced and just society.
“I felt like I was in a well and now I am surfacing and swimming in a bigger world,” reflects Yashoda on the impact of her participation in GREEN’s women’s leadership program.