Climate Change Resilience Begins With Women

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By: Rucha Chitnis

Women farmers, like Manju, play a crucial role in building the resilience of their communities in the face of climate change.
Women farmers, like Manju, play a crucial role in building the resilience
of their communities in the face of climate change.

Manju Devi is a farmer, a single mother of three and a dedicated field worker with a local grassroots organization called Nav Jagriti in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Manju is on a mission to build the self-reliance of women in her community who are affected by poverty, food insecurity and climate change. Women farmers in her community are particularly affected by floods and prolonged waterlogging issues.

Manju was one of the participants of the Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training program that was designed and coordinated by Women’s Earth Alliance’s partner, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a grassroots organization working with small and landless women farmers through a people-centered approach focusing on their participation and empowerment for sustainable development. GEAG’s efforts also target poverty and hunger reduction by connecting women farmers with sustainable agricultural training, advocacy and networking support.

The goal of this training was to facilitate a regional exchange between women farmers and rural NGO workers from four flood-affected states to share their personal experiences with climate change and its impact on their health, livelihoods and food security. The training equipped women with information about sustainable agricultural practices, such as mixed farming growing diverse food crops on small farms and making natural pesticides and fertilizers using farm inputs.  Participants also learned about local and regional campaigns to advance women’s rights as farmers. Manju was particularly inspired meeting women from a community in Sahranpur, who were successful in winning back their forest rights access from a corrupt contractor who had exploited them for years. The women shared with, much pride, how they finally won their rights through a long sustained joint solidarity struggle.

Manju was clearly inspired and invigorated by the training, and she returned to her community with a plan to make a difference. First, she set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site to show women farmers how they could grow a variety of vegetables right at home even if their farms were flooded. She went on to organize 11 women’s groups, training 144 farmers on seed-saving practices and growing a variety of vegetables and grains using mixed farming techniques. Finally, she educated women on their rights as farmers and shared information on beneficial government programs that women could access to improve their economic and food security.


“My vision is that women in my community stand on their own feet and embrace organic farming practices.  I am leading by example to show how this can be achieved,” Manju proudly beamed.

Women farmers, like Manju, clearly demonstrate how they play a crucial role in building the leadership capacities of other vulnerable women in their communities who are acutely affected by climate challenges, such as floods and droughts.  As cultural and natural resource stewards of their communities, they are positioned to make a difference by using their traditional ecological knowledge systems of farming, seed saving of robust indigenous crops like millets, which require little to no water for irrigation, and by engaging actively in the political and civic affairs of their communities.

Farmers like Manju recognize that one sure way of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change is to end the inequalities and discrimination that rural women face so that they can access critical information, useful agriculture extension training services and increase their participation in disaster management programs.

WEAving Words

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“As indigenous people we’re still fighting for protection, for cultural survival, fighting to protect our sacred and holy places. Although it has always been in the interest of the government to annihilate or assimilate indigenous peoples, we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere. And we’re continuing to share our traditional ways and traditional knowledge with our young people because it’s important for us to survive, for our cultures to survive, for our futures to survive.

We are all indigenous, no matter where we’re from or what our heritage is, whether we’re from Asia, Africa, South America, North America — it is a matter of recognizing that root and recognizing our ancestry.

The basis of all indigenous cultures is respect and harmony, and living within your environment in a harmonious way, and one that is respectful and understanding that the earth is our Mother and she takes care of us and nurtures us. Everything we need to be a healthy people is here, is provided for us by our Mother Earth. It’s just a matter of recognizing and remembering who we are.

And we also need legislation!”

—Jeneda Benally, Save the San Francisco Peaks Coalition, from our Fall 2009 Conference Call Series: San Francisco Peaks: Legal Advocacy for Sacred Places

Please stay tuned to the Women’s Earth Alliance website to hear a recording of this powerful one-hour conference call featuring Jeneda Benally and Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition.