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International Women”s Day 2013: Empowering Rural Women To Fight Hunger And Poverty [Part-2]

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By Dr. Amrit Patel:

Unleashing rural women’s voice

Unleashing rural women’s voice to end hunger and poverty in developing countries has now been a sine qua non in the light of facts viz.

  • Out of 60% additional food output required by 2050, about 75% will have to come from developing countries.
  • Producing more is not enough if the poor do not have the assured and reliable means to buy food. More than 90% of the hunger in the world is due, not to drought or natural disaster, but to poverty. In developing countries, economic growth originating in the agricultural sector is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth originating elsewhere. This emphasizes the significance of economic, social and political empowerment of women in developing countries. India being an agrarian country needs to address gender issues and integrate gender-responsive actions in the design and implementation of agricultural policies, programs and projects.

rural women

Women’s role in agriculture:

Women play a significant role in agriculture in most low income countries where agriculture accounts for an average 32% of GDP and where an average 70% of countries’ poor live and work in rural areas.

  • FAO’s projections through 2010 indicate that more than 70% of the economically active women in least developed countries work in agriculture. In Asia and Africa women work 13 hours more per week than men. On an average, rural women and girls spend almost an hour each day collecting fuel wood and carrying water needed to prepare meals. A study in Africa revealed that, in a year, women carried more than 80 tons of fuel wood, water and farm produce for a distance of one kilometre, as against men carrying only an average of 10 tons.
  • According to FAO [2011], women farmers account for more than a quarter of the world’s population. Women comprise, on an average, 43% of the agricultural work force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The census data suggests that in most regions of the world one out of five farms is headed by a woman. However, according to the FAO, female farmers receive only 5% of all agricultural extension services worldwide and women have less access than men to agricultural related assets, inputs and services. If they have easy, timely and reliable access to productive resources as men, women can increase yield by 20% to 30%, raising the overall agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%. This gain in production can reduce the number of hungry people in the world by about 12% to 17%, besides increasing women’s income.
  • Women perform multiple tasks viz. crop and livestock production, collect water and fuel wood, and take care of children, sick and elderly people. Studies show that women use almost all that they earn from marketing crop and livestock products to meet household needs whereas men use at least 25% of their earnings for their other purposes. Despite the fact that women produce much of the food in the developing world, they remain more malnourished than most men are. Women’s concern and commitment to develop agriculture as a source of food security, providing rural livelihoods and a means to minimize the incidence of rural poverty in most developing countries including India, has yet to be recognized.

In the context of global food price crisis while refocusing on significant investment in agriculture, gender disparities must be removed to achieve food and nutrition security. These disparities seriously undermine the potential of women as drivers of agricultural growth and disable them in their roles as the pre-eminent agents of household food security and welfare. Policy and programs should, therefore, be initiated to significantly enhance the productivity and economic empowerment of women engaged in agriculture.

Indian context:

According to FAO and other research workers, agriculture and allied sectors in India employ as high as 89.5% of the total female labor .Women on an average contribute 55% to 66% in overall farm production. Women provide one half of the labor in rice cultivation and they are the crucial laborers in the plantation sector. Women’s contributions vary, depending on the region and crops, but they provide pivotal labor from planting to harvesting and post-harvest operations, as is evident from the facts that in the Himalayan region a woman works for 3485 hours in a year on a one hectare farm as compared with 1212 hours by a man and 1064 hours by a pair of bullocks. As farmers, agricultural workers and entrepreneurs, women constitute the backbone of India’s agricultural and rural economy. Yet, together with children they remain one of the most vulnerable groups. They perform, on a daily basis, the most tedious and back-breaking tasks in agriculture, animal husbandry and homes. The extent of health hazards faced by farm women in farm activities include

  • 50% in transplanting and 26.5% in harvesting under farm activities
  • 50% threshing, 33% drying and 67% parboiling under post-harvest activities and
  • 47% shed cleaning, 23% fodder collection and 27.5% milking under livestock management. Not only are they invariably paid lower wages than men for the same agricultural work but also remained mostly unrecognized.

Land ownership titles are most often in a man’s name. Men often either take or dictate the decisions concerning farming and women have to compulsorily carry out. Farm produce is marketed commonly by men and that gives them complete control over household finance. More and more women are taking to farming as men are migrating to urban areas for work. However, they have no access to credit as they do not have legal ownership over the land. Only 11% women have access to land holdings, that too, mostly as small and marginal farmers.

Part 1

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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