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International Women”s Day 2013: Empowering Rural Women To Fight Hunger And Poverty [Part 3]

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By Dr Amrit Patel:

Approach: Recognizing the discrimination that rural women face daily, the Government policies and programs should promote and support women as equal contributors to agriculture and rural development. Policies and programs should aim at

[i] Guaranteeing women’s access to and control over critical assets [land, capital, knowledge and technologies].

[ii] Promoting and strengthening women’s agencies and their decision-making role in community affairs and representation in local institutions

[iii] improving well-being and ease workloads by facilitating access to basic rural services and infrastructures.

The guiding principle has to be that development initiatives should incorporate the priorities and needs of both women and men and give them equal opportunities to access benefits and services. In this process, policies must address the structural inequalities that prevent women from realizing their potential as human beings, producers of food and agents of change in the fight against poverty.


Gender discrimination: Field experiences suggest the need to address the existing gender discriminatory issues in the light of facts, viz.

[i] According to FAO, the rapid modernization of agriculture and the introduction of new technologies including those that characterized the green revolution have significantly benefited the rural elite more than the poor and men more than women. The International Labor Organization has also observed that new techniques in agriculture leading to commercialization of agriculture, “often shift economic control, employment and profit from women to men“. Studies reveal that women’s control over income benefits families more than income controlled by men and that the diversion of income from women causes increased suffering for families.

[ii] According to World Bank, 2007, the design of policies and projects for agricultural development in most developing economies still continues to assume wrongly that farmers and rural workers are mainly men. Failure to recognize the roles, differences, and inequalities poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of the agricultural development agenda. The areas empowering women, among others, include [i] Land ownership: “Although women do the majority of work in agriculture at the global level, men still own the land, control women’s labor, and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems.” Despite women in developing countries account for 43% of agricultural labor force, less than 20% are land owners worldwide due to legal and cultural constraints in land inheritance, ownership and use, followed by 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 10% in Thailand and India and 5% in North Africa and West Asia. Land is the most important agricultural asset. Women farmers are disadvantaged by the prevalence of land tenure system that allocate primary land rights to men through gender-based marital and inheritance laws, family and community norms, their limited capacity to participate in community decision-making processes, and their unequal access to land markets. Absence of legal rights to hold land significantly limits women-farmer’s ability to access institutional credit and invest in land to improve crop productivity, which increases their exposure to food insecurity and leaves them disproportionately vulnerable to economic hardships. Conferring women’s right to land enables them to access institutional credit and motivates to invest in land for improving food output and income, and strengthens their bargaining power within the household in terms of production and wealth distribution. Interventions are necessary to reduce the gap in land rights, viz. supporting legal reforms, joint titling and land certification programs, supporting the increased women’s representation in land administration bodies and facilitating legal literacy programs for rural women. Strengthening women’s land rights is a matter of not just reforming land laws but that gender equity in land rights need to be upheld consistently across the entire legal framework, from the Constitution to family and civil laws, and supported by legal training enabling women to understand and claim their rights.

[ii] Decision making: Despite women representing around 70% of the labor force in agriculture and allied activities and taking care of children, women’s say in these economic activities and family affairs has remained obscure for long since women seldom have any role in social, economic and political affairs or decision making processes.

[iii] Loan: Often women receive loan of smaller amounts than men even for the same activities. This compels them either to purchase assets/equipment of inferior quality or borrow from informal sources at exorbitant interest rate.

Sustainable livelihoods: Livelihoods have been defined as comprising “the capabilities, assets [including both material and social resources] and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base. Social, economic and political empowerment of rural women to contribute to sustainable livelihoods is necessary since the factors influencing sustainable livelihoods include, inter alia,

[i] Assets: Sustainable livelihoods depend on the access to and control over assets, viz. human, social, physical, natural and financial capital

[ii] Markets: Agricultural markets include land, labor, financial capital, water, inputs, farm and livestock products etc. women’s participation and access to agricultural markets facilitates acquisition of assets, capital and production inputs, improves production, income and consumption to sustain the needs of the household and welfare of the family.

[iii] Risk and vulnerability: Risk includes natural and man-made calamities, crop and animal diseases, food insecurity, climatic factors leading to floods, water scarcity, droughts and market and price risks [including trade shocks]. Women’s vulnerability to these risks can be minimized by enhancing their socio-economic status and income and access to assets.

[iv]Knowledge, information and organization: Access to knowledge and information facilitates women to exercise their legal rights; acquire and control assets; greater exposure to markets and to minimize risk and vulnerability which ultimately improve sustainable livelihoods. Women’s engagement in organizations [formal and informal] of collective action, including the political and governance structures empowers women to exercise their legal rights and raise political voice.

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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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