In India, while there is much talk about developing smart cities, not much is being done about developing smart villages or rural areas in a similar fashion. With over 60% of the Indian population living in villages, the lack of proper public health and sanitation, literacy, women’s empowerment, infrastructure, land reforms, law and order enforcement, credit and other such facilities means that they continue to remain backward and underdeveloped well into the 21st century. This not only hinders their development and well-being but also makes the overall progress of our economy that much more difficult.
One of the lesser-explored areas when it comes to rural development is the role that women play in rural societies. Historically, rural women are strong, powerful and purposeful. They have been disadvantaged because of the lack of opportunities, abuse and inequality that they face in the society which are significant barriers that come in the way of their economic empowerment and personal development.
However, despite facing innumerable challenges like unequal access to education, healthcare, property, financial and other services women can be powerful catalysts and changemakers in working towards environmental, economic and social changes that are necessary for sustainable development.
The promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of rural women through employment opportunities not only contributes to economic growth but also reduces poverty and helps indirectly with climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. When women start earning, they grow more independent and confident. They are more likely to re-invest in their household — food and nutrition for the family, children’s education and health, increasing assets for the family and so on. This can kickstart an inter-generational cycle that can release a family from poverty over time.
However, creating broad opportunities does not guarantee that women will be able to seize them because of certain socio-cultural constraints. In other words, just reforming legal frameworks won’t suffice. We should proactively educate our citizens, especially women, about their constitutional, cultural and personal rights. Law enforcement officials must also be taught how to provide women protection to bring about a cultural change.
Rural women are the invisible face of community resilience and sustainability in our country. By increasing their access to acceptable forms of work, social dialogue, social protection, education and financial skills, they can be empowered to reach their true potential.