It’s Time to Recognize Women Farmers in India

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of a man.

Or, at least I used to think of a man. Before I went to India, that is. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture but due to traditional gender roles they are rarely recognized as farmers. This is no news, but because of severe climate change and male work migration to cities women farmers are now more visible than ever, which creates an urgent need for them actually to be recognized as such.

So, the feminization of farming does not mean that women suddenly start taking part in agriculture work, but rather that they become visible within the agricultural sector. It means that many women across India are now taking care of both their households and their farms, while their husbands move to the cities in order to find another income to make ends meet. It means that women work for 3300 hours, while men work 1860 hours in a crop season. It means that there is an urgent need for women farmers to be recognized in order to be able to maintain a sustainable way of living.

There are a lot of initiatives in India aimed at the empowerment of small farmers. However, they are often formed to fit the average male farmer, which means that they fail to address the specific needs of women farmers. Taking care of the household and the children result in women having less time and opportunity to, for example, take part in farming training and travel to the market to sell their produce. Furthermore, if women are not recognized as farmers in the first place, they will still be overlooked when new projects for farmers’ empowerment are initiated.

Women play a vital role in food production, not only in India, but around the world. However, due to patriarchal structures they do not have equal access to land ownership. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, but only 9.4% own land. We know that if women could improve their economic and social status it generates more productive farms and decreases child malnutrition. If women were to be given equal access to productive resources, they could yield 20-30 % more.

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I now think of strong women.

In addition to tending to their farms, they are also looking after their children, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood. These women have been discriminated for ages and their skills and knowledge have not been recognized simply because they are women. It has to change. If women farmers are not recognized, if they do not have access to productive resources, if they do not have access to proper education, who will feed the next generation?

The feminization of farming has been going on for decades, and it will most likely continue. Women farmers are the future and there is an urgent need to recognize them as such. Not only in India, but everywhere.

A Day in the Life of a Working Nepalese Woman

This post was written by 2016 LEADer and Women LEAD Blogger, Samika Mali

Whether it is a weekday or weekend, my mom wakes up every day at 6am and sweeps the entire house. Preparing lunch every morning until 9am is a compulsion for her no matter how sick or weak she is. Then, in no time, she has to gulp down her lunch, get dressed, and rush to work.

After a long day at her shop, she returns home tired and exhausted. But she doesn’t get to rest. Though her duties as a businesswoman are over, her responsibilities as a housewife have not ended yet. In the evening, she has to serve food to all her family members and do the dishes. Then, she cleans the whole kitchen. Sometimes, she even mops the floors, throw the clothes in the machine to wash, and sits down to help me with my projects. Finally, her day ends.

Growing up, I saw my mother balance her life as a successful business woman in a culture where women are expected to limit themselves within the four walls of the house. A few years ago, my mother decided to work alongside my father in his business, even though she was highly criticized by my grandparents, who asked her to stay home. But she refused to be silenced and instead raised her voice against social taboos in order to pursue her career.

women-lead-cover

In our Nepalese society, once a women gets married, she can’t keep herself away from all these responsibilities. Wearing a red bridal dress, a woman promises her new husband to be his partner for life and adjusts herself in his family, leaving her own parents behind. It’s a common story of every Nepalese woman. Her new life can bring her tons of happiness, but along with that she gets many new responsibilities— responsibilities of a daughter-in-law, a wife, and a mother. She works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a caretaker, a cook, and a cleaner without expecting anything in return.

A woman sacrifices her surname, sacrifices her beloved parents, and sacrifices her body to be pregnant. And only a woman does it.

 

After marriage, my mother says that a woman compromises in ways that a man would never think of, especially when it comes to her career. The dedication, effort, and hard work that she used to invest in her job before marriage is now invested in doing all her household chores. The promotion that she deserves based on her ability and skill is given to another man just because she can’t afford to be away from the home for any extra hours or because she wants to avoid the additional workload. In Kathmandu Valley today, men are rarely expected to make the same compromises.

received_655684851260830Though we live in 21st century, and Nepal is a federal democratic country where women and men have equal rights by law, the traditional thinking of the people hasn’t changed yet. The social structure of our society discourages married female members of their house to go out and work competing against male members. They are expected to look after the house and rear children rather than to do a job or run a business. People should understand that the economic contribution of both women and men is necessary for a country to progress. And only a change in our culture shall ensure this can happen.

Affording a healthy, balanced, and satisfied life in this era is a big challenge. So, gender equity in both workplace and household chores should be maintained. A working woman not only supports her family financially but she can introduce good cultures too. A working woman most probably is educated, has a skill and meet new faces everyday. Thus, she knows better culture, she is independent and she can deal with problems effectively.

My mother says, “In Nepal, after a woman is married, there are so many boundaries set for them not only in terms of work but also their dress code, lifestyle and more. Thus, we ought not to stay quiet, but fight against the society to get our right and freedom, we have to raise our voice to be equally treated in the family as well as community and we have to be strong enough to eradicate male dominance in the society.”

Because of my mother, I know that a woman can be a great parent and a successful entrepreneur at the same time. But if women are not given equal rights, treated equally, or allowed to contribute to the  workforce, then our country cannot develop. A country cannot progress if they are not willing to acknowledge half of the population as equal. Women must be encouraged to participate in entrepreneurship, contribute new ideas, and involved in the workforce. This will ensure both the development of Nepal in one hand and progress for women in another.

Featured image: Robert Stansfield/DFID (Creative Commons)

Images inside text by author.

A Letter to the 15-Year-Old Me

As we celebrate women’s month in South Africa, I took a moment to reflect on of all the mistakes I made and the right things I did to prepare myself for womanhood.

I am a 26-year-old young woman, who doesn’t have it all together. But, I am glad I am working towards a goal. Looking back to when I was young, there are certain things I wish someone could have told me, lessons that I should have learned a lot earlier. Although I am happy with the life I am leading, I have made my own fair share of mistakes. I made enemies that could have become valuable friends, spent money that I should have saved and wasted time that could have been better used.

On the note, I decided to write a letter with advice to my 15-year-old self, with the hope that it will be useful to someone who is in their journey to womanhood:

  1. You are beautiful. The world may have its definition of beauty, but you are allowed to create your own. You are your greatest asset, and no one can love you or value you more than you. Tell yourself how beautiful you are every day. You know yourself best.
  2. The world owes you nothing. In fact you are the one who owes your government tax, if you’re religious you probably owe your church tithe, and maybe even your time towards community service. You have to consistently work hard to stay alive.
  3. Standout. It may seem cool to be part of the most popular group of friends where you study or live. But you need to strive for individuality, if you are blending in you may be giving up a lot of who you are just so you can fit it. Remember, you are so special – you cannot afford to be anyone else.
  4. Educate yourself. Get formal education, study society, your history, history of your country, continent and the world. Remember you are a product of your parents’ past. Don’t only depend on the education you get at school, it forms a small part of the life you will live in future. Learn something new every day. Read about financial reports, sports, politics and stay well informed. An educated mind is an empowered mind.
  5. Humility is key. Do not look down on other people just because they are not like you. They may not be of the same religion, race, class, speak the same language or gender. That does not give you the right to look down on them. Learn about your differences, learn about their religion and accept them as they are.
  6. Travel whenever you can. Never miss an opportunity to meet new people and learn about where they live, their beliefs and what they like. The best lessons are learned in a place of discomfort.
  7. Stay healthy. Having a healthy mind and body is essential. Exercise and eat right while feeding your mind with positive thoughts. Skinny is not always healthy. Exercise for health, not only weight–loss.
  8. Marriage is not everything. Women are mostly groomed to get married, so much that you start thinking of marriage at 15. Marriage is good, but remember that your success should not be tied to a man. Work on making yourself a masterpiece. Marriage can be an addition to the masterpiece. You can be happy without being married.
  9. Find your passion. Find out what makes you tick and what you are willing to do without remuneration. Your passion will be a place of mental refuge when days are dark, friends are few and finances are dry.
  10. Spend wisely. Teach yourself to manage finances as early as you can in life. The skills you acquire will come in handy when you earn your first salary. Know how to differentiate between needs, wants and luxuries. It’s not bad to spend your money on anything you want, but know when the right time is to spend on each of the three. Remember to save money wherever you can.
  11. Have fun. Try to have as much fun as possible in everything you do, including exam preparations and writing assignments. It’s the best way to excel. Allow yourself to make mistakes, laugh at yourself and do not walk away without learning from them.
  12. Life is a journey not a destination. You are a work in progress. You need to improve yourself to be a better person in all you do. There are so many talented people in the world that average will not be enough. Strive for excellence in your studies, career and extra-mural activities. An undergraduate degree is nice, but a master degree is more competitive.
  13. Run your own race. Never mind how fast or how far other people your age are progressing. What matters is that you have started and are determined to achieve your goals. However long it takes, you will get to where you want to be. Do not compete, it is bad for your confidence.

What would you tell yourself at age 15 if you could go back? Perhaps to be more gentle to yourself – and to recognize the uniqueness you possess. Maybe you should write this letter too – and remember that it’s never too late to listen to your own advice!

Featured image: Rebecca / Flickr (Creative Commons)

3 Ways Girls Are Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Do you ever have those moments in life that stick out as “light bulb” moments? Whether you are driving down a road or in a meeting at work. Something hits you like a ton of bricks and you understand certain aspects of life more clearly. One of these “light bulb” moments occurred for me three years ago at the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. I walked into the UN with head held high, ready to attend a high level lunch to talk about progress for women, girls and children. I brushed by Melinda Gates and ran into Mohammed Yunus and chatted with him for a little while. I am not the type of person who gets star struck but let’s just say there were a lot of important people in the room.

As the beautiful lunch continued, I scanned the room and quickly realized there wasn’t one single girl, woman or child in the room. At that moment I remember thinking:

What makes us think that we can wall ourselves into a high level lunch to talk about women’s and girls’ lives without even including them?

Since that time we have transitioned from focusing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Essentially, these are a set of goals and targets for countries to reach to improve global development and the world as whole. The MDGs had 8 goals with lofty targets and the SDGS have 17 goals. In rooms devoid of women and girls the question has historically been: How are we going to involve girls and young women in this? I think we need to focus on the what, not the how, this year. There are so many ways young girls and women are already making a difference.

Girls and Young Women Are:

  1. Raising their Voices – All over the world, girls and young women are not only talking about sustainable development they are a part of it. Do a quick Google search on young women activists and I guarantee you will find hours of multimedia and inspirational talks.
  2. Writing for Action – Young women and girls all over the world are utilizing new media and technology like never before. Take the latest post from Girls’ Globe blogger, Mia as an example.
  3. Advocating for Change – Young women and girls are advocating for adolescent health, education and against practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation and so many other injustices around the world. Just take a look at how young girls view the SDGs in this recent beautiful photo montage.

This year, Girls’ Globe has 6 amazing young women coming to the UN General Assembly from around the globe. The purpose? To enter into these spaces so that their voices and opinions are heard. They are changemakers. During the 71st Session of the United Nations, the question shouldn’t be: Why should we include girls and women in the implementation and decision making for the Sustainable Development Goals? The conversations and discussions will hopefully be what are they already doing to see this through? Simply because they are already DOING IT.

Girls’ Globe will be present in NYC during the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly. Follow the hashtag #GlobalGoals and core coverage partners, Johnson & Johnson and FHI 360. Sign up for the In Focus Newsletter at crowd360.org/unga-2016/

Featured image: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina (Creative Commons)