Contrary to popular belief of Salem times, poor harvests aren’t caused by witchcraft. They’re more likely caused by farmers not knowing the proper agricultural techniques.
According to Oxfam, more than 40% of the 400 million women living in rural India work in agriculture. Yet women receive little recognition for their work. All too often, women are blamed for poor harvests, sometimes being accused of crop-ruining witchcraft. Moreover, they are refused education about irrigation and crops. The same Oxfam report claimed that “as women are not recognized as farmers and do not own land, they have limited access to government schemes and credit, restricting their agricultural productivity.” It’s unfair, and it’s inefficient.
However, with women taking on more prominent roles on small-holder farms across India, the effort to give women the recognition and education they deserve has grown. Reema Nanavaty is the executive director
of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization that offers free training on successful farming for women who make a living through their small businesses. One woman who has participated in these training sessions and controls her family’s farm, Aruna Kanjarya, says that she was able to double her farm’s yield and increase her family’s income, saying “Our children are in school and I’ve helped pay to educate my husband who is now a computer operator for the state government.”
Other women who participate in the training see better harvests and increased profits as well, leading the men in their lives to accept their new leadership roles. Kanjarya’s husband Ishwar said, “There was no access to education and no money for education when we were children but now we have money and even savings in our pocket. We feel very lucky.” Though gender roles still define much of the agriculture industry, the reception of these training programs and these women who benefit from them demonstrate that there is hope for change.
In an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nanavaty spoke out about her motivation to improve
the way women are treated as leaders and participants in the agriculture industry, saying “Women have just not been recognized as farmers.” She mentioned the domino effect that follows from helping women prosper in their workplace, “[Women] farm to feed their families but we want them to turn the farm into an enterprise. If you can train women to do that then you can also talk to them about health, education, and nutrition and it benefits everyone.” Her statements reference repeated studies which suggest that when women are in control of their families’ finances, they tend to invest more in their children and communities than men do. It also references what the women in these training programs already know to be true. Kanjarya believes that “this is the way forward, women taking over the farms and investing in children’s education.”
With women beginning to receive the education they need to take charge of their family’s farms and bettering their family’s quality of life, there is potential for these programs and others like it to spread, strengthening communities across rural India.
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