Why Women

Photo Credit: Rucha Chitnis

"According to an old Chinese proverb, 'women hold up half the sky.' In the battle against hunger and poverty, women, especially rural women, most certainly hold up the heavier half."
--David A Harcharik, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Agriculture is a demanding job for women. “In rural India, agriculture and allied industrial sectors employ as much as 89.5% of the total female labor.” Not surprisingly, women do the bulk of the work.  A study in the Indian Himalayas found that “on one hectare land plots a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours, and a woman 3485 hours in a year.”

Women are India’s significant food producers, and yet they are not recognized as farmers and struggle to access land rights, training and opportunities. Nearly 72% of employed Indian women are in the agriculture sector, yet they comprise barely 11% of landowners.

India has 230 million undernourished people, the highest of any nation.
India is also home to nearly 1/3 of the world’s poor, a majority of whom are women. “Poverty is a chronic condition for almost 30% of India’s rural population.” Women “are the primary users and custodians of local natural resources, but are seldom given a voice on national and local bodies that decide how these resources are managed.” Failure to invest in women perpetuates endemic hunger and poverty.

Rural women are disproportionately affected by climate change—
recurring droughts, floods, changes in the rainfall pattern that affect their farming livelihoods and health, and increase their labor burden as well. Yet women are underrepresented in the design, decision-making and implementation of climate change measures and policies. Agriculture accounts “for 17.6% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Women are the caregivers and water and fuel food  managers in their households.
In rural India, women gather water for daily consumption and land irrigation.“A day's supply of water can mean multiple trips to a local well or distant water source for women.”Approximately one quarter of India is experiencing droughts from monsoons that arrive later than usual and deliver smaller quantities of rainfall, forcing women to search beyond their homes for potable drinking water and water for irrigation. And so, environmental and climate crises have a direct impact on the livelihoods, health and well being of girls and women.

Agriculture is under assault by the industrial agriculture paradigm and unsustainable farming.
The chemical farming era is destroying the natural environment, threatening farmers’ livelihoods and is marginalizing the roles of women, including that of seed keepers, who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops. The overuse of fertilizers in combination with irrigation has led to ground water depletion and contamination of the groundwater with nitrates. This has had a severe impact on farmers. In many states a combination of debt, climate disasters and increase in soil infertility has resulted in farmer suicides and a loss of livelihoods.

Women are the traditional keepers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity.
Seed saving is a time-honored tradition for farmers around the globe. To ensure the food and economic security and self reliance of women farmers, there is a need to promote low-input, less capital-intensive, natural farming practices and traditional seed saving methods. This reduces the dependency of the farmers to purchase seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the market and helps women farmers to reduce costs and maintain the health of their soil, water and other natural resources. Economist Bina Agarwal highlights that in areas where women are the decision-makers within community forests in Nepal and India, the forests are greener, firewood and fodder needs better satisfied and women are more empowered.

"Women's Earth Alliance creates opportunities for grassroots women leaders to set their own agenda, co-creating what they want and what they need. This work is building bonds between women who are making a difference in their communities, supporting them at the source-- on the ground-- where real change grows. "
-Julia Butterfly Hill, Author and Activist
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