Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Building resilience by investing in rural women

Dr Shiny Varghese

Image: Gaon Connection

While Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage environmental activist has been championing the cause of climate change and many nations have lent support to her cause, there still needs to be a concerted effort to act against climate change which requires investment in sustainable infrastructure for quality services and high political commitment. Change will not be possible with only leaders or activists like her speaking for the cause, but the community needs to come together to build a carbon neutral world. In most countries, rural women and girls face myriad challenges and bear the brunt of climate related disasters, we however tend to forget the important role they play in building climate resilience. The International Day of Rural women recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”

Rural women and girls play a very important role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management. Globally, one in three employed women work in the agriculture sector which is time and labour intensive. These women are however neither adequately recognised nor compensated for their work. They also have limited or no access to stable and secure working conditions and social protection (International Labour Organization, 2017).

According to Oxfam (2013), around 80 percent farm work in India is done by women. Women and girls are also responsible to collect fuel and water in most households which are arduous tasks and pose risks to their health and well-being. They also hamper their ability to get good education, access to livelihood opportunities and be decision makers.

In Maharashtra sustained drought has resulted in crop failure, groundwater level depletion, increased climate risks, food insecurity and uncertain cash flows in absence of diversified livelihoods. This has made farming economically unviable for small and marginal farmers. Women and girls have suffered the most when access to natural resources and agriculture has been compromised. Women farmers are as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but have lesser access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high valued agri-food chains and hence no control over financial matters.  Socio-cultural barriers and discriminatory norms further hamper women’s access to productive resources and undermine their hard work even though their workload is increasing due to out-migration of men. Most gender and development indicators reveal that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and in turn experience poverty, exclusion as well as the effects of climate change.

The United Nations calls for empowering rural women as a pre-requisite for fulfilling the vision of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and this year’s theme for the International Day of Rural Women, "Rural women and girls building climate resilience" reiterates the fact that a sustainable future is unthinkable of without involving rural women and girls.

One of the most effective and efficient ways to tackle threats posed by climate change is by addressing gender inequality. Realizing that financial independence is a crucial element of empowerment which will enable women to address gender inequality and respond to climate change, we at Population First initiated a program titled Action for Mobilisation of community health initiatives (AMCHI). One of the many aims of the project is to improve women’s access to employable skills. It was felt that this would enable them have access to resources and in the long run empower them to take decisions at the individual, family and community level.

In 45 villages of Shahapur Block of Thane District, a program on vermi-composting was initiated. The program not only addressed issues related to declining agricultural yield by promoting organic farming but also created rural women entrepreneurs. Through this initiative, 45 vermi-composting units were created and are being run by 450 women across 45 villages. The program has not only improved women’s financial capacity but has also helped in promoting leadership which is essential to reduce the effects of climate threats.

Pursuing socio-economic empowerment of women by prioritizing sustainable livelihoods and rights will play a critical role in women adopting low – carbon technologies, spreading knowledge about climate change and help respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security and natural resource management.


Food and Agriculture Organization. (2018). Climate Change: United Nations Climate Change Conference. FAO.
International Labour Organization. (2017). Trends for Women 2017. Geneva: World Employment Social Outlook.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Empowering Girls to be the Agents of Change

Anuja Gulati

Consultant Population First

Picture Source: UNMIK UN Mission (unmik.unmissions.org)

In 2012, the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality and discrimination faced by girls around the world.  This day provides an opportunity to highlight, discuss and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere.

We at Population First have been working to empower adolescent girls in Shahapur Block of Thane District as part of our Action for Mobilisation of Community Health Initiatives (AMCHI) Project. As part of this program we sensitise families and communities to create an enabling environment for girls to be enrolled and retained in school so that they can reach their full potential. We also work towards enhancing life skills of adolescents by building their health, social and economic assets, influencing their perspectives on gender and increasing possibilities of their leadership at the community level. We do this by providing adolescent girls with information on physical, sexual and reproductive health and linking them to appropriate services.

On this International Day of the Girl Child we would like to share some feedback from the ground. These are the stories of our adolescent girls from Ambarje village of Shahapur Block of Thane District.

Thirteen year old Pranali, who is studying in the ninth grade, takes pride in stating that she is part of the Enjoy Group of adolescent girls formed as part of the AMCHI project. She says “we are a total of 42 members in the group. As part of the group meetings we were given information on a range of subjects. It was for the first time I attended a session on body mapping and got to learn about body parts especially the reproductive organs. I would like to attend more such sessions as there is no other place from where we can get information like this. Even our teacher at school does not talk to us about these issues”. She further adds that the facilitator creates a nurturing and learning environment in the group and they do not hesitate to ask even the most embarrassing questions.

Pranali’s friend, 13 year old Akanksha adds; “menstruation is a subject that is never discussed either at school or amongst friends. At the group meeting we were told about why menstruation occurs, how to maintain hygiene during our periods and how to wash and dry menstrual cloth and dispose menstrual pads. We were also informed of a scheme about low cost sanitary napkins being available through the school. We discussed this with our teacher, who after a fortnight helped us get these pads. Each girl can now buy a packet of six pads for seven rupees.”

The sessions have not just helped the girls to understand their bodies and physical health requirements better, but also built their communication and negotiation skills as shared by Praṇali who says “we were told in the sessions that we should eat green leafy vegetables, salads, peanuts, jaggery and channa to help improve our haemoglobin levels”. At school we get a peanut and gur ladoo every day, however the ladoo tasted very bad. After the session we formed a small group and informed our principal about the same. We told her that the ladoo was so bad that most girls were throwing it every day. She talked to the person in-charge of the Ahaar scheme and ensured that the ladoo we get tasted better. We could do this only because we got the information that such a ladoo is good for improving our health and learnt to put our point of view to our teachers and adults clearly.”

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Let’s commit to invest in our elderly…this International Day of Older Persons

Anuja Gulati

Consultant, Population First

Population ageing is an inevitable consequence of the demographic transition experienced by most countries across the world. Declining fertility and increasing longevity have resulted in an increasing proportion of elderly persons aged 60 years and above. As per the 2011 census, India had around 104 million elderly persons – 53 million females and 51 million males. The number of elderly in the 60+ age group is expected to increase to 320 million by 2050, constituting 20% of the total population. Given the nature of demographic transition, such a huge increase in the population of the elderly is bound to create several societal issues, magnified by sheer volume.  A majority of the people at 60+ are socially and economically poor. Elderly women are more vulnerable on all fronts compared to elderly men. Nearly three out of five single older women are poor and about two thirds of them are completely economically dependent.

The elderly are more vulnerable due to poor health. A high proportion of the elderly reporting poor health are the oldest old (Age 80+), poor, illiterate and widows. A recent study[1] shows that a significant percentage of the elderly have acute and chronic morbidities. Morbidities are more prevalent in elderly women compared to elderly men, especially in urban areas. The study also showed that nearly two thirds of the elderly reported suffering from at least one chronic ailment like arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. They also lack access to health care facilities. 

The vulnerability of the aged is aggravated by urbanization and a recent shift from the joint family system to nuclear families. This has a huge impact on the psychological and emotional health of the elderly, leading to neglect, lack of respect and sometimes abuse and exploitation.
Family has traditionally been the primary source of support for the elderly in India. The elderly depend primarily on their families for economic and material support. In spite of the strong preference to live with families, one in ten elderly women lives alone. With nuclearization of families, the traditional support system for the elderly is dwindling, making them even more vulnerable. Social isolation amongst the elderly is another critical issue of concern.

The profile of elderly indicates low level of educational attainment particularly amongst elderly women. Over half the elderly report not having formal education with a higher proportion, almost two thirds amongst women.

Work participation among elderly men in India is as high as 39% as against 11% amongst women. Although work participation amongst women is low, they contribute to family chores enabling other adult family members to work. A majority of elderly (71%) work due to economic necessity and not by choice. This is particularly true of elderly women. There is a close link between current work participation and poverty and illiteracy.

Older women are particularly disadvantaged, facing structural, social and economic inequalities throughout their lives. The experience of widowhood in Indian society is generally associated with many deprivations and has many implications for the health and well-being of older women. Further, certain traditional widowhood practices result in situations of violence and abuse and pose a serious threat to their health and well- being. Widowhood is one of the leading factors associated with poverty, loneliness and isolation, as a widow suffers indignity, often losing her self-reliance and respect. Many widows are ignored by both family and society, including their own children and are left to fend for themselves.

Poor health, age related morbidities, income insecurity, illiteracy and physical and economic dependencies are factors that tend to make the elderly, especially elderly women vulnerable

Recognizing the vulnerabilities of the elderly, the Government of India drafted the National Policy on Older Persons and has initiated and implemented several programs and schemes for social, economic and health security of older persons.  However access to these schemes and programs can be improved.

On this International Day of older persons, it is important to focus immediate attention on creating an enabling environment and decent living for the elderly, especially women. For this, it is suggested that Government, Multilateral agencies and Corporates invest in:

·                     Undertaking studies to understand increased morbidity and disability amongst elderly women, despite their longer life expectancy.
·                     Mobilizing greater resources for geriatric care, especially care of elderly women.
·                     Developing health promotion programs with outreach facilities and other services such as medical insurance to meet the long term care needs of elderly women.
·                     Addressing financial insecurity amongst the elderly women by formation of Self-Help Groups (SHG). These SHG’s would be formed with an objective of improving their livelihood and enabling them to become economically active through small loans and other required support.
·                     Ensuring convergence between various government departments for improved access to services and schemes for the elderly
·                     Promoting and assuring the participation of elderly women in the process of development.
·                     Amending laws that discriminate against women with regard to property and inheritance rights, providing housing support for elderly women who are property less and creating employment opportunities for them free of discrimination.
·                     Developing training programs to build life coping skills of elderly women.
·                     Providing services for older disabled women and disabled women who grow old.

[1] UNFPA India (2012), ‘Report on Status of Elderly in Selected States of India, 2011