Empowering Rural Women in India

To celebrate International Day for Rural Women, ICA would like to devote this newsletter to honor rural women in India.

Rural women are one of the most marginalized and impoverished groups in the world. They don't own land, have higher illiteracy rates, and earn significantly less than their male counterparts. In many families, ownership of farms is passed down to males in the family. Women farm on communal lands or work as day laborers on larger plantations. Girls in rural areas get married at an young age, become housewives and remain home. Thus restricted, rural women have a hard time starting any kind of income generation business.

ICA supports more than 55 NGOs in India which provide help to rural women to make a change in their lives, making them financially secure by helping them start businesses. Some of them have learned to make garments, sew petticoats, start kitchen gardens, packetize masalas, make environmental-friendly sanitary pads.

Rural girls are not encouraged to go to schools and without education they become completely dependent on their male counterparts. ICA spoke with 3 young women from rural Kishanganj, 18 to 33 in age, to understand the challenges and struggles they face. They were given the opportunity to continue their education. Thus enabled, they were motivated to overcome their struggles and make a big difference in their lives.

In honor of the International Day for Rural Women, ICA spotlights three movements, run by NGOs that have been working to empower rural women in India. Read about BNGVN (Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan) and their work on Mirch Masala, sewing and quilt-making movements, ABSSS (Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan) and their work on kitchen gardens, and Project Potential which has lifted the lives of many rural women by enabling education and fostering leadership.

Since its inception in 1968, ICA has nurtured social activists, and has partnered with dedicated NGOs in India and the U.S. Please donate generously to the ICA Rural Women Development Fund to support our efforts to empower rural women. Your support will help them become self-sustaining, and gain the power to contribute to decision-making in their household and community.

Recent News

Designing and Making Quilts

In Jalgaon, Dhule, Nashik and Nandurbar districts of Maharashtra, it was not easy for women to come out of their houses and work.

This area, being a drought-prone area, faces economic challenges as the population depends mainly on farming. There were days when it had not rained for a few consecutive years and the villagers were in despair. The women wanted to support their families but did not know what to do.

Some women offered to make food items such papad and pickles. On hearing this, some other women started laughing and said that they were illiterate and did not know anything other than stitching quilts from old clothes. This idea hit Nileema Mishra of BNGVN to make quilts and sell them. Initially, when it was decided that they would stitch quilts, the women came to the center in disguise.

Luckily, during the same time, Ms. Anne from Rose Circle, Australia visited the organization and was ready to teach women making quilts that were internationally accepted and a new journey began. Under the guidance of Ms. Anne, women started designing, stitching quilts. Initially with some success and failures in selling these quilts, women learnt the art. In few years, the group of women started designing quilts on their own and sold them in national and international markets. They did not stop there: they went out of the village and trained many other women referred by other NGOs. They conducted many workshops for quilt making at Bahdarpur too. This is real empowerment where women not only help themselves but help others in being self- sufficient.

Kitchen Garden

Women maintain kitchen gardens on a small patch of land. These gardens provide the rural resource-poor communities with a platform for innovations in supplemental food production, as well as an opportunity to improve their livelihoods.

To promote supplemental food production among the underprivileged and poor people in the rural areas, small kitchen gardens aim to improve nutrition security and supplement household income. The primary rationale behind this model is to help improve the nutritional status of small and marginal farmers and their families, providing them with an assorted mix of vegetables for a considerable stretch of the year.

Women become particularly important in the management of these gardens. Empowered with minimal skills and knowledge, these women members of rural families easily fight crop losses, making kitchen gardening a profitable initiative. Besides, organic farming practices make these gardens environment-friendly as well.

Kitchen gardens are cost-effective, practical and easily meet the balanced dietary requirements of rural households as well as add substantially to the family income. Crops are selected considering the prevailing food habits and climatic conditions of the implementation areas, and with the larger goal of ensuring availability of wholesome and nutritious food.

In an interview with ICA, Dheerendra Pandey of ABSSS (Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan) emphasized his committment to uplift rural women from tribals, dalits and deprived sections in Bundelkhand, a hilly region that spans the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. ABSSS is based in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2018, Pandey said, ABSSS distributed seed kits, consisting of ten types of vegetable seeds i.e- tomato, spinach, chilli, methi (fenugreek), chaulai (amaranth), beetroot, tomato, radish, carrot, cabbage etc. to almost 107 enrolled families in Manikpur village of district Chitrakoot. The cost of one vegetable-seed kit is Rs.275.

By distribution of seeds to 107 households in Manikpur, ABSSS encouraged its women community leaders to be actively involved in kitchen gardening for ensuring food and nutritional securities of their families. As a result, the contribution of women in household food production has increased manifold, at times even making them the sole care takers of these gardens. With time, as kitchen gardening activities are added to their daily domestic chores, hope is created for their socio-economic enhancement.

Kitchen gardening helped women develop proficiency in vegetable cultivation, which in turn helps them become better home and environment managers and meet the needs of their families more easily and economically. This enhances their status within the family and in the society at large as well.

Kitchen gardens are also beneficial for pregnant women who are not able to do heavy manual field work or spend long hours with insufficient food intake. Additionally, the new-born infants need regular breast-feeding and attention. After six months, a child needs more than breast milk alone and complementary foods provided. Being at home during these months, investing time in kitchen gardening provides women with income. The nutrient-rich kitchen garden produce ensures food supply and nutritional safety of growing children.

Sewing Ladies Garments

Most women whom BNGVN was helping were from conservative families, reluctant to go outside the house to work. They used to make excuses to step out of their homes. When all the garments and quilts were ready, they were asked to exhibit them. But the women were hesitant to display their products publicly. They wanted BNGVN to market them But BNGVN insisted that the women should show courage and sell their own products. The women ultimately did that and gathered lot of confidence and courage. From then on, the journey ahead became easier. Their families realized the worth of earnings from these women's earnings. It was a great support in needy times.

As their work was met with respect and approval, they started carrying their work home. The village could witness many women sitting outside of their house and working on their quilts. When there was a pressure of orders, their family members started helping them. This is how this enterprise turned into a family matter. The marketing team was equally enthusiastic. They used to get incentives on sales, resulting in more earnings and that's where they got huge encouragement from their families. Initially, all the raw material was procured from the local market, but as the orders for quilts and ladies' garments increased, a team of women crossed state boundaries and reached manufacturers of raw material and procured it from them. Women those who were not able to cross the thresholds of their houses for work, started buying and selling of products confidently. The whole experience has brought the women in main stream of the society, giving them dignity and recognition in their families.

BNGVN has trained over 900 women from Bahadarpur and surrounding locations in stitching ladies' garments. Special workshops had been arranged for them. At times, the organization supported women with sewing machines too. There was a time when group of women was busy with retailing of such garments. They could realize a great demand from the market for kurtis, salwars, gowns and other ladies' garments. Hence, it was decided to manufacture the garments at Bahdarpur, which would increase employment opportunities for more women and so more money in their pocket. A team of women was also trained in administration, accounts and marketing. With a generous funds from GIC, a proper manufacturing unit has been established in Bahadarpur. Women can work from the unit as well as from their home. This is how women run a full-fledged garment unit.

Mirch Masala

Mirch Masala was conceived to offer an employment opportunity to home-bound women the opportunity to start her own enterprise providing income generation opportunities.

Spices are required in every kitchen, used by each family every day. There is a great demand for turmeric powder, cumin powder, chilli powder and other spices in cooking. Women are in charge of kitchen in the house and hence, they can take the decision of what to buy, from where to buy and how much to buy for their kitchen.

Mirch Masala is based on two major components: Streedhan Bank (a bank for women) and Bahina (manufacturing of food products required in every kitchen).

A product goes through various channels from the point of manufacture to the customer. From the manufacturer, it goes to a stockist after taking a profit margin, from stockist to a dealer, from the dealer to a wholesaler and from the wholesaler to a retailer and then to a customer. From the stockist to the retailer, price of the product is hiked by 35% to 50% at each level. Finally, the customer pays the high price.

Mirch Masala makes self-help groups (SHGs) their stockists and dealers so that the groups get the benefit of profit margins. The customer gets shares of "Mirch Masala" bank on the basis of their purchase of the products. If the customer is from SHGs, then she gets more shares of the bank.

Mirch Masala is a movement at BNGVN (Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan) in Bhadarpur, Uttar Pradesh. Hemraj Rane with Nilima Mishra started this movement. BNGVN intends to microfinance "Bahina" from "Streedhan" bank. BNVGN was founded by Nilima Mishra with to foster self-sustainability in villagers. Hemraj Rane, in starting the Mirch Masala movement with Nilima Mishra, has made significant strides in empowering housewives to become self-reliant.

Building a Better Life Through Education, Persistence and Hard Work

ICA spoke with three young women from Kishanganj district of Bihar, to understand challenges faced by rural women. Kishanganj is an an area served by Project Potential, an NGO founded by Zubin Sharma, with a mission to create rural leaders to solve rural India's problems inclusively and sustainably. Project Potential is creating an ecosystem to attract and develop people, organizations, and resources required for sustainable development in rural Kishanganj district, one of 28 districts in Bihar.

Rumi Sultana is 21 years old. She started working with Project Potential in 2015. Savita is 18 years old, and works closely with Rumi. Annu Bharti is 33 years old. She is a software engineer working with Mindtree, a multinational company in Bengaluru, as an Android developer.

ICA spoke with Rumi Sultana, Savita, and Annu Bharti. These are the stories of their journeys to Project Potential and beyond.
(Read more)

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2020-21 Executive Committee
  • President: Reshma Nigam
  • VP, Strategy 3.0: Prakash Agarwal
  • Secretary: Abhay Bhushan
  • Treasurer: Jayashree Desale
  • Project Chair: Govind Desale
  • Content Chair: Mayuranki Almaula
  • Marketing Chair: Sharmila Kumar
  • Women's Leadership Chair: Lata Patil
  • Youth & Initiatives Chair: Padma Chari



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