Rural Women: The Unseen Bastion of Sustainable Development


Over the years rural women have been influential change makers and have played a big  role in enhancing village livelihoods for a holistic welfare. Since India is an agro based country, our women staying in villages are a part and parcel of farming, and account for a sizeable share of the agricultural labour force, albeit their work is not recognized or appreciated. Not only agriculture but our rustic and hard working women are slowly diversifying into other occupations, at the same time creating a balance with work in tandem with their household chores, running their families and other social formalities.  In recent times their work is slowly getting recognition as media interventions are bringing it to the forefront for others to emulate.

Only a few are aware of the fact that the world observes the ‘International Rural Women day’, on 15th October every year as a sincere attempt to ensure some equity to the rural women who balance their work and home efficiently without any domestic help or a barrage of modern gadgets to reduce their home chores.

Structural barriers and prejudiced community norms still prevail to hold back women’s decision-making and participation in rural areas. Rural women also have limited access to education and health care, including water and sanitation, and additional work load than their urban counter parts since a greater part of the rural men migrate out of their home towns in search of sustainable income. But nothing can stop these women to stay behind their counter parts across the world because there is a fierce urge in them to move up a notch higher than the others and show the world that they are no less. Be it organic farming or giving therapy every woman has a story to enlighten.

In the current scenario with the demand for organic and natural food rising we have Pranati Lenka who has taken to vegetable cultivation on a large scale. She is the secretary of a vegetable growers cooperative and elaborates enthusiastically. “The scenario in the villages is changing for the better. With most of the men out for work all the decisions have to be taken by us. We take our role as vegetable growers very seriously and have formed cooperatives which is getting us more benefits. Growing fresh produce has a dual gain as it meets the nutritional need of fresh and natural vegetables of the family and at the same time improves the livelihood security of the women vegetable growers. Our understanding on finance and communication has improved to a huge extent. We handle all our own transactions and the next generation treats us with respect, which pushes us to work harder.”

Another commendable example of determination is Suni Nath, who earns more than 60000/- a year only by selling vegetables and is completely illiterate but talks about manure making and nutrition like a professional. “It’s necessary to properly sketch the right map from pre-production phase to selling our produce with an aspiration to augment the production and output of vegetable growers. We improve the nutrition of our vegetables by adding our home made organic manures and have slowly started selling them to women who are not the members of our Self Help Group(SHG). Correct information on seed selection, preservation and pest management for the growers has improved the quality of production. The government has many schemes to help us and earlier we had no knowledge but now with access to television and mobile phones we have become empowered,” says a proud Suni.

Rural women staying in tribal belts are striving hard to retain the fading demand for our tribal textiles since the fabric is hand woven and lack the finesse that the urbanites prefer. Jyoshana Rani Barik reveals, “The tribal women weaver’s  hand-woven cloth does not boast of any rich embroidery work. The weaving takes long hours plus the raw materials have also become costly. Even though our cloth looks ordinary, in reality it takes a lot of weaving time and the payment is very less in comparison. Now with sewing machines and more stylish cloth available in the market many of the communities have stopped weaving and shifted to other lucrative jobs. But we have formed a small group with an objective to increase the reach of this fading textile and have developed a small clientele for our textiles. We operate as the bridge to help these women earn some money and not get cheated and at the same time help to keep this tradition alive”.

How many of us are aware of women staying in small villages of Bolangir who painstakingly took measures to pave a somewhat smooth life for their next generation by rebelling against old prevailing traditions. The most educated among them is Gayatri Bhoi who got married after she wrote her 10th std examination. During her first pregnancy she attended ANM and used that knowledge to help adolescent girls in the family and neighborhood. She said, “using sanitary napkins was not allowed and to convince the male members to get them from the town was easier said than done a few years ago. We formed a group and started talking to elderly women to change some traditions like allowing there pregnant bahus to eat on time as well as before the men folk and a complete meal, not the left over’s. Slowly we started promoting institutional delivery and vaccination instead of branding. We faced a lot of criticism on every step and even women spoke badly about us, but we patiently convinced our family members first. Why wait for others to change your life, it’s you who should be the change maker. Today our Nabasarpanch is a woman and we have initiated many new things under her leadership. Today our daughters go to school on cycle and have access to more benefits than we had. We are also making sure that the girls get married after they turn 18 at least in our area.”

Despite the fact that majority populace resides in villages our health services lack staff and very few untrained staff are appointed as para- medical staff. But inspite of all the hazards our dynamic rural women have proved their mettle in this field too. “The biggest problem for people living in villages is to access the services because of paucity of money and the huge travel time to reach the district headquarters where experts are available. But after we started visiting them as community based rehabilitation workers, they get therapy at home. Initially our families were reluctant to send us for home visits but now they appreciate the respect and love we get in the community. The children are recovering fast after they get therapy. We have also started making small assistive devices in limited money and available resources and because of internet we are able to know what is happening in big cities,” said Mamata Muduli, a Community based rehabilitation worker and bread winner of her family.

Education in metropolitan cities has become a lucrative industry and with both parents working they try to compensate the less time they give to there children by admitting them in international schools where the children get everything.But the fees are exorbitant and only urban children can access these services. More than 60 percent of Indian children study in village or government schools, but thanks to dedicated and hardworking teachers like Sakuntala Parida the children spend the best of their day in the school. Can you imagine to see a sprinkler system to water the plants and save water in a rural school, but this is one of its kind, you will find numerous such initiatives in our rural schools situated in the most remote areas of our colossal country.

Sakuntala was more than happy to talk. She said, “Majority of our children come from illiterate backgrounds and apart from educating them we teach them to be hygienic, to be well mannered and most importantly inculcate good habits. There is a bond of commitment as we have seen these children enter the world in front of us, so we feel responsible for their good rearing. Schools are like second home for them and we have to teach them creatively and using different methods to make them attend school regularly. The resources are limited so we try to teach them maths using thermacol balls and toothpicks or through interesting wall paintings. As it is in villages girl’s dropout after they attain puberty and the parents marry them off early, so we try our best capacity to make them come to school daily. I was fortunate that my husband and his mother were both broad minded to allow me to continue working even after marriage and hence it’s my aim to see more girls become economically self-sufficient before they enter matrimony.”

Rural empowerment leads to a paradigm shift in the development of the country and this is what our rural women are doing without actually realizing there pivotal role. As the old saying goes, ‘if a man happens to be educated, he is educated but if the woman is educated the whole family is educated.’

Therefore this ‘International Rural Women Day’, lets salute all the women who are mutely and effectively helping India for a better tomorrow.

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