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  • Women's menstrual cycles are a "plague" : Findings from a SEWA study

  • SEWA's agricultural campaigns

  • Agriculture workers agitate for rights

  • Sairaben trains women in Bangladesh

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No. 44 | October 2012
H2 Side Women's menstrual cycles are a "plague": Findings from a SEWA study

"During periods we are not allowed to touch anything in the house. It seems like being made an outcaste over night. During periods we are not supposed to take water by ourselves, serve our own plate, eat certain food, step out of the house or visit the temple. Due to the fear of stains and lack of sanitation facility we cannot attend school. Is it a sin to be born as a daughter or a woman?", asks Shitalben of Soladi village.

SEWA's health team carried out a survey in nine districts in Gujarat to understand the problems that women faced during menstruation. It found that not only where women treated as outcastes, but due to lack of proper care they faced severe health hazards as well as loss of employment and education. The study found that

  • Since the past one year 81 % of women and 93% of the girls are suffering from some form of menstrual ailment.

  • 66 % women use old and used cloths during their menstruation cycle. In the remote villages, 15% women today use only an underskirt during their periods. Only 8% use sanitary napkins.

  • 75% of women and girls are unable to wash and dry their menstrual clothes due to shortage of water.

  • 86% women miss work due to lack of proper hygiene facilities at their work place.

  • 88% women and 64% girls lose wages for 2 to 4 days due to traditional beliefs on the menstruation cycle.

  • 56% girls did not attend school due to lack of facilities available in the bathrooms of the school.

SEWA's study revealed that the women and girls were willing to use sanitary napkins available in the market. However, due to lack of affordability they were unable to buy the napkins. The use of unhygienic old cloths and rags during periods lead to various infectious diseases. Women were found to be unaware of the quality of the sanitary pads available in the markets.

Impelled by the suffering faced by women and girls during their periods, SEWA Unnat Bazaar set up a manufacturing unit in Saraspur area of Ahmedabad to make sanitary pads. The current manufacturing capacity is 1200 napkins per day. These pads will be made from cotton waste generated from SEWA Unnat Bazaar's textile and garment manufacturing unit. These will be priced at an economical price of Rs 1.2 to Rs 1.5 per pad. The prices of pads have been kept low as it is critical to affordability and usage for poor women and girls. The napkins are rich in quality, affordable and environment friendly.

H2 Side SEWA's agricultural campaigns

Over 50% of SEWA's memberships are small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural sharecroppers, and casual labourers working in agriculture-related on-farm activities. Women are the backbone of the agricultural workforce. They do most of the strenuous and wearisome tasks in agriculture. Despite the fact that women contribute more labour to agriculture then men they do not receive justifiable recognition for it.

SEWA started its agricultural campaign in 1995 to support agricultural workers, who make up the majority of those that are self-employed in India. SEWA's agricultural campaign approach has made use of the following five services/activities:

Technical services for organizing & capacity development: Through SEWA's campaigns, organizing is undertaken primarily through a self-help group approach that helps members in developing their bargaining power and nurturing collective responsibility. Farmers were facing problems like non-availability of credit, water, seeds and fertilizers, and lack of access to technology and to markets. To address these problems SEWA started the work of organizing farmers in the villages. Currently there are 3100 active groups of farmers.

Establishing the identity of farmers: A total of 154,698 men and women have so far received the 'farmer's book'. A record of the land, soil etc is maintained in the book. Identity cards have been issued to 62432 women. On the basis of these cards, women can fight for their right to get minimum wages, increase their bargaining power and have an access to various government schemes.

To make the land arable: Due to rapid industrialization and in the absence of the necessary backward-forward linkages for inputs and marketing, the small and marginal farmers and agricultural workers were slowly losing most of their land and assets. Excessive irrigation from bore wells drastically reduced the water table and rendered the remaining water high in fluoride content. The costs of irrigation increased manifold. Due to the unpredictable rains, many small farmers lost their livelihood, and had to take up casual labour. Women agriculture workers were even harder hit: they could find no alternative work and often had to walk miles to collect the necessary fodder and fuel.

SEWA organized the land less women agriculture workers into a co-operative- the Vanlaxmi Women Tree Grower's Cooperative. During this time it also came to be known that there were many unfertile and unused lands in Ganeshpura village. SEWA members approached the Government officials and managed to get 10 acres of land. However, it was not an easy process as the existing disjoint laws in both departments led to a tricky struggle.

SEWA got agricultural training arranged at the Gujarat Krushi University for small and marginal farmers. With the help of which women agriculture workers learned the scientific methods of gardening, agricultural afforestation, drip irrigation, compost and rainwater harvesting. With SEWA's support and the inspiring success of Vanlaxmi Sahakari Mandli women from Devpura village in Anand district and Vadu village in Mehsana acquired fallow land. Ecotourism centre was set up in Ganeshpura area of Gujarat to impart environment related information to children. Currently the work of land and water is carried out in the driest regions of Gujarat namely Kutch, Patan and Surendranagar. This includes 50 villages. 20,000 hectare of land from these villages has been improvised upon. 50 tanks have been repaired and 20 check dams have been made. Plantations have been done across 30 villages.

Imparting training in Agriculture: Women farmers interested in learning new methods are trained for in Gujarat's main agricultural institutions. The trainings included the following topics:

  • The use of new technologies in agriculture

  • The use of better and certified seeds

  • Improvement of the soil

  • Agricultural planning and organizing

  • Pest control

  • Access to modern technology

  • Use of vermi compost

  • Use of the technique of the green house development

Protection of crops from animals: Farmers suffer greatly due to the damage caused to the crops by blue bulls and wild donkeys, in Gujarat and pigs and monkeys in Uttarakhand. SEWA has asked the Forest Department to undertake the following measures:

  • To make electrified fences that would scare the animals but not injure them.

  • To make these fences subsidies should be provided to the farmers

  • To provide compensation to those whose crops have been destroyed by animals

Making available seed and fertilizers: To increase the quality and quantity of the produce it is important for the small and marginal farmers to have easy accessibility to good quality seeds and manure. For this SEWA got linkage with the Gujarat State Seed Corporation and IFFCO. This gave the farmers the license to sell seeds and fertilizers. These seeds are sold to farmers in the villages to get quality yield. This way 16 groups in each district got licenses to sell seeds and fertilizers.

Instantaneous information about market prices: Price dissemination has three main benefits. Namely:

  • When the prices of certain crops increase in the future the expectation towards those crops changes.

  • Information about the market prices determines the demand of the farmers.

  • The farmer receives a better price for his labor and expenses.

Linkages with the market: RUDI and The Vegetable shop

SEWA's agriculture campaign links groups of farmers to the market. The campaign encouraged and motivated farmers to organize Krishi Bazaar- farmers market. Krishi Bazaar helps farmers obtain a better price for their produce. These Bazaars are organized twice in a year and in different districts of Gujarat they are set up at 12 to 15 different locations. These bazaars make business of approximately Rs 50,000.

SEWA realized the huge potential for rural retail marketing through networking of the small and marginal producers. With this in mind the Rural Distribution Network (RUDI) was conceptualized in the year 2004 and was registered in the year 2007. The main idea was to distribute the producer's product through a well-established network at the village level.

The major activities involved in RUDI Bazaar are procurement, processing and packaging, quality inspection, sales promotion, transportation, finance, accounting, and continuous production.

The main objectives of RUDI are:

  • To ensure that farmers are not deprived of food.

  • To ensure socio economic development of the underprivileged poor village people.

  • To improve the bargaining power of the farmers

  • To increase market accessibility

  • To increase the sustainability of the farmers and to protect them from the exploitation of the middlemen/local traders.

  • To establish a big supply chain

RUDI is unique as it is run and owned by 2, 65,000 small and marginal farmers. RUDI has equipped 1500 women vendors to earn anywhere between Rs 3000 to Rs 3500. The capital rotates within the villages, thereby strengthening the rural economy.

A vegetable shop in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC): Agriculture is predominantly considered to be a male dominated sector. SEWA emphasizes on the role of women as farmers. Women are elbowed out from the ring of competition. To avoid this and to facilitate smooth business for women SEWA members insisted on setting up an exclusive shop for selling their produce. In the year 1999 the state government provided women with a shop in the APMC market. On daily basis 45 tons of vegetables is sold from this shop. Today the total turnover of this vegetable shop is Rs 260, 172, 75.

Kapilaben from Rasnol Village, Anand District states:

I owned a small piece of land in Rasnol village. Initially the land was mortgaged. With the help of SEWA Bank I could acquire a bank loan. This helped me in gaining my land back. Today my land is free from mortgage and has been registered under my name. Thanks to SEWA! Last year my husband passed away. But since the land was registered under both our names I did not have to face any kind of struggle.

Nanduben from Kukna Village, Baroda, states:

There was 40% rise in the production of the District Association after acquiring the license for seed and fertilizers. Initially only 50% of the seeds acquired from the local businessmen germinated. This ratio has now gone up to 90% of seeds being evolved. Besides this we visit the Telly Agriculture Session of the Resource Centre in the adjoining village. Here we exchange conversations with the scientists from the Krishi Vishwavidyalaya. These conversations and teachings have made us aware of the various agricultural diseases, its prevention and care. Thereby increasing the benefits in our farming. Last year it enabled me to buy a cow and this year too I bought another one.

Manjulaben from Ahmedabad District, Gujarat states:

When Nano was introduced in Gujarat three years back it brought hope of providing rural employment to current and the future generations. Today after three years on assessing the current situation the truth about broken villages is portrayed. People have been rendered unemployed.

The farmers of Bhal region of Gujarat grow Bhalia, a long grain wheat variety rich in protein and grown under conserved soil moisture conditions. Farmers engaged in cultivation of this superior quality of wheat benefit from it. However with the news of the central government allowing Foreign Direct Investment in the country has worried the farmers.

They are worried about what would happen if foreign and big companies enter the business? What would happen if they buy Bhalia wheat in huge quantities and brand it under their own banner?

H2 Side Agriculture workers agitate for rights

Shantiben of SEWA MP said that they had been working on harvesting since the past ten days. One morning the owner informed them to work for extra two hours and for which money would be paid separately. His instructions were obeyed by us. In the evening his son distributed the money. His son didn't pay the extra wages and said how would he know we had worked for two extra hours? We were upset at this behavior of his and decided to take whatever was offered to us on that day. However we decided to teach them a lesson the next day.

From the next day we stopped going to work. On the third day they called upon new laborers'. We women sat at the corner of the street waiting for them to come out. On seeing the new laborers' leave, we asked them not to work for this farmer. They asked us reasons for not working at the farm. To which we updated them with the story of being denied our rightful wages for two hours and only on receiving the wages would we resume work.

After this along with the newly recruited laborers we went to the farmer and asked for our extra wages. The farmer got agitated and retorted by saying on which basis were we questioning him. We showed him the membership receipt of SEWA. With the strength received through SEWA today we stood there and asked for answers.

The farmer not only gave women laborers' their wages for two hours but also paid them wages for the whole day. In this way women through SEWA became aware as well as fearless.

H2 Side Sairaben trains women in Bangladesh

SEWA trainer Sairaben Sheikh recently made a three day visit to Bangladesh to train women workers in leadership. This was her first experience in training women workers residing outside the country. Initially the limitation of language posed a challenge. But she overcomes it with the help of a few women who knew the Hindi Language.

Although it was a different country, the questions in their mind were same, she says. "I see myself in the women of Bangladesh. I was similar to them when I first joined SEWA Academy. My mother was the leader at SEWA's Dariyapur Rag Pickers Union. Due to this I used to accompany her several times in the Dariyapur area of Ahmedabad. But my education was quite less and limited to Urdu language, So I could barely understand Gujarati. I got married at an early age. Luckily my husband was very understanding and took good care of me.

"One day Rahimaben who was the SEWA Secretary asked if I wanted to work with SEWA Academy. I was quite surprised at this, as I always felt that jobs were given only to those who were educated. All of this happened fifteen years ago. Initially I found the work difficult, as I could not speak even one word in Gujarati. After gathering some confidence I started imparting training. Gradually my confidence increased.

"In our community women and girls are deprived from higher education and stopped from stepping out of the house. My mother was the leader in SEWA. This gave me the opportunity to step out of the house. At my in-laws house my husband truly supported me. My mother in law initially was reluctant about me going out but later she agreed. My husband today is no more but his words continue to inspire me. Through difficult times my family and SEWA have always been by my side."

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