Empowering Women for Sustainable Agriculture: Transforming Rural Agriculture in India
Cathy Rakowski
Associate Professor
Women’s Studies and Rural Sociology
The Ohio State University

The traveler in rural Uttar Pradesh (UP) cannot help but observe that women play very important roles as farmers, laborers, herders, and producers of goods and foodstuffs for sale. But usually hidden from view are the rural women who organize self-help groups with the assistance of facilitators from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or with the help of scientists from nearby agricultural research and extension centers (Krishi Vigyan Kendras or KVKs). Through their groups and as an extension of their homemaking and agricultural activities, many women have initiated savings and loan activities that support business ventures and social assistance to other women who fall ill or need assistance.These women participate in consciousness raising discussions and attend meetings that are designed to build their confidence and their capacities in farm, household, and community activities. Through these activities and with the assistance of KVK scientists and self-help facilitators, many women have established small businesses, either individually or in groups, purchased livestock or goods to sell from their homes, started producing vegetables or honey or handicrafts or yogurt for the market, etc. These activities allow women to capitalize on their domestic and agricultural skills to generate cash incomes. Through these activities, tied to traditional arenas of production and reproduction, many rural women are empowering themselves, raising the standard of living in their households, and creating networks of solidarity that overcome long-held divisions based on class and caste differences. However, students enrolled in agriculture education courses in some Indian universities still find little explicit coverage of women’s roles in agriculture or the significant role played by the self-help groups.The Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP) has as one of its goals to assist university partners in their efforts to correct this situation through curriculum development and research. Through partner The Ohio State University, assistance in this area focuses on helping to promote a revised agricultural curriculum that will include crosscutting, socio-economic themes and gender and women’s empowerment. In this endeavor, The Ohio State has collaborated with faculty at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology (SVPUA&T) in Western UP and Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Eastern UP. During her first visit to UP in June 2012, Prof. Cathy Rakowski from the Ohio State met with faculty and students at both universities and visited women’s groups and agricultural research and extension centers (KVK) to assess curriculum needs, differences or similarities in rural women’s activities, and specific agricultural and environmental issues and opportunities in each area.One highlight of the visit to SVPUA&T and BHU included a meeting with over 60 students, mostly undergraduates but a few graduate students as well, to discuss why it would be important to study gender issues in their different programs of study. Rakowski discussed two extension courses – Entrepreneurship Development and Management in Extension and Gender Sensitization for Development – that were part of the existing curriculum.

BHU has a broad range of colleges and programs that can be important resources for introducing gender and socio-economic issues into the agriculture curriculum. These include the Center for Integrated Rural Development (IRDP) and the Center for Women’s Studies and Development. The IRDP recently concluded a pilot program in “women’s development.” The existence of some collaborative relations and the presence of faculty and programs specializing in women’s empowerment or that include a focus on socio-economic and gender issues and women’s empowerment could present opportunities for future collaborations on course content and/or for experiential training for students.

A shift of focus in AIP has led to a narrowing of the scope of activities for 2013. This includes the activity of preparing cross-cutting socio-economic themes related to agriculture education. For the first quarter of 2013, Prof. Rakowski continues to focus on curriculum development. Prior to and following the visit in June 2012, she has analyzed sample courses at other Indian institutions, reviewed research on rural women in Uttar Pradesh, and studied official reports on state policy and goals regarding women’s empowerment and the mainstreaming of gender and socio-economic issues in university curricula and experiential training for students. By May 2013, she will produce a sample syllabus to be adapted to differing agricultural contexts and to differing educational needs.

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