Empowering the Women of India’s Poorest Region

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By Abisola Adekoya

For the women of India’s mid-Gangetic plains, which cover most of northern and eastern India, the road to economic prosperity is littered with stumbling blocks. First, they must overcome the limitations of their patriarchal society and the perception that being women renders them less valuable and less competent than their male counterparts. Then, as residents of India’s poorest region, they struggle to acquire the financial capital, education or connections needed to break poverty’s vicious cycle. And, for women of a certain caste, social stratification presents yet another barrier to upward mobility.

For the next six to eight years, many women in India’s mid-Gangetic plains, the country’s poorest region, will receive the financial capital and support needed to pull themselves out of poverty (Photo Credit: babasteve).

Recognizing that the women of this region are in a particularly vulnerable position, India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), are launching a Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme in the mid-Gangetic plains.

Although the mid-Gangetic plains are a large and fertile area with abundant groundwater endowments, the largest concentration of India’s poor can be found here. This, when strong patriarchal forces and rigid caste divisions are taken to account, explains why the women of this region experience greater deprivation than those elsewhere.

With a $52.5 million (USD) budget, the program aims to increase productivity and improve household incomes by: introducing market-linked enterprises, forming sustainable grass-roots institutions including self-help groups, producers’ groups and community service centers, and enhancing the capacity of financial institutions and the private sector.

If all goes as planned, the 108,000 poor rural women involved in the program will observe an increase in their incomes and the diversification of their livelihood opportunities within India’s wider economy, both on and off the farm. Beyond increasing access to financial institutions, the program also aims to enhance women’s political influence in the region, by strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations and encouraging women’s increased participation in local government.

To learn more about initiatives to empower rural women, see:  Innovation of the Week: Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women, Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farming and Producer Organization, Rural Women’s Leadership in Agriculture and NRM Scoping Studies, Turning the Catch of the Day into Improved Livelihoods for the Whole Community, Women Farmers: An ‘Untapped Solution’ to Global Hunger and Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value.

Abisola Adekoya is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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