Gender, understood in its diversity and natural resources is a core programme of SOPPECOM. The gender and rural livelihoods team encourages, participates in and supports interventions that can help bring gender concerns at the centre of policy, practice and research in the area of Natural resource management, specifically land and water management. A dedicated team of women researchers and activists from diverse socio-economic backgrounds through a model of collective leadership works on this core area through 1) field interventions and capacity building 2) feminist research, documentation and advocacy 3) support to civil society groups and networks in campaigns.
1. Field interventions and capacity building
Establishing water rights for women
SOPPECOM's first major initiative in this direction was a pilot action programme `Securing Livelihoods' through establishing water rights for landless women in village Khudawadi, Osmanabad district of Maharashtra through negotiations with the Water Users Association (WUA) formed on a minor canal of a medium irrigation project. These women working as agricultural wage labourers, who were also mainly single, were organized into a collective that negotiated for water rights to be used on leased in land.
This programme underscored the significance of water as a means of production over which women farmers rights need to be established and through which access to land, another important means of production in the rural context can be claimed (Click here to read more information)
This experiment added immensely to our understanding of gender and water concerns and it was after this that SOPPECOM actively engaged in policy dialogue on this question. Consultations on the inclusion of women farmers in the water policy and Participatory Irrigation Management Act were conducted and a draft was proposed to the Government of Maharashtra. While inclusion of women owning land in command areas on committees was accepted, inclusion of landless women was not. The engagement with the Government on this continues through our strong presence on the State Monitoring Committee of WUAs.
Intensive cultivation on small plots
Women’s collective in Khudawadi was formed to explore alternative farming methods that make optimal use of land and water. Prayog Parivar – a network which was active in Mharashtra and initiated by Prof S A Dabholkar – guided the experiment. Prof Dabholkar stated that a small plot of ten gunthas or 1/4th of an acre is sufficient to provide for a prosperous life for family of five. Emphasis was on a scientific understanding of resources for optimizing production in an ecological way. Harvesting the sun, measuring water, regenerating soil through organic inputs for building soil fertility were some of the main principles of the ten guntha approach.
Women learned several skills through this two year programme. However for it to succeed it requires support from the state and the family. These constraints were evident from the two year intensive work that we did with the women’s collective.
Enhancing women farmers participation in Ghod Irrigation Project, Maharashtra
As a continuation of this work, the gender team held discussions with the Water resources department, Government of Maharashtra to work with women members of the managing committees of WUAs in the Ghod Irrigation project. The team worked intensively for two years in Ghod irrigation project to train women water leaders in the management of the WUAs. As part of this activity more than 150 women committee members across 55 WUAs of Ghod Irrigation project were trained.
Joint dialogues with male members of the committees and irrigation officials were conducted for the male dominated irrigation societies to start accepting women’s presence in decision making. Irrigation is a male domain and for women to participate in a meaningful way they have to overcome several barriers at the domestic and community level.
Post training evaluations of women water leaders were positive and demonstrated that women were in their own small ways using the spaces that were available in the WUAs.
These trainings were then extended to Raigad district where Shramik Kranti Sanghatana wanted to set up WUAs. More than 50 women were trained as part of the programme.
Training manuals for PIM and gender have been developed by the team and have been shared with the Water Resources Department of Maharashtra.
Capacity building of water sector professionals and students
Along with SACiwaters, SOPPECOM has done extensive trainings of staff and students, mid career professionals working in universities and NGOs. Gender team members are also teaching at the Water Policy and Governance course at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, giving lectures at the SPPU, Pune and various other spaces.
The main thrust of these trainings has been to bring a feminist understanding to the water sector. The growing disparities in access to resources and decision making around its use lead to increasing conflicts around water. Water studies often ignore the social dimensions of these conflicts and poor access to the resource. Current policies and practice are unable to address the complexities of gender relations or the social barriers that cause unequal access to resources.
Similarly other dimensions of social difference such as caste, religion, tribe that intersect with gender are also often overlooked. Through our trainings and courses we propose a need for a considered analysis of constraints on women’s access to water due to social structures, gendered division of labour, social norms and identities and the disadvantage due to the unequal distribution of social, political and economic privileges.
Trainings on women and land rights of women farmers, activists and revenue officials
Along with Women’s Studies centre of the ILS Law College, Pune, SOPPECOM did intensive trainings of staff of NGOs, women farmers and also of revenue officials at the village and sub division level.
About 300 women farmers and activists have been trained on the legal aspects of land rights and the process to stake claims to land. SOPPECOM has had a simultaneous dialogue with the revenue department and has done trainings with the village level revenue officials as well as sub division level officials. About 250 such officials have been trained in the past one year.
2. Feminist research, documentation and advocacy
The role of feminist research is both constructions of new forms of understanding and knowledge as well as production of social change. It is informed by women’s struggles against oppression and is rooted in feminist values. The gender team believes that research and advocacy done through a feminist lens provides a new gendered understanding of an issue. Irrigation, agriculture, land are centered around the male centric view and at SOPPECOM we are making an effort to see each of these sectors through a feminist lens and pivot our advocacy and actions around the feminist perspectives. For example we bring women irrigators or water users, or women farmers at the centre of the debates and policy discourse through our research and actions.
Water and Sanitation
Studies around decentralization in the water sector and its impact on women highlighted the need for bringing gender and social justice questions right at the centre of policy making in water and agriculture. (Click here to read more details.)
Through the Social and gender equity gauge (GEG) SOPPECOM made an effort to develop an evaluation framework for the water sector from a gender and social equity point of view.
Click here for full report
Through this research an effort was made to develop an evaluation framework for the water sector to be able to assess the gender and social equity aspects within water. Intensive field work done across 10 villages in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, India and a few villages in Nepal highlighted the complete absence of women and the socially marginalized groups from decision making institutions in the water sector. They also had poor access both in terms of quality and quantity. It also highlighted the other less discussed area of unpaid work of women to ensure that water is fetched and utilized for domestic uses and for livelihood. It showed that the existing frameworks used for evaluating water inequities in fact did not go beyond the household level and certainly did not touch upon the contribution of unpaid labour to water related work.
Studies done at the macro level to understand the concerns of women water professionals across South Asia brought out the deeply patriarchal nature of water bureaucracies that constrained highly qualified women engineers from achieving their potentials. (Click here to read..more details)
Sanitation is another area of interest within the gender team. SOPPECOM has been involved in studies about sanitation vulnerabilities. First of these looked at the violence, and psycho-social stresses women face due to unsafe and inadequate sanitation facilities in urban slums of Pune and Jaipur. (https://youtu.be/CQT3rizufYA)
A similar study was done in Bihar. (https://www.3ieimpact.org/sites/default/files/gfr-TW11.1014-sanitation-emotional-pschhological-Bihar.pdf)
Women farmers, land rights and agriculture
From the early 2000 SOPPECOM has been looking at the question of land rights of women. Through its association with the Stree Mukti Sangharsh Movement in western Maharashtra SOPPECOM’s focus was on single women who were associated with the movement. A detailed study and testimonies of these women were done, especially looking at their property rights.
Studies around facilitating and constraining factors in achieving land rights for women helped the team to develop its own position on the issue and a detailed perspective paper for Maharashtra has been prepared. Over the years these various studies and researches have informed the team’s action programme around women and land rights.
Single women and right to land
Studies on the livelihoods and concerns of single women in rural Maharashtra highlighted the extreme forms of deprivation on the one hand and also the agency to act and emerge as leaders in their own right.
Scoping studies and state wide consultations
The land rights programme in many ways has emerged from the water rights programme for SOPPECOM’s gender team. While negotiating for water, it has emerged that lack of ownership to land becomes a significant barrier for women. Scoping studies for possibility of developing a network around land rights in Maharashtra was actively initiated from 2008 onwards. Desk studies of existing literature was done, followed by a study of organisations supported by Swiss Aid to promote land rights among women using the existing policies and legal instruments. These studies paved a way for a year long process of consultation in different divisions of the state to understand the key issues of concern for women farmers in Maharashtra.
Property rights emerged as an important issue from all the five regions of the state. Property rights included right to private property but also staking claims to public lands, forest lands, ceiling surplus lands etc. Thus began the journey of SOPPECOM to actively mobilise the formation of a broad network in the state on women farmers’ rights.
Around the same time at the National level MAKAAM was evolving as an active network around women farmers. The Maharashtra network thus formally called itself as MAKAAM Maharashtra.
Documentation of women farmers
Detailed documentation on various practices in agriculture and water management employed by women and the socially marginalized groups provided new insights to the team for field actions and advocacy. Recently i.e. in 2017-18 the team documented farming practices followed by women farmers belonging to diverse socio-economic groups in Maharashtra. The innovative approaches in farming and water sharing in drought prone districts provide a pathway for climate resilient agriculture and sustainable water use.
Study on land lease practices
In September 2015, NITI Aayog set up an Expert Committee headed by Dr Tajamul Haque to examine the existing tenancy laws and to suggest appropriate amendments to meet the felt need around legalising agricultural land leasing and create a Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act for the benefit of State governments. The underlying assumption was that legalizing land leasing would increase agricultural efficiency, occupational diversification, lead to rapid rural transformation and would address equity issues. Maharashtra government followed suit and following the Model Land Lease Act introduced a bill to enact the law relating to Agricultural Land Leasing in the State of Maharashtra on 7th April 2017 in Legislative Assembly.
Liberalising land leasing is a contentious issue and is likely to be opposed by tenants fighting for claims to land under the old tenancy laws. However it also opens up some possibilities for groups leasing in land for cultivation. The gender team specifically wanted to look at the potential of such a bill for leasing in by women’s collectives and whether it could ensure security of tenure. An exploratory study was thus done in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra to understand the current leasing practices and sharing arrangements etc and whether or not they are beneficial for the lessees.
3. Support to civil society groups and networks in campaigns
Many of the founding members of SOPPECOM were actively involved in water rights and feminist movements prior to the setting up of SOPPECOM. One of the important reasons for founding the organization was to be able to support social actions, mass movements through research, capacity building and advocacy efforts. Social movements often do not have the wherewithal for such activities due to their daily engagement in resistance struggles. Ever since 1991, its founding year, SOPPECOM has extended support in a myriad ways to various civil society groups working with women farmers, single women, water users etc.
The gender team has consistently made an effort to bring various women’s groups working in rural Maharashtra under one common platform to raise the issues of rural women farmers and labourers with reference to their right to land, labour water, forests. These women mainly belong to the subsistence economy working as farmers, agricultural wage labourers, NREGA workers, migrant workers in sugarcane cutting and brick kilns for example. Through the land rights programme initiated since 2014, there has been a consistent effort to reach out to smaller initiatives of women that need advocacy, research and capacity building support for building grassroots collectives.
With SOPPECOM’s effort, a network around women and land rights had begun to take shape around 2015 and this later got formed as the Maharashtra chapter of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM-www.makaam.in)
As of now about 25 groups across Maharashtra are part of the MAKAAM network in Maharashtra and SOPPECOM provides the Secretariat support for the same. This includes working on policy and perspective documents, supporting research and doing capacity building.
In 2018 SOPPECOM supported the entire struggle of the women from farm suicide affected households in 14 districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of the state. A series of meetings and consultations were held by the MAKAAM partners, a study was launched and finally a protest was launched in November 2018 at Azad Maidan which resulted in a huge victory of MAKAAM with a government resolution in favour of women from farm suicide households.
SOPPECOM is now proposing to support this initiative through capacity building and action research for grassroots coalition building to ensure the implementation of the government resolution.
Similarly a recent initiative of MAKAAM has been to visibilise the issues of women sugarcane cutters in eight districts of Marathwada. A large survey supported by SOPPECOM but done voluntarily by MAKAAM partners is underway and this would bring out some critical issues of the women cane cutters. Capacity building and policy support to carry the work forward would be provided by SOPPECOM.
While supporting movements for claiming entitlements to land, water is one part of the team’s work; it is also committed to look at various alternative models or pathways to ecological agriculture and livelihoods for women farmers. In the context of climate change, the existing inequalities get further aggravated and women from the most vulnerable communities bear the brunt of it. The material understanding of women and other marginalised communities around natural resources and their dependence on them for their livelihoods are a compelling reason for them to find ways to tide over the crisis. SOPPECOM recently held a consultation with women farmers in Vidarbha region and did a brief study to understand women farmers’ perspectives around climate change in Marathwada and coastal Maharashtra. The study and the consultation findings highlight the impacts on women in terms of availability of labour, health, food security etc. but also inform us of the different ways through which women are responding to the changes.
Currently SOPPECOM has focussed its work on ensuring land titles to women from farm suicide affected households to support the partners associated with MAKAAM. At present it’s a small beginning with limited resources at hand with an aim to support about 50-100 women from 4 districts of Marathwada. However the suicide data that SOPPECOM has gathered from the revenue department shows that more than 15000 farm suicides have occurred leaving as many women widowed. SOPPECOM proposes to support the network partners in claiming titles to land for these farm widows over the next five years.
SOPPECOM and ILS, Women’s Studies centre also propose to suggest recommendations for legal amendments and administrative mechanisms to ensure land titles for women from both martial and natal property on the one hand and also public lands from the state.