Indian women’s land rights agenda taken up at national and global level

Geetha N Bhardwaj OneWorld South Asia

In view of the upcoming ICARRD (International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development) at Porto Alegre, Brazil, from 7 – 10 March, 2006, the Consult for Women and Land Rights(CWLR), a coalition of groups working on the issue of women’s access to land and resources for livelihood, consulted the National Planning Commission (NPC), Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation. All three bodies responded with constructive suggestions and a commitment to engage constructively for achieving the agenda of women’s land rights.

As peoples and governments convene from all corners of the world for ICARRD to fulfil the commitments of the 1996 World Food Summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the rights of women, especially rural and land-poor women remain critically vulnerable across the world.

Women represent the majority of the rural poor and hungry, yet simultaneously women in their social roles are catalysts for food security and agrarian productivity. Given these roles, rural women remain marginalised from policy discourses and government programmes seeking to address issues of poverty and hunger.

Governments under their obligation to implement rights for women as equal citizens must commit to this through agrarian reform and rural development by equitably distributing land and related resources to rural women for food security and sustainable livelihoods.

Increasing women’s bargaining power in this way is the first step towards the empowerment of rural women to be equal citizens with equal entitlements to the benefits of a globalising world.

On February 22nd, 2006, CWLR presented the proposed Women’s resource right agenda before Ms Syeda Hameed and Mr.Yugandhar, members of the Planning Commission. Ms Syeda Hameed pursued questions on specific CWLR recommendations.

Responding to the presentation Shri Yugandhar said, “For the first time I am meeting with a group that is talking about land reforms for women, which is in fact the true foundation of discrimination of women and marginalised groups. I am happy for this discussion and look forward to further inputs from you on this.”

He offered helpful suggestions on how CWLR could take forward its agenda for land rights, given that it is a state subject, and given that there are vast differences in current provisions with regard to women’s land rights across states .

“You could document the issues pertaining to each state and formulate an agenda for a revenue secretaries conference, so that it is flagged as a critical issue in their list.”

“Further, you need to strategically prioritise the states where land reform has not been implemented, or implemented unsatisfactorily, and work out an agenda for change in these areas. Hopefully, the consensus derived from this process would impact the NPC, and help to hold ministers accountable. We are prepared to support you in working on the state-level agendas.”

Minister of Women and Child Development, Smt. Renuka Chowdhury, discussed in detail her Ministry’s urban programs which support women’s individual and collective economic activity.

Smt.Chowdhury shared the year’s theme for the Department: “Education and empowerment are not enough… we must give women employment too.”

She endorsed CWLR’s view that there is a need to look at non-traditional employment for women in rural areas, and added that we need to make it compulsory for governments to purchase products from women’s collective economic activity; she cited the purchase of plantations for national highways as an example.

In a meeting with Ms.Radha Singh, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Co-operation, on February 23rd, CWLR discussed in detail the women’s resource right agenda. Ms. Singh fully endorsed the idea of a one-window approach to women’s resource rights. She pointed out that a 33% reservation of state budgets for the benefit of women already exists, and that some states are beginning to report back on this.

She further explained that there is a revolving fund accessible through the District Development Officer to which program proposals can be made and supported through a sticking fund intended to be a ‘convergence platform’, bringing together various partners each with their unique expertise to implement a program.

The department is willing to facilitate access to these programs for CWLR partners as well. They expressed interest and support for extending the Savera program by activating the women’s groups who were involved in this initiative.

Ms Singh encouraged CWLR to project itself as a positive leader at ICARRD, and to focus on empowerment of women in developing countries. “Agrarian reform involves critically identifying positive and negative traditions in the practice of agriculture,” she said, “Under the impact of globalisation, where the pressures of commercialisation are felt by all, we need to identify strategies to ensure that agriculture becomes more gainful, scientific and sustainable for small and marginal farmers, women and men.”

Inputs from Camille Narayan, Consult for Women and Land Rights, New Delhi.