BEING BOLD: WOMEN and KJBF INVOLVEMENT
Wardha’s women face immense risks just to participate in KJBF’s Water Resource Development (WRD) programs. Their lives are a complicated schedule of shuffling between the field and the home, and gender discrimination and sexual violence are a daily threat. During interviews and meetings they frequently spoke of beatings, rape, and abusive husbands. In Wardha’s villages, it is an unspoken rule for women to leave the house after 7:00 pm for fear of being attacked.
But despite these threats and challenges, the women of Wardha are coordinating highly-organized efforts to bring development services like schools and water development projects into their communities. They are organizing to improve their standards of living, and are willing to experiment with new development methods (Devasia 1998 539). With increasing frequency, women are flouting their 7:00 pm curfews for evening meetings and leave their homes to attend educational trainings and seminars. These qualities make the women of Wardha ideal participants for KJBF WRD programs. Women help convince male farmers to invest in KJBF because they are able to perceive the long-term benefits of WRD projects (Thakare 452). Women leaders and supporters regularly visit site locations and aid in construction and their presence helps build respect for female leaders that guide these projects (Thakare 53-55). Greater female presence within KJBF is helping to equally distribute WRD project responsibilities and benefits amongst citizens.
KJBF WATER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
Since 2009 KJF has implemented soil and water conservation measures to increase agricultural output in over 200 villages through its Water Resource Development (WRD) program. It has three focus areas: maximizing irrigation potential of available resources, enhancing irrigation potential by recharging rainwater, and efficient water management.
The individual accounts of KJBF successes demonstrate how resource development and equality results in social change. Many farmers attributed new benefits, such as sending children to school, to the increased crop production that was caused by new irrigation systems. Community education and training programs are fundamental parts of KJBF projects to ensure the proper and informed utilization of services and technologies. KJBF holds many events, such as celebrating National Women’s Day, and arts programs to facilitate relations between KJBF and Wardha citizens. Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) community meetings and other interactive methods help KJBF to evaluate community needs.
PARTICIPATORY RURAL APPRAISAL: UNEQUAL INVOLVEMENT
Before any WRD projects are implemented, KJBF evaluates the water needs of village members. Field surveys, individual and group discussions, and participatory rural appraisal meetings are used to better identify the problems and needs within the community. KJBF works with the beneficiary group to determine a financial plan towards the cost of suitable interventions.
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) uses community input to determine and prioritize developmental needs, but the process of gathering information excludes women’s opinion. Since 1978 agricultural and anthropological researchers and NGO field staff have been developing PRA because they realized that common research practices involved little interaction with citizens (Chambers 1994 53). This resulted in unsuccessful projects that did not address the real problems of communities. KJBF uses PRA methods to evaluate new partner villages before implementing projects in Wardha District. Mostly men attend the meetings, which typically take place during the daytime when KJBF staff are able to travel to remote areas. This affects the number of women who can attend these meetings because domestic obligations keep them very busy during the daytime. Attendees are broken up into groups to complete different evaluations. Appraisals focused on village history, agriculture, women, and a community resource map.
In the agricultural exercise, the group calculated the input and output values of growing cotton, wheat, soybean, pigeon peas and chickpeas. They examined demands such as buying seeds, hoeing, insecticide, manure, fertilizer, and irrigation. Labor costs were not included in the calculations because most of the farms were so small that only paid laborers were not hired. After the farmers had calculated each cost, we added them together and determined the final profit of each crop. Cotton, wheat and soybean were negative, under by thousands of rupees per acre. The farmers confirmed that while wheat and soybeans were sometimes profitable, cotton never has a positive output. The agricultural exercise also demonstrated the important role of women in agriculture. They were responsible for land preparation, sowing, weeding, and harvesting. These tasks, as compared to seed preparation or insecticide application, are very time-consuming and require hours of daily work. But nearly all of the exercise participants were men, so the roles of women in agricultural labor might have been underplayed or otherwise inaccurately calculated.
A second PRA exercise sought to determine women’s roles in the home. The women compiled their daily schedule and listed over 38 tasks that they have to complete daily, such as collecting firewood or cooking meals. The most burdensome task was collecting water for the home because the closest well has an unstable water supply and is used by many households in the village. Walking long distances and waiting in line for water can take hours of their day, which is already packed with 37 other tasks and agricultural work.
My own field observations confirm the findings of the PRA exercises. Women and men talked openly about the labor differences that I observed on the farms and within homes, but rather than spark a discussion about how to balance unfair workloads between men and women, community members did not openly discuss this inequality. This is not necessarily because they accepted these differences, but more likely because the social roles of men and women are determined by cultural and religious norms rather than negotiated by members of a household. Water resource management programs then have to find either a long-term strategy for dismantling these roles in a respectful manner, or compromise in accordance to local customs.
Both women and men PRA participants presented the findings of their exercises to the whole group. KJBF then told the group about how they intended to use the PRA-generated data to determine what projects to implement in the community. But the villagers were not encouraged to discuss the findings as a larger group, which reinforced KJBF’s position as a final authority. Future meetings are held with village leaders, who are predominantly men, which potentially excludes women from contributing to WRD or irrigation projects. PRA is a great method for gathering community knowledge, but KJBF needs to be more transparent about how they use that information. KJBF can implement several changes to increase women’s involvement in its WRD and agriculture programs. KJBF must act upon its unique understanding of women’s water needs so that women can fully participate in Wardha’s rural water development.
WATER DEVELOPMENT in WARDHA: WHO is RESPONSIBLE?
Years of government assistance and negligence have left Wardha’s farmers with conflicting opinions about their obligations in WRD programs. The state and central government subsidizes certain crops and compensates farmers for crop losses due to drought or water-logging, but this usually covers less than 10 percent of the farmer’s investments. Farmers like Sunil, 40, “lose lakhs of income” but are only provided Rs 3,000 ($55 USD) by the government when his crops fail (Interview 19 February 2013). Another water-related problem is that the government does not subsidize traditional crop or animal varieties that consume water more efficiently. The families are offered the seeds of a banana variety that cannot grow in Maharashtra or imported cow varieties that consume gallons more water than traditional cattle breeds (Interview 19 February 2013). Many farmers are keenly aware of the lack of adequate infrastructure and emphatically “do not trust the government” (Interview 19 February 2013). Farmers are wary of compromising their farm or savings by investing in WRD projects, especially if they are long-tem and without immediate results.
Wardha community members consider water access for irrigation and domestic use to be an inherent right, so they argue that any water management structures should be provided for free. The state government does not require farmers to pay for projects and hires its own short-term laborers for construction. Citizens often do not feel ownership over gratuitous projects but still demand subsidized or free programs, so water infrastructure is less likely to be properly maintained following its construction.
KJBF struggles to regain the trust of farmers because of these conflicting expectations. When KJBF staff meets with farmers before beginning a project, they start by comparing the durability of their projects to those made “by a [state] government agency. And you can tell the difference between the quality of both structures. They [the farmers] feel ownership over our structure because of the quality of work that they can see put in it” (Interview 19 February 2013). Seeing these tangible discrepancies between government and KJBF work helps Wardha citizens to place greater trust in the organization’s work. Once farmers have faith that a proposed project will actually be completed, it takes only a few “days to initiate work on a check dam project because people [understand] how crucial the project was” (Interview 19 February 2013).
In Wardha, women also have contradicting opinions about responsibilities of the government in water resource management. When I asked women how they could become more involved with directing KJBF water management projects, they did not convey the same sense of ownership as male farmers. I interviewed the fiery and articulate Kalpana, to ask her about how women could become more involved in managing the water needs of their villages. She first responded with a detailed list of water problems in her community: water comes every 3 to five days; women have to wake up at 4:00 am to walk to a well filled with dirty water; women sometimes have to dig holes in a desperate search for water. But when pressed for solutions to those problems, she responded, “it is hard for the foundation to help because it is the government’s job to do it, but foundation has given me other things like training and confidence to come to outreach meetings and learn.” (Interview 1 March 2013). It is difficult to understand why some women would designate this role to the government in spite its obvious failures. As a Village Volunteer and member of a SHG, Kalpana also knows firsthand about the success of KJBF water projects implemented in other villages. Other women that were interviewed also expressed similar sentiments about the government’s obligations to irrigation projects. Women like Kalpana clearly has a strong grasp of the water problems that women face, so her response hints more at the more complicated power struggles of women in rural Wardha communities.
Collective ownership of KJBF projects subverts water resource privatization so that WRD projects are accessible and affordable for more farmers. A group of up to 15 farmers each pays about 5 to 10 percent of the total cost of a WRD project. They also contribute time and in-kind donations such as building stones and equipment (Interview 19 February 2013). This payment system enables farmers with limited resources to benefit from much-needed WRD projects without risking financial difficulties (Interview 21 February 2013). Since participants all equally contribute to a project, a single person cannot claim control over the project or the community’s water resources.
But this construction process doe not consider the needs of women in these beneficiary families, who have little control over household funding and might object to seemingly minor increases of household spending (Ray 2007 438). If a family is already constrained by poor crop growth and heavy agricultural investments, 5,000 rupees might be a tremendous amount to contribute on short notice. Another possibility is that participating families are relatively wealthy within their communities and can then afford to pay these fees. If this is the case, then the most vulnerable and low-income farmers will not be able to benefit from projects with this kind of payment structure.
Past studies have struggled to determine how to most effectively integrate women’s leadership into water resource management, and perhaps the critical point is at the technical level (Green and Baden 1995 98). Men are considered the primary farmers in part because they control the technical aspects of farming such as plowing or spraying fertilizer. So if women were trained in how to implement and operate those technologies, they might gain both additional income and more power within their family. Field interview studies like Devasia 1998 found that men did not want women to have more access to water in their daily life. Water technology for women is inadvertently perceived as a threat to male authority because the extra time saved by having running water undermines the control of men (Devasia 1998 537, Jackson 1998 318). Wardha women should strategically embrace technology. Women want more opportunity, not more work. These challenges could be solved by introducing gender-neutral technology, such as rainwater harvesting, that is not a chore designated strictly for men or women (Jackson 1998 313).
VILLAGE VOLUNTEERS and SELF-HELP GROUPS
The community is a vital partner throughout the planning, construction and maintenance of WRD projects. Village Institutions (VI)s are comprised of a Village Development Committee and a User Groups (UG)s ensure community ownership of projects. In each community, Village Volunteers (VV)s are identified to lead social mobilization and project supervision. They are giving training on both the technical and social aspects of WRD projects, and are mediators between KJBF and the community. They voice community needs and help in consensus building amongst potential beneficiaries and gather community contributions.
The Village Volunteers (VV) program and Self-Help Groups (SHG)s are based in IWRM methodologies and provide a means for women to become involved with water resource management in Wardha. Village Volunteers are key mediators between KJBF and citizens and help to rebuild trust by demonstrating how the Bajaj Foundation is free of corruption and a moral foundation. Village volunteers face the challenge of changing the villager’s perceptions of not only the durability of water resource projects, but also changing the community’s openness to outside intervention from NGOs. The villagers want participation in the project to be free, so village volunteers face the challenge of convincing villagers that a project is worth contributing their personal income towards.
Close to 50% of VVs are women and many are also members of women’s SHGs. I was able to meet with almost thirty VVs as part of a seminar that provided them a forum in which to openly talk about the challenges of their work. As one example, Nata has founded over fifty SHGs throughout her block as a VV. Another, Susha, felt that VV training had given her the courage to not only leave her village but also speak in front of large groups of people. Prior to her involvement with the Baja Foundation, “Susha claims she was unable to leave her home, let alone her village.” The women in Wardha generally meet once per week, and this frequency is important in order to share information and disseminate technical knowledge, as well as affirm the choices of women to attend these meetings in the first place (Devasia 1998 544). Another benefit of SHGs is that women from different castes are made to work together equally on the same projects. This helps women be more united in spite of divisive social hierarchies that can keep women from mobilizing in greater numbers (Devasia 1998 544).
Part of the struggle of SHGs is establishing and reaching group goals, which are necessary skills for implementing long-term community-owned projects. Education is rote-based, and women, even if they have the chance to attend school, are told to keep quiet and not state their opinion (Devasia 1998 544). When brought together into a SHG, it can be difficult for women to take on leadership roles or speak before even a small group of SHG members.
The greatest challenges SHGs face is simply achieving consistent attendance from its members. Women cite domestic workload and time constraints as the main reason why they don’t go to meetings, but intimidation by family and village members also influences women’s attendance. In some villages, there is a stigma around women who participate in SHGs because they are perceived as flouting their domestic obligations or disobeying their husbands (Singh 2008 936). Women can have a difficult time attending SHG or Village Volunteer meetings, which are often scheduled in the evening when the most women are available. But this often requires traveling at night, when they are exhausted from a long workday and are most likely to be attacked by men. Men frequently attend women’s meetings in Wardha, which can make it even more difficult for women to feel comfortable voicing their opinions. While the men do not participate in the SHG activities, their presence potentially prevents the women from feeling like they can be completely honest within their groups. Like Devasia 1998 noted in her participatory study, the men might attend SHGs partially out of a need to closely monitor their wives, whose departure from the household is often a rare and destabilizing move.