On 19th of October, 2012, National Coastal Women's Movement celebrated the Rural Women's Day which fell on October 15th in Chennai, India.

Their demands to the government by the 50 women present were simple. "Restore the coasts to us. Free it of tourism, industries and housing projects. Give us rights to boats.  Give us rights to vessels to carry fish and to storage. Give us quotas in markets. Help us add value at every stage. Give us drying spaces. Give us social security during off season for fishing. We need housing on the coasts to be able to fish, and good health, education and child care facilities. Help us lead a life free from violence and represent our needs through contesting local government and entering informal councils". Similar demands are coming from women labourers and farmers and women in other rural occupations.

Flowing from this example are several lessons:

  • A lesson is that women’s needs and interests both coincide with that of men (e.g. restoration of the coasts to coastal communities) and women have gender specific needs and interests (e.g. quotas for fisherwomen in markets).   
  •  A second lesson is that rural women’s survival is closely tied to rights to resources, either community’s rights to resources (as in the case of coastal resources) or individual/joint right to resources with spouse (as in the case of agriculture land). 
  • A third lesson is the need for a value chain approach to rural women’s livelihood, with value addition at every step of the value chain.
  • Fourth lesson, is the inability of rural women to separate their lives into economic, social, political spheres, they saw these as interlinked. Hence they called for interventions not only in the economic sphere, but also to promote their participation in local self-governance as well as traditional councils.  
  • A fifth lesson is the centrality of care of elderly, children and the sick if rural women are to take part in economic, social and political spheres.         

As of now there is no legislation on right of rural communities to agricultural land or to grazing land. The Indian government has mooted a bill on rights of coastal communities to coastal resources. The challenge is to have a wide debate (in particular with men and women from coastal communities) on this.  While there are credit programs and 100 days employment generation program, a value chain approach to livelihood/women’s livelihood is sadly lacking. While there is a 33% reservation for women in local government, there is no reservation in traditional councils which take decision on local disputes as well as family disputes. Government provides care of children in the age group of 3-6 years, but there is no care for sick and elderly and children in other age groups. Further the timings of child care do not coincide with working timings of working rural women with young children.

By Ranjani.K.Murthy, Independent Researcher

with Vasantha  Gilbert and Virgil D Samy, National Coastal Women’s Movement