Rural women present real-life stories that break gender stereotypes

Chennai, March 8, 2014:
Fast-talking and animated in her expression, Maheshwari had the audience in splits as she recounted her travails of her experiments with cooking. “Every time it is burnt food, you know it is my work. I have now given up and handed over to my husband, who does such a good job with the cooking,” she says “especially as I get busy with my work in the Village Knowledge Centre.”

Maheshwari, who hails from a fishing village in Puducherry, was among eight women from different villages who have seen change in their routine lives, due to technology, innovation and the support of their husbands. The event, organized by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, on “Technological Empowerment of Women in Family Farms” on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Speaking on the occasion, Professor M S Swaminathan, spoke about the need for engendering national programmes and laws including the NREGA. “Very often we speak about the physical labour and the drudgery of women. There is need to recognize the brain, their intellectual contribution of women beyond the physical labour.” According to Professor Swaminathan, providing technology and skills to make their work productive and time-efficient would also leisure for the women.

The sharing by the eight women was not just about how technology had changed their lives but also about what it meant in their family ventures or farms. Angel Isabellarani from Kannivadi in Tamil Nadu leads an SHG running a successful biofungicide venture for organic farming. She was articulate about her success, prompting her more reticent husband to speak. “People know my husband as Pakkirichi’s husband” says a proud Pakkirichi from Sorapet in Puducherry, who is a trainer and a role-model in her village. “My husband is like my friend; he is so understanding” says a soft-spoken Magesh from Nagapattinam. All of these women who work or function at the grass-root level in agricultural or fishing communities presented these and other personal life accounts of how skill empowerment in non-traditional roles has brought about changes in gender relations in their lives. It was also an opportunity to recognize the value of the indigenous knowledge and skills and the opportunity it could provide, if properly harnessed.

Padmashri Dr Ajay Parida, Executive Director, MSSRF and Dr Nitya Rao, Professor, Gender and Development, University of East Anglia also spoke on the occasion.