Empowering India’s Women Cotton Workers Reduces The Use Of Water And Chemicals

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – The UK gender pay gap will not close for more than fifty years unless action is taken to tackle it now, according to Deloitte. Current inequalities between pay rates for men and women may not be eradicated before 2069. So, if in the West we are so far behind on this issue, what chances do women cotton workers have in India? Here, women have few rights and are often underpaid, despite their vital role in cotton production. The average income for women in rural India is just 77 percent of the men’s income.

There are approximately four million cotton farmers, with about 45 million people employed in all the cotton production and processing in India; women account for 70 percent of the cotton planting and 90 percent of the handpicking. Improving their rights and income will result in higher cotton yields and improves profits by as much as 40 percent, says a new report by CottonConnect. And what’s more, working with women has been shown to reduce the use of water and chemical pesticides by 43 percent! ‘Planting the Seed: A Journey to Gender Equality In the Cotton Industry’ by CottonConnect found that without specific outreach efforts, only four percent of women join any form of training programmes that can assist them in their roles as farmers and champions within their communities. Even with recent changes in Indian law that improves rights for females, it is rare for women to be landowners.

The situation is not all bleak. CottonConnect’s collaboration with the retailer Primark in working with local non-government organisation, the Self Employed Women’s Association, has trained 1,251 female smallholders through classroom sessions, in-field training and learning groups. The results have far exceeded expectations, with smallholders gaining an average profit increase of 211 percent. The success of this pilot programme has caused it to be extended for a further six years, during which it is expected to reach an additional 10,000 female farmers.

Cotton is a major global commodity. It is the leading natural fiber choice within the international clothing industry. In emerging economies, it is a crop that relies on smallholder farmers rather than mass-scale farm production, where the quality of cotton is dependent on how it’s planted, grown and harvested. Women are heavily involved in the labour-intensive work of sowing, weeding and harvesting. When men migrate away for other work, women carry on farming while also taking care of a household and providing for their family.

Therefore, female empowerment and gender equality is not simply a moral issue. When women are empowered to make decisions, and take charge of land and their finances, not only does their household income grow, the entire community benefits. Farmer Khaileshben Mukher Thakor, says, “With all the money we have saved from what I learnt, we have built a house, bought a tractor, paid for my child’s studies and contributed to family marriages… The family are proud of me - and I am proud of me too!”

Photo Credit: CottonConnect