Front Cover
 India's wastelands and the Panchmahals...
 Wasteland management
 Women's status and their relationship...
 Evolution of SARTHI's women's...
 Taking it one step at a time
 SARTHI's initial work on private...
 The shift to working with women's...
 Formation of the Muvasa women's...
 Dealing with men's suspicions,...
 Sharing experiences with other...
 Returns from the groups' plantations...
 Future directions
 Lessons learned
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds
Title: Wasteland development and the empowerment of women
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088785/00001
 Material Information
Title: Wasteland development and the empowerment of women the SARTHI experience
Series Title: Seeds
Physical Description: 20 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Sarin, Madhu
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1993
Subject: Women in development -- India   ( lcsh )
Rural development projects -- India   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: India
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 20).
Statement of Responsibility: by Madhu Sarin.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088785
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 28598892

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
    India's wastelands and the Panchmahals District
        Page 2
    Wasteland management
        Page 3
    Women's status and their relationship with natural resources
        Page 4
    Evolution of SARTHI's women's program
        Page 5
    Taking it one step at a time
        Page 6
    SARTHI's initial work on private wastelands
        Page 7
    The shift to working with women's group
        Page 8
    Formation of the Muvasa women's group
        Page 9
        Pages 10-11
    Dealing with men's suspicions, appropriating a legitimate social space for women, overview of SARTHI's experience with women's groups
        Page 12
    Sharing experiences with other groups
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Returns from the groups' plantations and additional benefits
        Page 16
    Future directions
        Page 17
    Lessons learned
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
    Back Cover
        Page 21
        Page 22
Full Text

SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the world
for information about innovative and practical program ideas developed to address the
economic roles and needs of low income women. The pamphlets are designed as a
means to share information and spark new initiatives based on the positive experi-
ences of projects that are working to help women generate livelihoods and to improve
their economic status. The projects described in this and other issues of SEEDS have
been selected because they have served not only to strengthen women's productive
roles, but also to integrate women into various sectors of development, both social
and economic. All projects documented in the SEEDS series involve women in
decision-making, organize women locally and address broader policy issues which
affect the economic roles of women
These reports are not meant to be prescriptive, since every development effort
will face somewhat different problems and possibilities. Rather, they have been writ-
ten to describe the history of an idea and its implementation in the hope that the
lessons learned can be useful in a variety of settings. They are also being written to
bring to the attention of those in decision-making positions the vital roles that women
play not only in the economies of their individual households but also in the economic
life of every nation.

The author would like to dedicate this issue of SEEDS in memory of Champa Ben,
a resident of Godhar Village where SARTHIS headquarters is located. Starting as a shy
and apprehensive local woman who had to be coaxed into traveling to the mela at
PEDO, just three hours away to attend the stove building training program in 1984,
Champa Ben blossomed into a wonderful and sensitive activist and trainer She, together
with her male colleague Vikram Bhai, was instrumental in getting the first women'
wasteland development group formed in Muvasa. Sadly Champa Ben died of cervical
cancer at the young age of 30 in December 1989. Even through her death, however, she
made local women aware of the importance of timely medical examinations to reduce
the incidence of female deaths due to such diseases.

The Population Council provides project direction and administra-
tive support for SEEDS. Editorial policy is set by the SEEDS Steer-
ing Committee: Judith Bruce (Population Council), Betsy Campbell
(The Ford Foundation), Marilyn Carr (UNIFEM), Marty Chen (Har-
vard Institute for International Development), Margaret Clark (The
Aspen Institute), Anne Kubisch (The Ford Foundation), Ann Leonard
(The Population Council), Cecilia Lotse (UNICEF), Katharine McKee
(Center for Community Self-Help), Anne Walker (International Wom-
en's Tribune Center), and Mildred Wamer (Cornell University).
Publication of SEEDS is made possible by support of the Ford Foun-
dation, The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),
the Government of the Netherlands and the Population Council.
N. 16 1993 Statements made and views expressed in this publication are solely
ISSN 073-6833 the responsibility of the authors and not of any organization provid-
Copyright 1993 SEEDS ing support for SEEDS.

Wasteland Development and

the Empowerment of Women:

The SARTHI Experience
by Madhu Sarin

For large segments of Indias rural population, rain-fed subsistence farming on
small landholdings continues to be their economic mainstay However even in years of
good rainfall, agricultural production does not meet all the needs of the household, since
most families have little or no access to cash income. Agricultural production, therefore,
has to be supplemented by collecting vegetative produce (referred to hereafter as
"biomass"), such as firewood, fodder small timber and medicinal roots and plants, from
the surrounding natural environment.
Under the traditional gender division of labor, the gathering of biomass is generally
women's work. Women thus have a much greater stake in the distribution and manage-
ment of local natural resources, as they suffer the most from land degradation and
deforestation. However simply involving women in raising and planting trees, shrubs and
grasses is not an adequate response, because the broader spectrum of gender relations
deny women any ownership or control over land resources or the produce from these
lands. Unless development projects empower women to gain greater control over the
use and management of local resources, women are unlikely to benefit from land
rehabilitation efforts in any lasting way
This issue of SEEDS describes an innovative approach to rehabilitation of waste-
lands developed by SARTHI (Social Action for Rural and Tribal Inhabitants of India), a
nongovernmental organization based in the Panchmahals District of Gujarat State in
Western India. By assisting rural women to organize themselves around the rehabilitation
of patches of degraded common land, SARTHI has been able to help them not only
meet their needs for biomass in a more efficient and ecologically sound manner but also
to empower them to start asserting themselves in dealing with a broader range of

India's Wastelands
Of India's roughly 300 million hectares of
land, some 40 million hectares are noncultivat-
able. Of the remaining 260 million hectares, about
two-thirds are privately owned. The other third
consists of what is referred to as "common" land
and is under the control of government depart-
ments or local institutions. Between 30 and 50
percent of both the private and common land is
estimated to be ecologically degraded to varying
degrees. In India, this land is generally referred to
as "wastelands"; that is, land that is not producing
its potential of biomass due to ecological degra-
dation, overexploitation or the absence of a clear
management system.
It is primarily on nonprivate or "common"
wastelands that the resource-poor rural popula-
tion of India depends for gathering biomass.
Because of growing concern over the rapid deg-
radation of the country's land resources, the
government has initiated a large program for
wasteland development.

The Panchmahals District
The forests of the Panchmahals have been
famous throughout Indian history It was here that
the Sultans of Ahmedabad and the Mughal em-
perors came on elephant hunting expeditions.
Unfortunately, little of this forest land has survived

under the combined pressures of illicit cutting of
timber, commercial exploitation both by the
princely rulers and, following independence, by
the state government. Clearance for agriculture
and uncontrolled grazing of domestic animals
have also depleted forest land. Excessive grazing
is particularly harmful as it destroys natural re-
generation. Further each drought year brings a
fresh onslaught as a desperate local popula-
tion searches for fodder, firewood and a source
of income due to the failure of local rain-fed
The most recent droughts occurred from
1985 to 1987, bringing acute misery to people in
the region. Besides total crop failures, there was a
scarcity of fodder needed to feed livestock, result-
ing in a heavy loss of cattle. In an area where
seasonal migration for wage work is already com-
mon (as rain-fed agriculture yields only one crop
per year), even larger numbers of people were
forced to migrate to other areas in search of work.
Panchmahals is one of the most industrially
backward districts in the Indian state of Gujarat,
with 89 percent of workers still engaged in agricul-
ture and allied activities, most making a living as
small and marginal farmers. Ninety percent of the
district's cultivated land is rain-fed, which leaves
the area vulnerable to crop failures. Compared to
Gujarat as a whole, Panchmahals has a higher
population density a far lower literacy rate (par-

ticularly among women), less urbanization and
a much higher population of Adivasis or tribal

Adivasis are considered to be the indige-
nous inhabitants of India and nationally constitute
about 7 percent of the population. In Santrampur
taluka (an administrative subunit of Panchmahals
District), where SARTHI is working, 66 percent of
the population is Adivasi as compared to only 14
percent for the state of Gujarat as a whole.
The Adivasis are essentially forest dwellers
living primarily in the forest belt of central and east-
ern India. Among them there are a large number
of different tribes, each with its distinct culture,
identity and language. Although they live in areas
rich in natural resources, "development" has gen-
erally passed them by
The British introduced several measures to
protect the cultural identity and economic inter-
ests of the Adivasis and, following independence,
the Government of India similarly used various leg-
islative and administrative measures to protect
their interests. A "schedule" or list of recognized
tribes entitles those belonging to any of the
"scheduled tribes" to a range of benefits and facili-
ties including reservation of a certain percentage
of government jobs and seats in institutions of
higher education, special loan and subsidy pro-
grams and so on. In areas where over 50 percent
of the population belongs to scheduled tribes,
special tribal area development plans are being
Legislation prevents the purchase of an
Adivasi's land by non-Adivasis. However, despite
all these measures, the marginalization of these
tribes has increased rather than decreased. Large
development projects, such as dams and power
and steel plants, have displaced more Adivasis
from their traditional habitats than other segments
of the population. Destruction of forests through
commercial exploitation and other development
projects have largely destroyed the Adivasi's tradi-
tional economy-which is based on gathering
and hunting in the forests-without providing
them with secure, alternative livelihoods.

Wasteland Management
Throughout India, a significant proportion of
land is under the control of the government. For

example, approximately 22 percent of the entire
country's common land is controlled by state forest
departments. In the area of Panchmahals where
SARTHI is working, the state forest department
controls 16 percent and the state revenue depart-
ment another nine percent. This land is referred to
as "revenue wasteland." In addition, roughly 4 per-
cent of the country's total land is controlled by
village panchayats (the smallest unit of local gov-
ernment covering one or more villages). This land
is meant to be used primarily for common grazing.
Of approximately 50,000 hectares of grazing land
available in the district, at least 10,000 hectares
has been encroached upon by private individuals.
The rest is in a degraded and unproductive state
due to the absence of any regulatory or manage-
ment system.
As landholdings in the area are very small,
people have always relied on supplementing agri-
cultural production by collecting biomass from the
surrounding common lands to meet many of their
subsistence needs. The decline in the amount of
common land available, and the continuing deg-
radation of what remains, has made this a difficult
task. As collecting subsistence biomass is tradi-
tionally women's work, the resulting hardship has
fallen on women's shoulders.

Women's Status and Their Relation-
ship with Natural Resources

The status of women in Panchmahals, as in
many parts of India, is low while their workload is
heavy. In addition to performing housework,
many women work as laborers for daily wages
either in the fields of large landholders or on pub-
lic works projects. Women of landowning families
also perform substantial agricultural tasks. While
men do the plowing and marketing of produce,
women shoulder major responsibilities for hoeing,
weeding, irrigating, harvesting and processing.
Besides this, "women's work" includes collecting
cooking fuel, fetching water and caring for live-
stock. This binds them to the natural resource
base much more than men. It is women who have
to pay the price for environmental degradation by
having to walk longer distances in their daily
search for fuel, fodder and water. As several
women of the area have noted, "Men just expect
to be served cooked food. They aren't bothered
about where the firewood comes from. That is our
Due to the declining forest cover, the forest
department has started enforcing restrictions on
the collection of nontimber forest produce by local

villagers. For instance, collecting green wood as
firewood is forbidden. However, as adequate
quantities of the permitted dead and dry fallen
wood are no longer available, women are forced
to cut green branches. If forest guards catch
women cutting or carrying green wood, they
either snatch the women's sickles and axes, con-
fiscate their headload of wood, extract a bribe or
physically or orally abuse them. As forest guards
are all men, the fear which most haunts the
women is that of physical molestation or abuse.
Desertion, domestic violence and alcohol-
ism (despite prohibition in Gujarat) among men,
as well as husbands taking second wives to beget
sons, are common problems faced by women in
the area. On top of that, during drought years
women often have to shoulder the burden of all
the agricultural work if men migrate in search of
wage employment. Some women also have to
migrate with men to look for work in more prosper-
ous areas.
Further, as is true elsewhere in India, women
in Panchmahals own little land or property Deci-
sion making concerning land use is, therefore,
almost always the exclusive preserve of men. This
makes rehabilitation of degraded lands by women
a particularly difficult task.

Evolution of SARTHI's
Women's Program

SARTHI started working in the Santrampur
area 12 twelve years ago as a branch of the Social
Work and Research Centre (SWRC), an NGO
based at Tilonia in the state of Rajasthan. About
six years ago, it became an independent entity
and adopted its current name. SARTHI's mandate
is to promote integrated rural development in
underdeveloped areas by improving the quality of
support provided by local NGOs. Its initial work
consisted of conventional development projects
such as installing hand pumps, deepening wells
and starting income-generating programs. Expe-
rience over the years has caused SARTHI to shift
its focus to leadership development and promo-
tion of organized action by groups of underprivi-
leged sectors of the community, particularly
SARTHI's women's program evolved
through initiatives undertaken with three cadres of
female village workers: cook stove builders (chula
mistris), women health workers and paravets (vet-
erinary technicians).
When SARTHI began an improved cook
stove program in 1983, it was the first time the
organization had worked exclusively with women.
Selected village women were trained as stove
builders to erect improved stoves in and near their
villages. By 1987, a village based cadre of thirty

stove builders and four supervisors had been
developed. The four supervisors became
SARTHI's first full-time local female staff. As each
stove builder was in touch with at least 30 to 50
other women, SARTHI found itself in contact with
a large network of local women. Through regular
monthly meetings of the stove builders and their
supervisors, the organization developed a better
understanding of the problems faced by women
in the area.
In July 1988, SARTHI conducted a training
program for dais (midwives, both traditional and
new) in response to women's demand for access
to improved health services. These Women Health
Workers (WHWs) became the second cadre of
trained village women. The WHWs' role is to moni-
tor women's health problems in their villages and
assist those they cannot aid to get help from gov-
ernment services in their area.
Then in May 1990, again in response to a
need articulated by local women, 10 village
women were trained to work as paravets. This
meant that yet another cadre of skilled local
women was created. Within a span of barely two
months after their training, the women paravets
had managed to get almost 3,000 cattle vacci-
nated against foot and mouth disease.
Each of these programs provided opportu-
nities to bring women together in a forum outside
the traditional family and allowed SARTHI to learn
first hand about women's problems and concerns.

These programs also clearly demonstrated the
women's capacity to organize and bring about

Taking It One Step at a Time
With the third successive monsoon failure in
1987, the hardship of the local people became
acute. Agonizing tales of cattle dying, women's
unending search for fuel, fodder, food and water,
and outbreaks of various illnesses and diseases
started pouring in. For the first time, SARTHI
began to give serious thought to developing a
more holistic approach to meeting women's
In April 1987 a group of village women and
SARTHI female staff were sent to PEDO', a sister
NGO in Rajasthan, to attend a large women's
mela (literally a fair but can refer to any large gath-
ering of people for a specific purpose). The objec-
tive of the mela was to provide local women with
an opportunity to discuss and share their prob-
lems and learn from the struggles of their sisters
from other areas.
The women came back enthusiastic and
excited about the possibilities of organized action.
As a follow-up, in November 1987 the four women
supervisors attended a training program for
women staff at PEDO. Besides sharing their expe-
riences as women, the participants discussed the
possibilities of women taking collective action to
solve some of their problems. For the first time, the
women participated in an analysis of the environ-
mental crisis-its causes and what women could
do to reverse the trend.
The objective was to get the women to
reflect on and examine the nature of environmen-
tal changes that had taken place in their area in
recent years, including the causes and the impact
of these changes on their daily lives. This proved
to be an eye-opening exercise. The women had
never looked at the totality of the problem in such
a way before. For the first time, they consciously
understood the significance of the trees and for-
ests to their survival. Whether it was a decrease in
soil productivity, reduced and uncertain rainfall,
declining water tables, drying up of perennial

1PEDO also started as a branch of SWRC and has a mandate
similar to SARTHI's. It is located only three hours away by
road. Due to the personal rapport between the directors of
the two NGOs and their overlapping program goals, each
group frequently participates in activities organized by the

water sources, scarcity of fuel, fodder and nutri-
tious foods or increased health problems, they
could trace the causes of all of these problems
back to the destruction of the forests.
Afterward, small groups of women carried
out a planning exercise. They were asked to esti-
mate the number of tress and shrubs that each
member of the group required to meet her needs
for firewood, fodder, construction material and
other subsistence needs and to list the local tree
species suitable to meet each need. The process
generated tremendous interest and excitement
among the women as it provided them with a
concrete basis for discussing action strategies
with other women.
For example, the women calculated that if
cows or buffalos had to be supported entirely on
tree leaf fodder, 90 large trees would be required
to feed one animal each year. For a goat or sheep,
50 trees would be needed. A list of 21 local spe-
cies suitable for fodder was generated. Similar cal-
culations were made for the timber required to
build a two-room house. The estimate was five to
six large trees or 150 smaller ones. In addition,
they estimated that 100 bamboo stalks would be
needed to support a tiled roof and 200 to 300
kilograms (about 440-660 pounds) of wood would
be needed for baking the tiles. The women were
quite amazed at the number of trees needed to
meet even their most basic needs.
Up until then, SARTHI did not have a spe-
cific program for involving women in wasteland
development, but after the experience at PEDO,
the women staff started discussing natural
resource management issues with village women
during their field visits. These experiences were
then further reinforced by a 10-day training pro-
gram on environmental reconstruction held at
PEDO in January 1988. Eight SARTHI staff mem-
bers (four of them women) participated. This event
represented a qualitative shift in SARTHI's method
of formulating program priorities. Instead of im-
posing their own predefined objectives, for the
first time the staff members attempted to respond
to women's priorities as articulated by women
The development of the women's wasteland
groups has to be seen against the above back-
ground. At least some members of the stronger
groups have participated in one or more of the
camps, training sessions or visits organized by
SARTHI. These experiences have been instru-
mental in helping women overcome their shyness
or reservations about getting involved.

SARTHI's Initial Work
on Private Wastelands
SARTHI's initial attempts to rehabilitate
degraded lands began during the drought years
of 1985 to 1987. Large numbers of cattle were
dying due to the scarcity of fodder, and the
remaining forests were being chopped down for
firewood to earn income necessary for survival.
Generating short-term wage employment by moti-
vating landowners to plant fuel and fodder trees,
therefore, seemed an appropriate intervention, as
the immediate need for wages could be com-
bined with a longer-term goal of increasing the
productivity of degraded private lands.
With this objective in mind, SARTHI asked
its field staff to identify interested small and mar-
ginal farmers who owned wastelands in their
respective areas. There was no specific focus on
involving women, although the female staff were
asked to encourage women's participation. At
this point, no local groups of either men or women
had been formed and SARTHI staff were
expected to rely on their contacts with local vil-
lagers that had been established through the
organization's other ongoing projects.
After the planting season, review workshops
were held with the staff in August and November
1988. They indicated that several sociopolitical
problems had been encountered while imple-
menting the new program. These included:

* Although landowners agreed to participate
in the program, when earthwork started,
many of them preferred to work on govern-
ment drought relief programs instead of on
their own lands. This was because SARTHI
paid lower wages than the government pro-
grams and also because SARTHI insisted
that the work be done according to specifica-
tions. As a consequence, SARTHI's field staff
had to hire outside labor to work the land-
owners' land!
* Initially the landowners had specified a wide
range of species they wanted to plant, but at
the actual time of planting most demanded
only eucalyptus even though it is believed to
deplete the soil and subsoil water One man
even threatened to sue SARTHI for damag-
ing his land unless eucalyptus was planted.
(Eucalyptus is a fast growing tree used exten-
sively in India for construction and for making
paper. Until recently, it provided a good cash
return although prices have since crashed
due to over production.)
* Many landowners were hostile to the project
due to a rumor that SARTHI would eventually
take away both the land and the trees.
* Once the planting season was over, few
landowners took an interest in protecting the
plantings or completing the boundary

It was clear that these landowners did not
share SARTHI's interest in helping them develop
their wastelands as a long-term asset. They
seemed to equate this work with other govern-
ment drought relief projects in which their only
interest is in earning wages.
It was during these review workshops that
staff learned of the work on four hectares of com-
mon land by one women's group in Muvasa, a
village located about 10 kilometers from SARTHI's
headquarters. This wasteland project had been
started by SARTHI staff shortly after their return
from the PEDO training program. Although some
conflict with residents of an adjoining village who
used to graze their cattle on that land was men-
tioned, the staff members faced fewer of the type
of problems experienced with the landowners.

The Shift to Working
with Women's Groups
It was the response of the Muvasa women's
plantation group to a crisis in February 1989 that
ended SARTHI's ambivalence about working with
groups to develop common lands. Indeed from
that time on all the field staff started organizing
women's wasteland groups.
The incident that inspired this change was
the following. The Muvasa group had harvested
its first crop of grass from its four hectare planta-

tion using voluntary labor. As the group had not
yet decided what to do with the grass, it had all
been left on the plantation itself.
One evening, while passing by, three
drunken men from the adjoining village threw an
unextinguished cigarette stub on the grass. All the
grass went up in flames and the fire damaged
many of the young plants carefully nurtured by the
Initially, the mishap sent a wave of despon-
dency among the women's group and SARTHI.
The plantation was the best out of the previous
year's effort. But the women quickly gathered their
wits and called a meeting to discuss what to do.
Were they going to permit the three men to get
away with such an act of irresponsibility? Did their
labor have no value? If they did not punish the
men, their future efforts could be similarly nullified.
The group members and SARTHI staff discussed
the incident with village leaders and a cross sec-
tion of the population. They found that the majority
were in favor of the culprits being punished. The
women decided to demand compensation from
the three men. The value of the damage was dis-
cussed and it was decided that the men should
be made to pay 1,400 rupies (U.S.$78 at the 1989
rate of exchange).
The men were summoned and told the
group's verdict. Seeing the group's firmness and
sensing that the entire village's sympathy was
behind them, the men paid the Rs. 1,400.

When the Muvasa field center staff narrated
this incident during SARTHI's monthly staff meet-
ing, the rest of the staff felt envious and inspired.
The response of the women's group was worlds
apart from the bickering, irresponsibility and
manipulations of the private landowners. From
then on, all the field staff strove to replicate the
Muvasa group in their own areas.

Formation of the Muvasa
Women's Group
It is useful to look at the process involved in
the formation of the first group in Muvasa in order
to understand the dynamics in operation in this
and subsequent women's groups.
In early 1988, SARTHI had initiated private
wasteland development with a few landowners in
Muvasa. As many of these landowners did not
work on their own land, SARTHI had to hire other
laborers for this task. Most of these laborers were
Adivasi women from the most disadvantaged fam-
ilies in the village. (In India it is very common for
tribal women to work as manual laborers.)
As they went about their work, the women
talked about their own hardships. They regretted
their inability to participate in the program as their
own landholdings were too small. Champa Ben
and Vikram Bhai, SARTHI's field staff in Muvasa,

took a lead from this and started exploring the
possibility of the women's developing a piece of
common land as a group. The women showed
immense interest, and SARTHI was willing to pay
for the land preparation and planting work. (Most
Indian villages have at least some common graz-
ing land to which all households have access. The
management of this land is the responsibility of the
panchayat. Many villages also have some revenue
wastelands, i.e., land belonging to the revenue
department, falling within the physical boundary
of their panchayat. This is also effectively per-
ceived of as common land even though the reve-
nue department has the power to transfer it to
individuals or groups.)
Impromptu meetings on the work sites
resulted in some ground rules being worked out
for the group. All those who became members
would have to perform land preparation and
planting work themselves. The group would
accept collective responsibility for protecting the
plantation. Each member would have a right to an
equal share of the produce. All decisions related
to the plantation would have to be taken collec-
tively Only women would be eligible for group
membership, as it is they who suffer most due to
fuel and fodder scarcity All interested women in
the village, including higher caste (Patel) women,
would be invited to join. However, as the economi-
cally better off Patels do not allow their women to

go out to work and because Patel women already
have too much work to do on their families' larger
landholdings, their membership was in effect
ruled out.
With the group beginning to come together,
the panchayat was approached. The panchayat
gave a "no objection certificate" to the women,
allowing them to plant four hectares of common
land with a commitment to renew the lease after
10 years and making no claim to any share of the
produce from the land.
Some of the more active women then went
from house to house asking other non-Patel
women whether they were interested in joining the
group. A total of 29 women became members.
They were all from the poorest families in the vil-
lage, with some owning less than one acre of
land. All were married but of different ages.

Dealing with Men's Suspicions
Even before the group started work on the
land, village men started questioning why the
organization was working only with women. The
husbands of some members felt that housework
was suffering and the time spent in meetings was
wasted. At the family level, each woman had to
use a combination of assertiveness and diplo-
macy. They started getting up earlier to finish their
housework before going to work on the land or to
attend meetings.
SARTHI's staff dealt with the men's suspi-
cions by calling a meeting of the whole village to
explain why they were working with a women's
group. Women's increasing hardship due to scar-
city of fuel and fodder and their having a greater
stake in dealing with the problem were discussed.
Although this and other discussions helped re-
duce suspicions, many men continued spreading
rumors that SARTHI would abduct the women,
take away their jewelry etc. Some men would
stealthily listen in on the group's discussions.
Slowly, however, as the group worked stead-
ily and the women's self-confidence increased, the
rumors and suspicions died down. SARTHI also
helped by ensuring the participation of some local
men in its other projects so that the men got better
acquainted with the organization.

Appropriating a Legitimate Social
Space for Women
Obtaining social consent for the women to
organize themselves to deal with one of their

major problems created, for the first time, a legiti-
mate space for women to get together regularly
And for the first time, a group of village women
obtained the right to manage a small part of village
common land resources in accordance with their
needs and priorities. Although none of the women
individually owns any part of the land, they have
gained acceptance of their right to manage it col-
lectively This in itself is a major breakthrough.
SARTHI's staff took care to ensure that rep-
resentatives from each group participated in all
negotiations with the male dominated panchayat
and the revenue official (who maintains a record of
land rights) to obtain the necessary documents for
getting the land leased to the group. In the proc-
ess, for the first time, the women got first-hand
experience dealing with land-related matters.
They began to see that their belief that only men
have the competence to deal with such matters
is a myth.
SARTHI's staff also ensured that the women
themselves made all management decisions
related to the plantation, to suit their situations and
circumstances. For example, instead of the
women being asked to work fixed hours, a system
of flexible work hours was established. An
account of the work done by each member was
kept by the group and payment was made on the
basis of output. This enabled the women to com-
bine wage work on their plantation with their
household work. Slowly the women gained self-
confidence so that now they are able to demand
that their husbands also help with household
chores while they go to work, attend meetings or
participate in training camps.

Overview of SARTHI's Experience
with Women's Groups
At present, SARTHI is working with about 17
women's wasteland groups spread across all five

of its field centers. In all cases the land is either
panchayat gauchor (community grazing) land or
revenue wastelands. Initiation of women's groups
in other villages has taken different routes than in
Muvasa. In some cases, SARTHI's field staff have
first scouted around to find the necessary waste-
land and have then tried to motivate local women
to develop it as a group. In other cases, seeing the
work of the Muvasa group, some male village
leaders have approached SARTHI asking for a
similar women's group to be formed in their village,
offering the necessary wasteland.

As may be expected, the experiences of the
individual groups have varied. While some are
developing well, others are still weak and some
have fallen apart during the early stages of their
formation. A complex range of factors influences
each group's development. These include:
power dynamics within the village and com-
peting interests for use of common land;
women's status and the extent of their expo-
sure to the outside world;
men's attitude towards women taking such
the skill, experience and leadership qualities
of the field staff, particularly the women staff;
the extent of firewood and fodder scarcity in
the area.
The most effective strategy for strengthening
weaker groups has proved to be facilitating inter-
action between them and older, stronger groups.
Sharing Experiences
with Other Groups
Each of the stronger groups has had to deal
with a range of problems, but their determination
and assertive methods for handling these obsta-
cles have helped them consolidate and build
group credibility The need to take such action in

the early stages of group formation has, in effect,
minimized subsequent problems for these
In addition to taking members of newly
formed groups to visit older groups, SARTHI
recently organized a two-day workshop in which
representatives of several groups shared their
experiences and problems. One of the major diffi-
culties faced by many of the new groups is the
attempt by manipulative village leaders to use the
women to further their own interests. This was
clearly the experience reported by the Paderi
group during the recent workshop.

The Paderi women group was formed in
1990, and SARTHI helped it plant a variety of spe-
cies on a piece of degraded wasteland. In the
beginning, the group seemed to be working well
and appeared united. During group meetings, vil-
lage men maintained a safe distance from the
venue of the meeting lest the women ask the men
to serve water to the women, a role traditionally
played by women! However over time group unity
began to break down and the plantation was no
longer being protected from grazing animals.
The four members of the group attending
the workshop claimed that one drunken man
refused to cooperate with protection of the planta-
tion and had threatened violence against anyone

attempting to stop him. The women had come to
the workshop to demand, on behalf of the group,
that SARTHI pay for a full-time watchman to pro-
tect their plantation. Despite being told that, as a
matter of principle, SARTHI does not pay for
watchmen as protection can effectively be done
only by the groups themselves, the women
remained adamant about their demand.
Informal discussions with the local field staff
subsequently revealed that the husbands of two
of the group members were currently running for
election as the village sarpanch (head of the
elected Panchayat). Both were trying to use their
wives to extract a benefit from SARTHI that would
strengthen their own position within the village.
The women had fallen prey to this manipulation
with the result that the group had split into two
opposing factions.
Representatives of other groups present
were asked whether they had faced similar prob-
lems and how they would deal with the situation
the Paderi group was facing.
Karsan Ben of the Wankdi group said that
some months ago, four or five goats belonging to
their village sarpanch were caught grazing inside
the group's plantation. Eighteen women got
together caught the animals immediately and
had them locked up in the cattle pond (yard)
maintained by the panchayat. Interestingly this
area is looked after by the sarpanch himself He
was not allowed to release his own goats until he

had paid a fine of Rs.700 to the group! With not
even the sarpanch having been spared by the
women, others got the message loud and clear
There were no further incidents of grazing in their
Earlier when the Wankdi group began
planting on its land, the members decided to
allow male family members to work on the planta-
tion. However the men's performance proved
unsatisfactory. For example, it was found that
while carrying plants uphill from the nursery the
men had been dropping some on the way to
reduce their load. This resulted in fewer plants
being planted than were taken from the nursery.
The group therefore forbade the men, including
members' husbands, from working on their plan-
tation in the future!
Similarly the group has learned to be firm
about not permitting any men to sit in and listen
while they are having their meetings. As women in
the area practice purdah (covering their heads
and faces) in the presence of older male relatives,
they cannot talk openly in front of men and this
defeats the purpose of the women meeting sepa-
rately The extent to which the women have suc-
ceeded in making group meetings a "women
only" space is evident from a remark overheard
from some village men. They were telling each
other to stay away from the women's meeting lest
the women start demanding a right to attend
exclusive mens meetings!

During the workshop, Kapuri Ben of the
Wandariya group narrated her groups experience
in the early days. After completing work on their
land, the women had planted Ipomea (a non-
browsable shrub) as live fencing all around it. One
man living near the plantation uprooted the Ipo-
mea fencing as he wanted to continue grazing his
cattle on the land. With SARTHI's help, the group
registered a complaint with the police and the
man had to pay a hefty fine. He never tried letting
his cattle into the plantation again. However to
compensate him for the loss of the grazing facility
and to avoid alienating him from supporting their
objectives, the group engaged him as their
Kapuri Ben asserted that there was no prob-
lem with any men trying to physically beat any of
their groups members. If anyone tried any such
thing, the women would beat the men back!
Nani Ben of the Muvasa group said that if
the Paderi group were united, no drunkard would
dare threaten group members or graze his cattle
on their plantation. She narrated a recent situation
faced by her group. As the group's plantation is
located some distance from where the women

live, one man living near the land had been letting
his cattle into their plantation at night. He was
even cutting their grass on the sly The women
decided to catch the man red handed.
One day 15 group members hid them-
selves inside the plantation. When the man
sneaked in with his cattle, all the women jumped
up and confronted him. The man started verbally
abusing the women, saying they could not stop
him. At this point, Kanta Ben, one of the group
members, grabbed him by the neck of his shirt
and demanded that he apologize for being abu-
sive. Frightened out of his wits, the man repented.
Since then, he has never interfered with the
Members of the Gara group asked what
was the use of forming a group if so many women
were still going to allow one drunkard to intimidate
them. The only solution lay in collective action.
The Paderi women got the clear message
that the solution to their problem did not lie in
pestering SARTHI to pay for a watchman to pro-
tect their plantation. They promised to go back
and try to pull their group together

Returns from the
Groups' Plantations
The older groups have started getting some
returns in the form of biomass (fodder grass,
seeds, some legumes and small amounts of fire-
wood) from their plantations and are in the proc-
ess of refining their harvesting and distribution
systems. The Muvasa group has harvested grass
three times. The first crop got burned but during
the second year the women took half the grass
they cut for their own use and sold the other half.
The third year, the women took equal amounts
home to feed their cattle.
The Wandariya and Wandki groups have
not been able to harvest much grass yet as their
land is rather stony. However, the Wandariya
group has already produced some tree leaf fod-
der and firewood from their efforts at regenerating
existing trees. This is done by cutting the multiple
shoots from existing root stock to allow only one
healthy shoot to grow. The cuttings are used as
The Gara group is planning to allow its
members to cut green grass this year as it is a
more nutritious fodder. Each member will be
asked to pay a small amount for the grass in order
to build up the group's common fund.
By planting seeds of an improved fodder
grass variety, the poor quality local grass is slowly
being replaced by a much more nutritious grass

on all the plantations. The groups have also
started collecting grass seeds to supply to
SARTHI for use in new plantations.
Additional Benefits
Besides providing a source of biomass
under the women's own control, participation in
group activities are leading to other improvements
in the women's lives. For example, follow-up visits
by WHWs revealed acute nutritional deficiencies
(particularly of vitamin A, which leads to night
blindness in children and pregnant women)
among villagers. Discussions about dietary pat-
terns and nutritional beliefs and practices revealed
that the limited variety of foods being eaten
resulted in insufficient consumption of protective
foods such as milk, milk products, leafy vegeta-
bles, fruits and, to some extent, legumes. Milk
products and fruits are not readily available in the
area and, during the dry summer months, neither
are green leafy vegetables. Even when such
foods are available, women often lack the time
to prepare them due to their excessive work
These discussions in turn led to the integra-
tion of nutritionally important trees in SARTHI's
wasteland program. These include aonla (phyllan-
thus emblica), a local species whose fruit is one of
the richest known natural sources of vitamin C,
and sengwa (moringa oleifera), the leaves of
which are rich in vitamins A and C. These leaves

- Vt

.' *1

can be lightly cooked and served as spinach dur-
ing the summer months when no other leafy veg-
etables are available.
During 1989, a resource team began col-
lecting folk knowledge about local trees and
shrubs to aid in species selection for the waste-
land program. It became evident from the dais
that there was a rich local tradition of using medici-
nal herbs and plants for women's health problems.
The local forests yield many medicinal herbs and
plants, so integration of species of medicinal value
became a new facet of the wasteland program.
During 1989-90, as a result of the women's
wasteland groups, women of different villages
formed about 20 women's savings groups. These
groups emerged out of the strongly felt need of
the women to create their own source of credit for
emergency loans, thus removing the need to rely
upon exploitative local money lenders.
Intergroup meetings have become the
forum for all three cadres of SARTHI's trained
women field staff to interact with village women
and increase their awareness and knowledge
about various problems. In addition, several
awareness generating and leadership develop-
ment camps have been organized for selected
village women at SARTHI's headquarters and
camps on clean drinking water and the environ-
ment have been held in several villages. Many
women have been sent to melas, workshops and
camps2 organized by other organizations on
themes relevant to women's lives. Visits between
members of different local groups have also been
Each opportunity for a village woman to step
outside the village and interact with large numbers
of other women is in itself a very empowering
experience. Traditionally women have few oppor-
tunities to interact with women outside their family
and community networks. Even within the com-
munity, the only time women get together are for
events such as marriage, death or religious cere-
monies where they are expected to perform their
traditional roles. Through the SARTHI program,
women are able to share experiences with women
from diverse castes and communities. Besides
acquiring new knowledge, they are able to shed

2Camps are normally one to five-day events during which a
selected group or village is provided with information on one
or more selected topics. Melas are similar to camps but tend
to be larger. Both me/as and camps may be residential,
requiring participants to stay away from home. Participants'
travel and other costs are normally paid for by government or
NGO sources.

some of their traditional sharam3, shyness and
Today, SARTHI's women's activities are
becoming the organization's major program. Due
to women's positive response to each awareness-
raising effort, SARTHI has essentially switched
from individual beneficiary oriented projects to
programs geared toward organizing and mobiliz-
ing women and youth, as well as men. Because
the internal hierarchy of families and communities
can severely restrict empowerment, most fre-
quently by gender or age, use of the group
dynamic can be an effective means to break
down such barriers to participation by women
and other nondominant groups.
Future Directions
Although all the groups will soon start har-
vesting some biomass from their plantations, a
major problem they face is that, in most cases,
their plantation areas are too small to meet all their
needs and additional village common lands are
simply not available nearby If the women's groups
were to try to enclose more of the limited amount
of available grazing land, they would face the dan-
ger of getting into conflict with families dependent
on use of those lands to graze their cattle.
However, having entered the field of natural
resource management, the women are now look-
ing at how other public lands in the area are man-
aged. The largest category of public land with
tremendous potential for increased productivity is
forest land now held by the state forest depart-
ment. Fortunately, the Gujarat forest department
realizes that it cannot improve management of its
forest lands without the cooperation of villagers
living in the vicinity The department is, therefore,
in the process of introducing a joint approach to
management of forest land and SARTHI has
begun exploring the possibility of the women's
groups participating in this program.
The task of legally securing the women's
groups' tenurial rights to the common lands
remains to be completed. All the groups have
obtained "no objection certificates" (NOCs) and
supportive resolutions from their panchayats to
work the land and enjoy its produce for a number
of years. But the legal validity of these NOCs and

3There is no adequate translation for the Indian term sharam,
which includes an acute sense of shame and embarrassment
over having to act or behave outside one's traditional role. It is
this sense of sharam, more than anything else, that keeps
Indian women so strongly bound to tradition.

resolutions remains ambiguous. One concern
is whether a newly elected panchayat can over-
rule or withdraw a NOC given by the previous
Such legal ambiguities can be compen-
sated for to a considerable extent by the empow-
erment of the women; the newly elected
panchayat would not have the courage to with-
draw the land for fear of the repercussions. How-
ever, this can only be done by broadening the
base of support for the women's groups among
different sections of the community and by
strengthening the women's political voice within
local institutions. Most of the groups have
achieved remarkable success thus far in demand-
ing supportive action from panchayat members
during every crisis or conflict on the grounds that it
is the panchayat's responsibility to get the terms of
their NOCs honored.
The potential of recurring conflicts over
scarce common land resources from competing
interest groups will remain high. The women's
resolve to assert their rights will be put to the test
repeatedly over time. For example, the Muvasa
group is now having to fight yet another major
battle. Apparently six families from an adjoining
village recently chopped down and stole most of
the trees from their plantation. The group regis-
tered a complaint with the police and demanded
action from the panchayats of both villages
against the culprits. For the first time, the pancha-
yats of two villages have been involved, resulting
in inter-village tensions. SARTHI helped the
women organize a rally that took the group's case
to adjoining villages to broaden their base of sup-
port. However, information about the final outcome
of the Muvasa groups latest struggle is not yet
available. But given the determination they have
displayed thus far, they are sure to fight on. And a
long fight it is sure to be.
Lessons Learned
As primary gatherers and users of biomass,
women are in the best position to implement
wasteland development activities, as they possess
both the knowledge and motivation to success-
fully carry out such programs. However, as
women in a male-dominated society they require
assistance in overcoming a range of obstacles
that have traditionally hindered them from working
together, taking action and asserting their influ-
ence within the community SARTHI's experience
of organizing women around the development of
wastelands yields important lessons in terms of

both the management of natural resources and
the empowerment of women.
1. Bringing women together in groups pro-
vides them with the power they need to break the
confines of the family and community norms.
Women's collective needs cannot be met unless
the gender division of labor at home and in the
wider society is challenged. Women's participa-
tion in the wasteland groups has allowed them to
challenge the hierarchy of the family as evidenced
by some husbands taking on household chores to
enable their wives to attend group meetings or to
participate in training camps. Women's new self-
esteem is also visible as wives begin to drop some
of their traditional subservience to husbands on
the strength of having to honor decisions taken by
their group. Finally, individual group members
have been able to bring an end to physical abuse
and violence in their homes due to the support of
their group.
2. Among the strengths of the women's
wasteland groups are the standards of demo-
cratic participation and fairness with which they
operate. Decisions about hours, output and qual-
ity of work are all made democratically and all
participants share equitably in both the labor and
resulting product. This model contrasts markedly
with patterns found in male-dominated social,
political and governmental institutions that increas-
ingly serve the needs of special interests, as was
exemplified by the behavior of the private land-
owners with whom SARTHI originally worked.
3. By defining conditions of eligibility to join
the first women's wasteland group at the outset,
the Muvasa group created realistic expectations
about members' rights and responsibilities. As an
explicit condition of participation, all members
had to work on the land themselves to be entitled
to an equal share of the produce. This strategy
naturally excluded higher caste women from
membership based on their work status rather
than because they were not asked. At the same
time, the process assured that there would be
coherence among the group in that all the mem-
bers shared a similar background.
4. Trained field staff are needed to facilitate
creation of a women's space within the commu-
nity This is a minimum condition necessary to
organize women, particularly where there are no
traditional opportunities for them to get together
outside the confines of the family Lack of public
and social space for women is an obstacle to their
asserting their rights. When such a space is cre-
ated, it provides women with a new resource and

implicit acknowledgment of their rights by the
5. Women's sense of collective power is
enhanced by creating opportunities for women to
move about not only outside their homes, but
beyond their communities as well. Geographic
mobility is not only symbolic but also provides
practical opportunities for women of different
backgrounds to receive training, learn new skills
and gain an understanding of the structure and
functioning of government institutions. Attendance
at "outside" meetings can foster women's self-con-
fidence to speak out in larger gatherings and to
assume leadership roles.
6. Sensitizing field staff to gender issues
and encouraging them to explore locally appropri-
ate strategies for empowering women can be a
more effective approach to the development of
successful projects than simply imposing a prede-
termined program. Thus the organic process by
which the women's wasteland groups have devel-
oped has now become a model for the broader
range of SARTHI's development work.
7. The women's wasteland groups were able
to validate and "mainstream" their gains by insist-
ing that their respective panchayats uphold their
land rights when challenged both from within and
outside of their communities. By holding the pan-
chayats accountable for enforcing NOCs (no
objection certificates) given by them, the women
established their equal standing as citizens of the
community Had they selected a less public strat-

egy, they might have marginalized their standing.
This action is also likely to result in the women
using their right to vote in panchayat and state
elections in the future to promote their interests,
thereby increasing women's participation in politi-
cal processes and institutions.
8. The women's groups evolved by both
rewarding productivity and by challenging directly
and immediately all efforts to trivialize or exploit
their work. They successfully demanded recom-
pense for damage to their plantations, punished
or directly confronted all attempts to intrude upon
or distract time and resources from their work. The
immediacy and intensity of their responses
undoubtedly were important to their being taken
seriously by both other women and men in their
9. The short-term and practical gains the
women have made can be complemented by
changes planned strategically across genera-
tions. On the short-term level, the wasteland proj-
ects offer an opportunity for adult women to gain
collective tenurial rights over at least community-
held land resources. This can be viewed as a first
step in the assertion of women's rights to own
private land in their own name-something that is
highly uncommon in India. Some group members
have already articulated the hope that their
daughters will at least have an equal opportunity
to share in their parents' property Only through
such strategic thinking will gender relations begin
to change in the long term.

Listed below are a few publications that deal with issues related to the environment and women's
empowerment. Please contact publishers directly to determine availability, costs and applicable
handling charges.
Asia & Pacific Women's Resource and Action Series: Environment, (APDC, P.O. Box 12224, 50770 Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, 1992)
Cold Hearths and Barren Slopes, the Wood Fuel Crisis in the Third World, by Bina Agarwal (ZED Books,
57 Caledonian Road, London N1 9BU, England, 1988)
"Community Management of Waste Recycling: The SIRDO," by Marianne Schmink, available in English
& Spanish (SEEDS, P.O Box 3923, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163, USA, 1984)
"Forest Conservation in Nepal: Encouraging Women's Participation," by Augusta Molnar, available in
English, Spanish and French (SEEDS, P.O Box 3923, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163,
USA, 1987)
"Gender Planning in the Third World: Meeting Practical and Strategic Gender Needs," by Caroline ON.
Moser (World Development, vol. 17, no. 11, 1989)
Women and the Environment: A Reader, Sally Sontheimer, ed. (Monthly Review Foundation, 122 West
27th. St., New York, NY 10001, USA, 1991)
The Bankurra Story: Rural Women Organise for Change and Technical Cooperation report, by Nalini
Singh (ILO, World Employment Branch, New Delhi, India, 1988)
"Women, Environment and Development," The Tribune, Newsletter 47, September 1991 (IWTC,
777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA)

Madhu Sarin, initially individually and later as a member of a small team of women resource
persons, has been professionally associated with both SARTHI and PEDO since 1983. She would like to
express her gratitude to:
the members of all the women groups for giving so much of their time and for sharing the
exciting process of change they are experiencing;
the director and all the field staff of SARTHI for sharing their insights and knowledge; and
her dear friends and colleagues, Renu Khanna and Chandrika Sharma, with whom she has
worked and learned together since they began their explorations into changing rural women's
roles in the management of local resources.

Design: Ann Leonard
Photos: Madhu Sarin
Typography: Village Type & Graphics
Printing: Graphic Impressions

Other Editions of SEEDS Currently Available
No. 2 Hanover Street: An Experiment to Train Women in Welding
and Carpentry-Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 3 Market Women's Cooperatives: Giving Women Credit-Nica-
ragua (Spanish)
No. 4 Women and Handicrafts: Myth and Reality-International
(English, Spanish, French)
No. 5 The Markala Cooperative: A New Approach to Traditional
Economic Roles-Mali (English, French)
No. 6 The Working Women's Forum: Organizing for Credit and
Change-India (English, French)
No. 7 Developing Non-Craft Employment for Women in Bangladesh
No. 8 Community Management of Waste Recycling: The SIRDO-
Mexico (English)
No. 9 The Women's Construction Collective: Building for the Future
-Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 10 Forest Conservation in Nepal: Encouraging Women's Partici-
pation (English, Spanish, French)
No. 11 Port Sudan Small Scale Enterprise Program-Sudan
No. 12 The Muek-Lek Women's Dairy Project in Thailand (English)
No. 13 Child Care: Meeting the Needs of Working Mothers and Their
Children (English, Spanish)
No. 14 Breaking New Ground: Reaching Out to Women Farmers in
Western Zambia (English, French)
No. 15 Self-Employment as a Means to Women's Economic Self-
Sufficiency: WomenVenture's Business Development Pro-
gram (English)

If you would like additional copies of this issue or any of the editions
of SEEDS listed above, please write to us at the address given
below. Copies of selected SEEDS issues in local languages are
currently being published by organizations in the following coun-
tries: Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and
Vietnam. Please write to us for more information if you are inter-
ested in these materials.
Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163, U.S.A.

3 0 Box 3923 Grand Central Station. New York. N Y. 1016

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