Empowering Women with DRCSC and PRADAN

Empowering Women with DRCSC and PRADAN

Nov 22, 2023

Susana Higueras Carrillo

During our fieldwork in the West Bengal districts of Bankura and Purulia, we were accompanied by two organisations, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) and the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC). What stood out most during our visits to the organisations' intervention sites was the significant presence and critical role of women in community-based initiatives. These initiatives aimed to build community resilience to address the challenges of climate change.

We began by visiting the Bankura district with PRADAN. As soon as we arrived in the villages of Guniada, Mitpharm, and Dankin Kenbana, we were welcomed by a group of women. This was different from our previous experiences where we were usually greeted by men. The reason why is that PRADAN’s project focuses on empowering rural women through self-help groups (SHG) which aim to generate changes in their community and improve incomes. After everyone introduced themselves, we sat down together in a dialogue session where the women would show us the participatory maps that they had worked on with the guidance of PRADAN. These maps served as visual narratives of the community's resources and challenges. During these sessions, we not only learned more about the terrain but also about community dynamics and the effects of climate change on their lives.

A woman from the community of Mipham guides us through the characteristics of the territory through a map.

After showing us maps of their territory, the women of the village of Dakhin Kentbana took us to see the community-led initiatives they have worked on in collaboration with PRADAN.

In Purulia, DRCSC’s initiatives focused on empowering women to lead sustainable agricultural practices. Women-led self-help groups (SHG) have also become key for DRCSC. We were fortunate to engage in conversations with women who are actively involved in DRCSC’s self-help groups. They shared their insights about their involvement in projects designed to secure food, nutrition, and incomes for vulnerable populations. These initiatives aim to develop skills and foster collective self-reliance among marginalised communities.

The vice -president of a self-help group shared with us a testimony of community-led work. Over the past three years, the villagers had organized themselves into four groups, each led by women and consisting of 15 members. These groups were responsible for protecting the trenches from grazing animals like cows and goats, which could potentially damage the trenches.

Vice-president of SHG protecting the trenches.

Another encounter took us to a forest in Paharpur where the women had transformed the landscape from a barren land to a forest with trees of different species. They had achieved this by building trenches, a small pond, and planting different varieties of trees. Thanks to the organic farming they practice, there has been increased soil cover and vegetation in the forest and the women have been able to maintain their livelihoods.

Women laughing while they explain the dynamics of their community and reveal that most of the work falls on the women, while the men support them from the background.

A particularly moving conversation was with a woman who has been working with DRCSC for 20 years to promote organic practices in the Lari community. She told us that when the DRCSC first arrived in her village, she was sceptical of the benefits that organic farming could bring, but she began to realise over time the benefits and decided to work with DRCSC to spread this knowledge to the neighbours in her village and in neighbouring villages. When she describes the future, she envisions “more comfortable families with healthy children".

We were moved by the deep sense of pride expressed by these women. They told us that they enjoyed doing the work, which contributed to the improvement of their communities and to greater economic independence. In an interview, one woman shared how the implementation of these projects had greatly reduced the need to migrate in search of additional income. Their collective hope is to reshape the future for the next generation, where their children no longer have to travel long distances to collect natural resources. In addition, women's participation in community activities have stimulated dialogue on broader social issues. For example, self-help group spaces are now offering support for victims of domestic violence.

A woman crossing a field.

Our trip to the villages of Western West Bengal showed us that the importance of women in PRADAN and DRCSC projects goes beyond agricultural initiatives and is the basis for profound social change. For these organisations, women's empowerment is not merely a strategy to achieve specific goals but a catalyst for holistic and long-term transformation towards a future characterised by resilience and equity.