West Bengal has one of the highest rates of hunger in India. Despite a recent economic boom, a majority of the 90 million people in West Bengal are still poor and the majority of children are malnourished. Many families rely on subsistence agriculture and girls are often seen as economic burdens to their families, in part due to the dowry cost that families must pay to have their daughters married.
Because these costs are hard to bear for poor families, they often try to mitigate them by marrying their daughters off as young children, since a dowry is often not required if a girl is really young. Once married, girls must usually drop out of school, ending their educations and limiting opportunities to acquire skills to generate income. Further repercussions include low self-esteem and the perpetuation of gender inequalities.
Landesa is helping to implement SABLA, a government sponsored program for the empowerment of adolescent girls, and is assisting SABLA in incorporating lessons which teach girls how to cultivate small gardens. In doing this, the girls are reaping produce, which fortifies their families’ diets, and are earning income, which improves their family’s finances as well as their own status within the family. This in turn improves their skillset and their chances of staying in school and free from early marriage.
In early 2011, Landesa was piloting activities to empower girls in 20 communities in West Bengal. Through these activities, girls learned about land rights and land-based livelihood skills. Around the same time, the government was gearing up to pilot SABLA, an innovative program to empower girls through interventions on nutritional support and vocational and life-skills development. As Landesa sought approval from the local government to continue the project, the government agreed that connecting girls with land had great potential impact but required that the program be included in 300 communities rather than 20. Landesa had only planned to run the project in 20 communities and needed to assure the government that it could scale up quickly to reach 300. After successfully re-approaching the original funder for additional support, a small piece of the program remained unfunded.
$70,500 from Open Road secured the gap between Landesa’s original project funds and the additional costs incurred to implement SABLA in 300 communities. This ensured that the existing 20 continued to run smoothly and that Landesa was well positioned to quickly scale up. In meeting the government’s request, Landesa can now take its proven project to scale quickly. It is positioned to influence future government curriculum design, which is slated for a nationwide rollout where it holds the potential to affect millions of girls.
Landesa’s pilot land-based livelihoods curriculum has reached 7,800 girls in 299 groups in West Bengal.
-Married or are predicted to marry 1.5 years later;
-Are 24% more likely to inherit land;
-Are significantly less likely to be school dropouts;
-Are 24% more likely to earn their own income.
State officials (including the Secretary of West Bengal’s Department of Women and Child Development) have indicated strong support for incorporating Landesa’s land-related curriculum into SABLA, which is slated for a national rollout in 2015.
Landesa’s work has been chronicled in the documentary “After My Garden Grows,” which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2014. Directed by Academy Award Winner Megan Mylan, the film will be released in India later this year through a series of film premiere events and national grassroots distribution.
To learn more visit: Landesa
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