Five Innovations that Are Working to Empower Women
By Dana Drugmand
At a time when world resources are dwindling and global population is growing rapidly, finding sustainable solutions to nourish people and the planet is more important then ever. Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.
Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.
Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system. According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.
Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:
1. Vertical Farming—Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, more than 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land. Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO (non-governmental organization) Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to 4.33 U.S. dollars).
Vertical Farming in Action—This innovation has already proven successful in providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food crisis that hit Kenya in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the Nairobi slums. People in Kibera who grew their own food with the vertical farming technique were self-sufficient and did not go hungry.
2. FANRPAN’s Theatre—Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit and technology and have the access to policymakers that women lack. The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers. FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the programme manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”
FANRPAN’s Theater in Action—After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.
3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)—In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance. SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets. “We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.
SEWA in Action—SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.
4. Women’s Collective—Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims. Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.
Women’s Collective in Action—Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions. Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.
5. GREEN Foundation—Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Saver’s Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants for their families. Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food and better livelihoods.
GREEN Foundation in Action—The Foundation’s kitchen gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women. Mahadevamma is one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and any excess vegetables and seeds she sells to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2000 rupees (44.61 U.S. dollars) just from her kitchen garden.
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Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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