Meet Manju Devi from Bihar - Defying Gender Stereotypes to Earn Economic Independence
Manju Devi's story is emblematic of India's many social and economic fault lines but her remarkable journey also demonstrates that anyone can triumph...
Manju Devi's story is emblematic of India's many social and economic fault lines but her remarkable journey also demonstrates that anyone can triumph over adversity with a little help.
Manju who lives in Bihar's Munger district was married off at a very young age and had to give up her dream of becoming a teacher. Her life was pretty much routine and revolved around caring for the family, helping the husband, bringing up children, and rearing the animals. Things changed the day Oxfam India and SEWA Bharat came to her village Mudheri. She was too shy to meet these strangers but out of curiosity she overheard their conversation during a meeting with the community members. One of the volunteers of SEWA Bharat told her about the formation of a group of women farmers who would be trained in new techniques to increase their productivity. The turning point Manju was waiting for, had arrived.
The encounter piqued her interest and despite her husband's misgivings, she continued to attend more meetings. Eventually in 2016, she decided to join the group. She says, "In my first year as a farmer, I made Rs 15000 by growing tomatoes with a new technique and more importantly, acquired a sense of self-reliance I never had before. Other women farmers began to seek my advice too and I became a community mobiliser for Jeevika- Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society."
Manju even bought her very own piece of land for farming and now her annual profit from agriculture is between Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000. As a Master Trainer, she has encouraged and empowered dozens of women to adopt agro-ecological practices. When SEWA Bharat and Oxfam India formed the Karnbhoomi Farmer Producer Company, farmers from Bhagalpur and Munger nominated her to become the President of the Farmers Producer Company (FPC).
"It was my hard work and commitment towards work that I was selected the president of the FPC. Now men and women farmers come to me for advice on seed selection, the variety and the company," she smiled. In fact it was her strong liaising with dealers and vendors that helped community members to purchase seeds at a better rate.
Today as the president of the Farmers Producer Company, she hopes many more women across India will find financial independence with the help of SEWA Bharat and Oxfam India.
Oxfam India's Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Behar says, "When we launch initiatives to end discrimination and create a free and just society, we do so with the hope that every underserved citizen of India like Manju Devi will have equal opportunities. In our quest to find lasting solutions to end prevailing inequalities, we mobilise support through various campaigns to end the exclusion of marginalized communities. Our annual Trailwalker Challenge is one such initiative where citizen participation is crucial so that we can fund more projects to serve those who just like Manju, need our help."
Last year, the walkathon addressed the needs of pandemic hit migrant workers and this year's walkathon, #WalkForHer, is a tribute to all women like Manju Devi who have to fight pervasive gender inequality but can rise above their circumstances, given requisite support. To help Oxfam India to achieve their dream of a discrimination free India and to #WalkForHer in 2021's Trailwalker Challenge one can register here: https://virtualtrailwalker.oxfamindia.org/