A new report by CottonConnect has revealed that improving the rights and income for female cotton workers in India results in higher cotton yields and improves profits by as much as 40%. At the moment women have dwindling rights and are underpaid, despite playing a vital role in the cotton industry.
‘Planting the Seed: A Journey to Gender Equality In the Cotton Industry’ explores the role of women in the Indian cotton industry. It shows that supporting female farmers, by helping them to introduce sustainable farming methods and develop basic business and life skills, not only improves women’s income and empowerment, but also improves the quality of cotton yields. Just as important for an industry with a
heavy environmental impact, working with women has been shown to reduce the use of water and chemical pesticides by up to 43%.
There are approximately four million cotton farmers and an estimated 45 million people employed in all the cotton production and processing in India. Women play a crucial role in cotton cultivation accounting for 70% of the cotton planting, and 90% of the hand-picking.
Despite their vital contribution, the average income for women in rural India is just 77.9% of men’s income. Research by CottonConnect found that without specific outreach efforts just 4% of women join any form of training programme that can assist them in their roles as farmers and champions within their communities. Even with recent changes in Indian law that improves rights for females, it is rare for women to be landowners.
When women are empowered to take care of themselves, make decisions, take charge of land and their finances, not only does their household income grow, the entire community economy benefits.
Alison Ward, CEO, CottonConnect says: “Female empowerment and gender equality is not simply a moral issue. When women are empowered to take care of themselves, make decisions, take charge of land and their finances, not only does their household income grow, the entire community economy benefits.”
The report also examines the results from the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme in Gujarat, India jointly run by CottonConnect and leading retailer Primark. Working with local NGO partner, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the programme has trained 1,251 female smallholders through classroom sessions, in-field training and learning groups.
The results far exceeded expectations, with smallholders gaining an average profit increase of 211%. Due to the success of the pilot, the collaboration with Primark has been extended for a further six years, which is expected to reach an additional 10,000 female farmers.
The women CottonConnect works with have noted a tangible difference in their lives. One farmer, Khaileshben Mukher Thakor , noted “ with all the money we have saved from what I learnt, we have built a new house, bought a tractor, and we can pay for my child’s studies and afford to contribute to family marriages… The entire family are proud of me – and I am proud of me too!”