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An innovative program created by the state government of Odisha and Landesa is helping thousands of women climb out of extreme poverty in Odisha, India. The solution comes in the form of Women’s Support Centers. This program relies on government Anganwadi workers (child and mother health workers) to identify single, landless rural women - many of them widows and women who have been abandoned. The centers help them obtain land, training, job cards and other important government services.
In rural India, where agriculture is the main source of economic opportunity, a woman who has rights over the land on which she lives and works has the ability to control and invest in that land to increase agricultural productivity. A woman can therefore grow more nutritious food for herself and her children, as well as sell some of that food to increase her family's income.
Just two years after the first pilot center opened on International Women’s Day in 2011, 23 of these centers have already been established and are serving thousands of women from surrounding villages. The impact has led the state government to scale this program by opening 26 more centers in Odisha. Work begins on the new centers in March 2013; centers will be completed by August 2015.
In all, thousands of women will now have access to government services and programs thanks to these centers. The specially trained center staff ensure that each woman applies for a host of government programs such as work cards, nutrition programs, and agricultural extension services. Those who are eligible to receive land also receive small plots they can live on and farm, to help them provide for their children.
When Durga lost her husband, his brothers claimed the family’s land as their own. After considerable pleading, she was allowed to continue farming only a tiny plot that barely yielded enough for her family to eat. Durga, with her three sons, lived at the mercy of her brother-in-law. The fear of being kicked off her family’s land haunted her daily. When her sons left in search of work, they never returned. She was left alone.
As a result of the Women’s Support Center, Durga’s fears were put to rest. She received her own plot of land with her name on the title. The land assures her a permanent home, a small plot of land to grow vegetables and fruits and enough left over to earn a little money by selling the surplus. “I am secure now. I don’t fear getting evicted anymore,” proclaims Durga with newfound confidence.
Durga is one of 11 women who have received land titles in the pilot phase of this project. Five hundred more women are waiting to receive a land title from the government any day now. An additional 798 women are eligible to receive titles to land from the government—158 will get titles to the current land they are using and 640 will get land close to their current locations.
Another 4,043 women have met with workers from the centers to be informed about government services, in addition to determining if they are eligible for land.
To help support these Centers, please visit our Catapult project page.
Originally published at Women Deliver's blog.
Sanjoy Patnaik is Odisha State Director for Landesa.
iLandesa. Grounded in the knowledge that having legal rights to land is a foundation for prosperity and opportunity, Landesa partners with governments and local organizations to ensure that the world’s poorest families have secure rights over the land they till. Founded as the Rural Development Institute in 1967, Landesa has helped more than 100 million poor families gain legal control over their land. With secure land rights, these families can eat better, earn more, educate their children, practice conservation, and achieve dignity for generations.