Kochurani’s paper explores the gender gaps in food security from a feminist theological framework. It looks at the deprivations women experience in factors related to food production and consumption such as entitlements to land, opportunities to work , just wages and the like and shows how these deprivations point to the denial of their effective agency. These factors are set against the backdrop of the social, cultural and economic constraints that inform women’s lives particularly in cultures marked by patriarchy. In a context like India, the paper looks at religion as a decisive factor in shaping women’s destiny. Besides, it examines critically the hegemonic codes of religion that allots to man ‘headship’ over woman in the household and in socio-religious structures, which in turn legitimizes the cultural and economic norms of women’s subordination, thus making blunt their capacity for resistance. On a counter-hegemonic note, a case study of the Kudumbasree project of Kerala, India is presented. Through this case study, attempts are made to articulate a feminist theology that makes a shift from the text to the texture of women’s lives, even as women continue to labour in their struggle towards birthing their full humanity and their rightful place in society.
This paper purposefully chose the word labor as labour is painful and thus women are constantly in labour. Women labour in the production of food and in making food for the family, yet they are denied access to resources that make food production sustainable like entitlements to land, opportunities to work and just wages. Political economy of food points to the gendered designs of a given social fabric.
Kochurani examines the gendered complexities related to land ownership and food production: Gender socialization leads to service without counting the cost. Major share of care economy is shouldered by women. Gender equality is the single most important determinant of food security. Land ownership is an issue since it is mostly patrilineal; this requires women’s empowerment, which will give them greater roles in decision making at all levels, including the household, local communities, and national parliaments. This can be compounded by caste and culture (e.g. kinship mutuality expectations and the idea of the man as the head of the household). What is required is women’s empowerment, which will give them greater roles in decision making at all levels, including the household, local communities and national parliaments.
Kochurani thus presents the Kudumbasree model (meaning prosperity of the family) of Kerala to move women from being deprived to being an agent. The project begun in 1998 as a poverty eradication and women empowerment programme implemented by the State poverty eradication mission (SPEM) of the government of Kerala. It is geared towards the prosperity of the family and not just women is the key advocacy of the program. It attempts to reduce poverty and gender inequity by pushing up the independent earnings of poor women through making available enough credit, so that they engage in gainful occupations. It promotes collective farming through Kudumbasree includes women who are mainly small and marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers. It has a three-tier structure for its women community network:
- Neighbourhood groups (NHGs) at the lowest level
- Area Development Societies (ADS) at the middle level
- Community Development Societies (CDS) at the local government level
The project has created a multi-pronged strategy that includes the convergence of various government programs and resources at the community level, involves the CDS structure in local level anti poverty planning and develops women’s micro-enterprises, thrift and credit societies. It also entails collective farming on leased lands that makes them cultivators rather than agricultural laborers, and gives women control of the means of production and access to formal credit that can help women turn into “agripreneurs.” This has removed, to a great extent, the image of women performing unpaid family labour and has given her sense of confidence and agency. While it may not be fully successful yet, it offers a way forward to challenge the structures of gender power relations.
Kochurani concludes by saying that while equality is often based on biblical texts like Gen. 1:27, women’s lived experience negates the biblical principle articulated in the Christian text. There is therefore a need to shift from the text to the texture of women’s lives. The “Divine” irrupts wherever life is affirmed. The reign of God is not limited to Christianity; there is a need for theology to engage secular and indigenous resources.