For her exceptional work in the field of climate community resilience, Godavari Dange of SSP received the Rama Govinda National Award 2018 on January 28. Godavari is a pioneer in the field of climate resilient agriculture, which promotes SSP’s one-acre model of farming. She is the Secretary of Sakhi Federation in Maharashtra, and also the Director of Vijaya Sakhi Women-led Farmer Producer Company Osmanabad, Maharashtra, India.
Godavari has been instrumental in disbursing funds worth more than Rs. 2.4 crores for food security, sustainable agriculture, water conservation, environment innovations and women-led enterprise towards building greater leadership of grassroots women.
Godavari’s achievements bear greater significance in the light of her past, a life forged in hardship. Hailing from a small village in one of the most climate-threatened regions in Maharashtra, India, Godavari spent her childhood guided by social norms. She stopped her education after standard VII and never left the house unaccompanied. She was married at the age of 15, and by the time she was in her early 20s, Godavari had become a mother of two and a widow.
For a year, her intense grief left her with no strength to leave her bed, and no desire to keep living.
Godavari’s recovery was slow, but once she made a come back to life, she was determined to be strong. Her journey began in 2000 when she joined an SSP self help group. She started to interact with other rural women and soon started to mobilize self help groups across the village and beyond. She gained insights into the financial, health, and agricultural challenges her community faced and was soon working towards their solutions. Within one year, Godavari founded the first women’s federation to work on women’s economic and leadership development. It currently has more than 5000 members.
After the severe drought in the Marathwada region in 2012-15, as a solution to combat the rampant crisis, Godavari mobilized more than 1000 women farmers to come together in collectives and grow vegetables and food crops to improve food security.
For a woman who can speak only her mother tongue fluently, Godavari has travelled to 16 countries for various global conferences and awards. In 2011, Godavari represented grassroots women’s networks in India at the UN-CSW in New York. She represented grassroots women leaders and farmers from SSP to receive the UNDP Equator Prize 2017 in New York in September. In 2012, Brazil, she showcased the critical role of grassroots women in sustainable development in Rio+20. Godavari was a panelist at the UNISDR, Geneva, 2013, to present the initiatives taken by rural women in times of drought.
Godavari participated in the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, 2015, and was the Global Ambassador to the UN in the IFAD and Huairou Commission on Rural Women in Sustainable Agriculture, a global initiative.
For over 2 decades, Godavari has been working in women’s development. “Godavari and rural leaders like her inspire us every day to combat global challenges locally,” says Prema Gopalan, Founder of SSP. “These ordinary women who lead change don’t isolate themselves. Their strength is their collective.”
“My association with SSP educated me, and transformed me from a grieving widow to an empowered leader,” says Godavari. “It is your right to learn,” she adds, “and it is your duty to teach others.”