Meet Sheelu Francis, who holds a diploma in Gender Planning for Development from the University of London and is a head of Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (TNWC).
TNWC is a network of rural grassroots level women’s groups working in around 20 districts in Tamil Nadu for the past 12 years, successfully promoting collective model farms in several districts of the state.
The collective focuses on Dalit rights, local governance, rights of workers in the unorganised sector and rights of senior citizens. With the collective’s support and guidance, the women farmer’s collectives have gained necessary skills on agriculture, improved their decision-making capacities, leadership qualities and thereby enhanced their economic and social status. Almost 90 per cent of the members are single women, landless women and widows.
It has empowered one-lakh rural and marginalised women across 15 districts in the state. The TNWC aims at strengthening the rural women’s food sovereignty by encouraging them to grow native millet varieties that are nutritious, drought resistant and easier to grow than rice or wheat.
Sheelu is the outstanding leader of the collective; she is an international spokesperson and strongly speaks before the world about international trade, debt and activities of transnational corporations on local development, food security and sovereignty. She has also won the Fifth Food Sovereignty Prize, presented in New York by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance in 2013.