WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE: AN IMPERCEPTIBLE WORKFORCE
Updated: Apr 5
Author: Umamageswari Maruthappan, III year of LL.B. from K. C. Law College, Mumbai
“Gender Equality is the means of redefining and transforming power that will yield benefits for all,” Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of United Nations[i].
The expeditious headway of a country is determined by its ability to effectively utilize the available resources. In this context, human resource plays a far-reaching role, thus, productively utilizing both genders is crucial for economic empowerment. However, ordinarily, manpower overrules that of women’s and the latter are considered only as altruistic characters. Societal differences created a strong mark against empowering women to such an extent that erasing the mark has now become one of the biggest challenges. Though we did witness progress, yet there is no uniformity in it.
Women and Agriculture: An invisible pain
Special heed to the status of women in the agricultural field should be the pressing priority of India. The adage of Mahatma Gandhi, which reads, “Just as the whole universe is contained in the self, so is India contained in the village[ii],” emphasizes the agrarian nature of the Indian economy. According to OXFAM 2018, the agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India.[iii] Having engaged with more than half of all economically active women in India, this sector needs extensive developmental schemes. Women, here, are engaged in multiple works and spend hard times equal to men, yet have little access to resources. Despite their large contribution, the struggle of women farmers mostly goes unrecognized. They are more vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment, domestically as well as outside the family. Additionally, they face sectoral inequalities such as low pay, no land rights, etc. A statistical analysis by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER, 2018) revealed, “women constitute over 42 per cent of the agricultural labour force in India, but own less than two per cent of farmland”.[iv]
In our country, the majority of women depend on agriculture for income and livelihood. The fall in agricultural growth over the past few years has forced people to migrate to cities. It has also resulted in disguised unemployment. Furthermore, when men migrate to cities, women are compelled to carry out the “male-dominant” functions also. Additionally, suicides by farmers due to numerous problems have left their wives to stand up for themselves. According to an article (2019), more than three lakh farmers have committed suicide to escape vicious poverty, debt, and humiliation over the past two decades.[v] Even, technological advancements seems to have little impact on these women because of lack of education and training. Digital harassment forces rural women to serve themselves from digital platforms.
Government’s tread on Improvement
Certainly, more access to productive resources for women can increase the total agricultural output. By recognizing this, the Indian government has reserved 33% of the seats in village panchayats. The establishment of the National Research Centre for Women in Agriculture in Bhubaneswar, Orissa in 1996 has been instrumental in developing strategies and technologies to empower women. According to a YOJANA Report titled “Empowering Women in Agriculture'' (2012), 36% of girl students took admission in various agricultural universities.
Self-help Groups: SHG is a powerful instrument developed for the empowerment of rural women in India. Originated in 1992, today, there are millions of SHGs across India. The scheme encourages rural people to carry out developmental activities independently. Under this, a considerable number of women, usually 10-20, come together and form a group voluntarily to support the group member with various needs. The role of Self-help Groups have been crucial in making women self-dependent and thereby encouraging poverty reduction. Kudumbashree, a women upliftment project that was launched in Kerala in 1998, is the largest project in the country. According to an article published by Drishti IAS (2019), the project has three components i.e., microcredit, entrepreneurship and empowerment. It has a three-tier structure – neighbourhood groups (SHG), area development society (15-20 SHGs) and Community development society (federation of all groups).[vi]
A healthy rural sector is important for a better economy. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization has stated that more access to productive resources for women can increase the total agricultural output.[vii] Thus, dynamic measures should be taken to empower the sector with the effective participation of women. The instruments for developing rural women should be appropriately selected taking into account their challenges and potentials in the agricultural sector. Also, the objectives of these policies should not conflict with those of others and their setting up of an institutional mechanism is mandatory for reconciling. Implementation schemes should be guided more by national interest than self-interest. Technology is considered a major hub for women empowerment in today’s world so it is important to educate women, especially rural women because technology has been effective in agricultural growth. Support and promote traditional and indigenous products. Instantly, the latest “vocal for local” scheme is commendable. Create more health facilities, educational programs, vocational training, etc. in remote areas. Support Self-help Groups and Rural organizations to stimulate the creation of community-driven cooperatives to enhance investment in essential infrastructure and services which might invite more women participation.
[i]Antonio Guterres, “The Gender Power Gap”, United Nations Organization (20th March 2020). Available at: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/articles/2020-03-02/the-gender-power-gap#:~:text=Gender%20equality%20is%20a%20means,G20%20and%20the%20United%20Nations.
[ii]Available at https://www.itrhd.com/objectives.asp
[iii]“Move over ‘Sons of the soil’: Why you need to know the female farmers that are revolutionizing agriculture in India”, OXFAM India (15th November 2018). Available at: http://www.oxfamindia.org/women-empowerment-india-farmers
[iv]“Gender Gap in Land Ownership”, National Council of Applied Economic Research (17th April 2018)
[v]Swasti Pachauri, “The invisibility of gender in Indian agriculture”, Down to Earth, 19th February 2019
[vii]Available at http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/indias-women-farmers/
Umamageswari is a B. A. Economics Graduate, currently pursuing her Law Course. She is a researcher, writer, and orator having worked as an intern with organizations including Dr. Abdul Kalam Research Centre, the Aam Aadmi Party, and Government of Maharashtra.