Agriculture has been the backbone of the Indian economy. Over the years, it has employed more than half of our population, including women and contributed immensely to our country’s growth. Women have been a silent yet resilient pillar in this achievement, fighting all odds. Yet, how much is their contribution recognized?
As India commemorates 75 years of its Independence, celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav emphasizing women’s empowerment, it is time to acknowledge these silent patrons of Indian agriculture and grant them the rights they deserve. This research article discusses women’s challenges in Indian agriculture and highlights the transformative potential of empowering them in the sector.
Women’s increasing participation in agriculture is an undeniable reality. The Oxfam report shows that the agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India. They pursue diverse roles in farming, food production, and agribusiness. This trend of increasing participation is termed by the Economic Survey 2017-18 as the Feminization of Agriculture.
The prime reason for the increasing feminization in Indian agriculture is male migration to urban areas for better opportunities. According to the Institute for Human Development, New Delhi, 70% of all women engaged in cultivation are from households witnessing migration. Yet again, we notice a growing agrarian distress, forcing men to seek casual low-paying jobs in urban areas. Poverty is another impediment to making women work as agricultural laborers.
However, the escalating number of women farmers in India does not indicate their self-independence and empowerment. Instead, it has unveiled the growing gender gap in the agricultural sector, restricting women’s access to resources and opportunities.
No Ownership and Recognition
In India, land ownership rights have traditionally been enjoyed by male members. The Oxfam data shows that, despite having 85% of our rural women engaged in agriculture, only 13% of them own land. This indicates an abysmally low number of women landowners in India, in spite of having legal recognition of inheritance rights. Several factors constrain women from exercising their rights, like the patriarchal nature of Indian society, patrilocal residence, low female literacy, and male dominance in administrative and judicial offices. Furthermore, poor maintenance of land records, limited digitalization, and improper data management exacerbate the situation.
The Tamil Nadu Federation for Women Farmers’ Rights 2017 study also revealed the poor recognition of women farmers despite spending double working hours in the field and allied activities. This absence of recognition restricts their access to vital resources necessary for a sustainable livelihood, like access to institutional credit, insurance, seeds, equipment, and government entitlements. For instance, land ownership is a requirement for obtaining Kisan Credit Cards. The lack of recognition also reduces their bargaining power, leaving them susceptible to exploitation and harassment.
Thus, limited legal rights and recognition harm agricultural productivity and growth and push rural India further into the circle of poverty.
Women taking up farming deal with intensive workloads. Apart from managing farm work, they are expected to fulfill their traditional household duties, child-rearing, cooking, and cleaning, which impedes their growth and empowerment. Additionally, low education levels among women lead to a lack of information, limited access, and increased chances of exploitation.
Women agricultural laborers and marginal farmers, with limited resources at their disposal face further difficulties. Despite long work hours, they are paid low wages and sometimes remain unpaid. Caste barriers, along with gendered stereotypes, worsen their condition.
Narrow mobility, lack of information about markets and prices, limited storage, and access to transportation hamper women in agriculture, affecting their choices. It damages crops, and negatively affects agricultural productivity, marketing, and agribusiness.
Addressing the Gender Gap
Promoting gender equity in agriculture has manifold benefits, such as reducing poverty and hunger and improving the agricultural systems. According to FAO estimates, women farmers could boost yields by 20 to 30 percent if they had equal access to productive resources as men. Research also suggests that women engaged in agriculture are likely to make better decisions, and are likely to invest more of their earnings in their families and community compared to men. As a result, India’s food security and nutritional status may improve. Thus, gender equity in agriculture can contribute to overall rural development and community well-being.
Acknowledging this importance, the Government of India has taken several measures to support women in agriculture. One such initiative is the Mahila Kisan Sashktikaran Pariyojana, a sub-component of the National Rural Livelihood Mission, launched for capacity building, training, and skill development to enhance women’s participation in various farm activities. The government’s enhanced focus on self-help groups to provide collateral-free micro-credit and empower women’s independence is another significant step forward. The Rashtriya Mahila Kosh has been established to assist women financially in various income-generating activities, including agriculture. Furthermore, Women Farmers’ Day is celebrated annually on the 15th of October to spread awareness.
However, all these efforts remain fruitless unless women get adequate recognition. Though launched with good intentions, the efforts fail to deal with the issue of women’s legal and ownership rights over the land they cultivate. Without ownership rights, no woman can be recognized as a farmer. According to the 2011 census, 3.6 crore women are cultivators. However, this mere count does not give them a farmer’s identity to help secure their due rights.
A thorough gendered analysis of exciting agricultural policies is needed to address women’s concerns in agriculture adequately. These include various agriculture-related policies like the National Policy for Farmers, crop insurance schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, agricultural subsidies, and market related programs. Women-friendly products, for example, health insurance covering pregnancy and birth-related expenses, and childcare support facilities in rural areas must be designed to meet the needs of women active in agriculture.
Sensitizing and training local officials and staff who enforce land rights like registries, cadastral offices, titling agencies, and land magistrates is essential to enforce women’s ownership rights. Women’s farm certificates or identity cards must be introduced to recognize women’s farming rights. This concept was introduced under the Women Farmers’ Entitlement Bill 2011 by renowned agricultural scientist, M.S. Swaminathan. Such cards would open doors for women to access government entitlements and other agricultural resources.
Women engaged in agriculture often find themselves limited to unskilled secondary roles. It is the patriarchal nature of our society that restricts the growth and potential of women in agriculture. We must sensitize and educate family members and the local community to address this issue. Mobilization campaigns by NGOs and civil society organizations must be encouraged and supported by the government. One such initiative is Aroh Campaign by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and four local NGOs and funded by Oxfam, which aims to help women get recognition as farmers. To create a supportive and participatory rural environment, SHGs must also include male members along with women. Thus, comprehensive efforts, from policy changes to sensitization, are required to harness women’s potential in agriculture.
As the saying goes, ‘If you teach a man to farm, his family will eat. If you teach a woman to farm, the community will eat.’ Therefore, addressing the gender gap in agriculture is a critical requirement to fulfilling India’s vision of an inclusive and just society.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.