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India Needs Feminist Agriculture

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Recognition and work don't go hand in hand if you're a woman.

Women at the margins by Meghna Gupta

Despite the substantial presence of women in numerous sectors of the economy, India has been a patriarchal country. These sectors continue to be male-dominated and, in many cases, fail to offer women adequate recognition. Agriculture is one example, where the rising trade of agricultural commodities and the expansion of foreign investment in agriculture have not benefited women and men equally.


Gender inequalities in agriculture exist in the twenty-first century, and trade and foreign investment tend to worsen them. In a given crop season, when fields are sowed and harvested, women farmers in India labour approximately 3,300 hours, more than double their male counterparts' 1,860 hours. Despite this, the government continues to undervalue and ignore their efforts to feed their families and the country. When males go to non-farm jobs, women become unofficial farm managers, even though they are hardly recognized because they rarely own the farm.


Why Do Gender Inequalities in Agriculture Persist?

Women obtain land generally through marriage and inheritance rather than individual purchases, even today. Women may have access to land through marital assets, but they rarely have equal ownership or decision-making power. Husbands have more direct control over joint assets, such as land. Even female farmland inheritance is limited since male relatives are favoured due to their perceived ability to manage farm operations more successfully. When it comes to women's land rights, having control over land management may be more essential than having legal entitlement.


Women also don't have access to intangible benefits like skilled labour, contacts with other farmers, and connections to potential buyers and suppliers. Women are also less likely to obtain government agricultural subsidies targeted at major cash crop producers because they own smaller farms than males. All of these factors contribute to the perpetuation of gender inequality in agriculture.


Gender Division of Labour in Agriculture

In general, men do the heavy physical labour of land preparation and jobs that are unique to faraway regions, such as livestock herding, while women do the repetitive, time-consuming duties and are closer to home, such as garden maintenance. Women are responsible for a large portion of crop planting and weeding. Men are in charge of the larger animals, while women are in charge of the smaller ones. Some jobs are open to both men and women.


When a new tool is introduced, a job may be reallocated to the females, and males are more likely to take on mechanized duties. The influence of agricultural modernization on women is complex and inconsistent. Agrarian reform and training programs on new agricultural technologies have frequently excluded women. There is no evidence that either sex is more efficient when both have equal access to modern technologies and inputs. Changes in post-harvest processing technology may even deprive women of a traditional source of income.


Issues that Need to be Tackled

Unreported Suicides: Farmer suicides are the culmination of many different aspects of rural distress in a singular act of desperation and helplessness. Suicides by women farmers were the only category in the country where numerous states reported zero cases each year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). We don't have suicides among women farmers because we don't recognize them as such. Many young women and girls are categorized into the role of housewives. This is the simplest category into which a woman can be thrown into data collection.


Widowed women are also frequently required to make multiple trips to local village offices and district-level offices in order for their husbands' suicides to be classified as farm suicides. When a woman's husband dies, she must deal with the trauma of her husband's death, repay the debt, and take on the burden of maintaining her household on her own, as well as the stigma of widowhood, which causes discrimination at the family, societal, and cultural levels.


Pay disparities and wage issues: Women are more inclined to accept low-paying irregular employment, are easier to hire and fire, are perceived as submissive and diligent, and specific tasks are stereotyped as women's work. The wage gap is one of the most common issues globally in all industries, let alone agriculture. In India, women work nearly twice as many hours on the field as men, but they are only compensated 70% of what males are paid. These are also irregular payments. In the agricultural sector, there is a significant gender gap. One-third of women in rural India work as unpaid labourers in their parents', husbands', or in-laws' fields and privately owned large-scale farms, but they receive no acknowledgement or compensation.


Problems of land ownership: While land and agriculture are state matters, the laws that govern them are frequently impacted by religion, tradition, and socio-cultural norms, which primarily exclude women from land rights due to patriarchy and inheritance laws. The government began granting joint titles when distributing land and housing sites during the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1980-85) in an attempt to recognize women's land rights.


The broader issue is the distinction between land ownership and land control, as just providing joint titles (which some governments do) does not guarantee that the female will have control of the property. One example of such power appropriation is the notion of "sarpanchpatis," or proxies of elected women sarpanches in gram panchayats. Even though women make up almost 33% of panchayat members, men are the ones in charge.


Failure of policy: Until the Economic Survey of 2017-18, agricultural policies paid no attention to women, and policy benefits were solely available to male farmers. Most state governments only considered land title holders to be farmers. They were only recognized following the Economic Survey report, and strategies were developed to encourage their participation. However, the situation has not significantly changed, and the ladies continue to suffer.



Recommendations for the Government

  • Women must be given priority in obtaining financing from banks and other financial organizations on favourable conditions for establishing their businesses, purchasing real estate, and constructing homes.

  • Develop a gender impact assessment study in collaboration with investors and independent researchers.

  • Hold investors responsible for keeping their gender pledges.

  • Encourage cooperatives to provide unique programs and duties for women to participate in organizational and business issues.

  • Review, modify and reform cooperative legislation and government policies that enable and encourage women to join cooperatives and participate in decision-making.


Conclusion

Women in rural areas are vital contributors to agriculture and related fields. Despite their significant involvement, their importance and dignity have yet to be recognized. All social, economic, and political indicators show that women's standing is low. Due to societal and cultural constraints, gender prejudice in the labour market, and a lack of enabling facilities such as child care, transportation, and housing in the formal sector of the labour market, their vocational choices are similarly constrained.


Female farmers' multifaceted issues must be addressed so that they have equal access to resources as males. The aforementioned difficulties faced by women must be addressed, and remedies must be given. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the rights of women farmers so that feminist agriculture can benefit the country.



References

Mehrotra, I. (2020, January 28). Is having more women in agriculture a good thing? Times of India Blog.


Defeminisation of Indian agriculture. (n.d.). /Www.Downtoearth.Org.In.


Garg, R. (2021, August 26). Indian agriculture and women - the legal gap in feminized agriculture. IPleaders.


PUSHPA PUNIT KUMAR AGARWAL BS CHANDEL. (2016). GENDER ISSUES IN INDIAN AGRICULTURE: THE STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN AGRICULTURE LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION. An International Open Access Journal, 6(3).


Smaller, C., Speller, W., & Sexsmith, K. (2020, August 3). How to Improve Gender Equality in Agriculture: Investment in Agriculture Policy Brief #5. International Institute for Sustainable Development.


A.Chatterji, S. (n.d.). Widows of Farmers Who Committed Suicide Find the Going Tough. WWW.Thecitizen.Com.


Press Trust of India. (2020, January 31). Women are the single largest exclusion in India’s farmer suicides data: P Sainath. India Today.


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