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Women In Agriculture: The Unacknowledged Gender

The most critical issue that needs to be addressed toward a gendered friendly policy is to minimise the gulf between ownership versus control of land by addressing patriarchal conventions and bottlenecks in legislations, to achieve economic equality in gender, as also guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, under Article 14.

Photo Credit :

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Amidst the months long farmers’ protest in Delhi, a fundamental question comes to mind: who is taking care of the field produce back home? With the entire process of farm to fork being a long-drawn and complex one, any laxity could be ruinous for the entire crop cycle. A preliminary research reveals it is primarily the women farmers back home who are carrying out the entire process while the men are away in Delhi protests.  

It is worth noting in this regard, that despite the substantial contribution of women in agriculture and allied activities, their contribution is seldom documented. As per “Agriculture Census 2015-16” (released in 2018), the percentage share of women land holders has increased from 12.79% in 2010 to 13.96% in 2016. While it is encouraging to see more and more women participating in the management of crop lands, the fact that it is still less than 15% of the total work force in a field that employs 70% of our population is disheartening to say the least.  

There are various reasons, economic as well as cultural why this might be the case. The orthodox mindset of women belonging to the husband’s and not the father’s home denies them the right of land inheritance, a lot of which is agriculture land. Subsequently, the government only labels them as agricultural labourers and not farmers. Without any official recognition, women are systematically excluded from any and all the benefits of central and state government schemes. Also, they are not guaranteed the rights which they would otherwise have if they were recognised as farmers. These include cultivation loans, crop insurance, farm and electricity subsidies or even compensation to their families in cases of suicide. 

Further, “Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch” (MAKAAM), has highlighted several issues with the three farm laws. The new laws fall short of reducing disparity or alleviating their distress. Consequently, women farmers fear that it will further deepen gender inequality in the sector. Not only are they not recognised as farmers, the lack of paperwork and documentation puts them at a further disadvantage of no negotiating power against big corporates. 

In addition to the present issues, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) in its report “Women in Agriculture” recognises other verticals which must be tackled for a more gender inclusive system. These include management of coastal agriculture-marine system, extension methods for farm women, standardization of women specific field practices, occupational health hazards, reducing drudgery of women in agricultural operations, improvement of farming system suited to farm women, eco-friendly pest management technologies for vegetables among farm women, evaluation of interactive learning modules, technological needs in empowering women in rural aquaculture, and improvement in storage practices of seeds and grains. 

Internationally, the role of women in terms of economic and agriculture is also gaining prominence. The Convention on General recommendations made by the The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an expert body established in 1982, recommends striving for economic equality under provision #4, while recommendation #34 notes, denying women equality in landholding is a violation of human rights. 

The most critical issue that needs to be addressed toward a gendered friendly policy is to minimise the gulf between ownership versus control of land by addressing patriarchal conventions and bottlenecks in legislations, to achieve economic equality in gender, as also guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, under Article 14.