In an invigorating trend emerging from the Economic Survey of India, 2018, India is undergoing rapid “Feminization of agriculture” for the past few years. This observation is further substantiated by the data put forward by Census 2011, which states that the percentage of female workforce in agriculture has recorded a significant growth from 54.2% in 2001 to 63.1% in 2011. And, contrary to the popular belief that men rule the fields, the Census data reveals that the percentage of male workforce has considerably dipped from 45.1% in 2001 to 36.9% in 2011.
As per the the Economic Survey of India, 2018 the significant decline in male workforce has occurred due to large scale rural-urban migration of men in search of better economic opportunities. And, the vacuum created in the agriculture workforce because of male migration is being filled by the females of the rural households. These women are left with no other option but to play a balancing act between household chores and toiling in the farmlands.
But, despite these emerging trends, there has not been any major shift in the attitude of the society towards the women farmers in the country. In fact, the efforts put in by a woman farmer and a woman farm labourer often goes unappreciated as there is hardly any recognition of a woman’s labour as ‘work’ in India, forget about a distinction between a female agriculture labourer and a female farmer.
This is where ‘Patriarchy’ comes into play. The Indian society which is still caught in the clutches of patriarchy denies a woman access to basic resources, and land rights is one of them.
Loss of Inheritance
The Indian inheritance laws act as a major roadblock towards the growth of women farmers. These laws are often positively inclined towards male members of the family thereby reducing women’s ownership over assets which are essential for pursuing farming, i.e, land, livestock and fertilizers, among others. According to the “Women’s Land Right Mapping in India in the Context of UN’s SDG in India”– a study held in 2017 by the Natural Resource Management Consultants, with support of World Bank, “women operate 12.8 percent of total operational holdings that constitute 10.34 percent of the total area of holdings. The average size of women’s land holding is 0.93 ha, in comparison to 1.18 ha for male and 1.15 ha for all.”
The report also throws light on regional disparity with regards to women land rights. It goes on to underline that, “the states in the Southern part of India record better numbers than Northern and Eastern states so far as land holding among women is concerned.”
It is rather saddening that in 21st century India, women are still fighting for their work to be recognized and get equal opportunity as men. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of United Nations in its report, “The State of Food and Agriculture, 2010-11” stated, “If women in rural areas were to be given the same access to rights and resources as men in terms of land, technology, financial services, education and markets, agricultural production could be increased and which could help in fighting the problem of hunger more fiercely.”
The Land rights database of the FAO of the UN, puts forward a rather encouraging trend which shows that women in India constitute a third of (32%) of India’s agriculture labour force and contribute 55-66% to farm production. But, what can be termed as being highly unfair to the women agriculture labours is the data compiled by the Center for Land Governance Index. The data shows that women in India hold control over a minuscule percentage of 12.8% land holdings. It must be noted that this percentage is much lower than that of China where women control 17% of operational land holdings.
A News 18 article cites an Oxfam report, which shows that in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, women own less than 18% of agricultural land. In Kerala, which is the most literate state in the country, the percentage of women owning agricultural land is a mere 14%. These figures indeed portray a sad reality.
While the migration of men from rural areas to urban areas might be the factor triggering large no. of women to take up farming activities, there hard work rarely ever gets recognized. Though the Census 2011 data, on one hand, states that there has been a 16.4% rise between 2001-2011 (54.2% in 2001 to 63.1% in 2011) in the number of women working in the agriculture sector, it also goes on to formally list only 32.8 percent woman as primary workers, in comparison to 81.1 percent men.
However, in the absence of any comprehensive mechanism to evaluate the situation on the ground, it is very difficult to state a clear distinction between women farmers and women agriculture labourers. Another important aspect that seems to find no mention is how women are coping with the burden of responsibilities that fall upon them once the men leave home. No one knows if the dual liability of juggling household chores and farming is taking too much toll on them.
Unfair Wage Gap
The list of apathies towards the fairer sex working in the field doesn’t end here, there is also a huge disparity in terms of wages paid to women farm labourers as compared to men. As per Census 2011, the average wage rate of male farm labourers is as high as 51.7%, while that of females is a meagre 25.6 %. And, with the Centre not making any significant changes in the recent revision of MGNREGA wages, which remain lower than the minimum wages in most states, the chances of women getting higher wages anytime soon looks bleaker.
Dying a Silent Death
As the country is witnessing serious agrarian distress, with farmers increasingly being caught in the vicious cycle of debt, the incidences of farmer suicides have also increased. But, while the suicides committed by male farmers get reported frequently, one hardly finds mention of suicides committed by the women farmers.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s report on ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India’, for the year 2015, reported 7,566 cases of suicides by male farmers, and those by female farmers was stood at 441. Among suicides committed by agricultural labourers, 4,018 suicides were committed by men and 577 by women.
Miles To Go
Despite the fact women are increasingly participating and contributing in the country’s agricultural sector, they continue to face discrimination at various levels. To quote from a UN report, “If given proper rights and land share, women can control additional income and spend more of it than men do on food, health, clothing and education, thus helping in tackling poverty.”
Echoing this statement is the Economic Survey of India, which presses for women to be treated as “active agents” in rural transformation since women are actively contributing in every aspect of agriculture, be it production or marketing. It also pitches for an “inclusive transformative agricultural policy” that should aim at “gender-specific interventions to raise the productivity of small farm holdings”.
The recently held Kisan Long March, also saw women coming out in great numbers to register their protest. How can one forget the determined faces of those women farmers who remained undaunted by fatigue and heat in the challenging march and voraciously echoed that they have been neglected long enough.
It is high time that women farmers and agricultural labourers are given due attention. Although the initiative taken by the government to declare October 15 as “Women Farmers Day” is indeed welcome, but is it enough? Until and unless women farmers and labourers are recognized as major contributors to the agrarian sector of the country, they are likely to toil away in anonymity.