Feminization of Agriculture

Feminization of Agriculture

Feminization of agriculture refers to the increasing participation and leadership of women in the agriculture sector. In India, women have always played a significant role in agriculture, whether as cultivators or laborers. However, their contributions have often gone unrecognized and undervalued, and they have faced numerous barriers to equal participation and decision-making in the sector.

The feminization of agriculture in India is a complex and multifaceted process that is influenced by a range of social, economic, and political factors. There are many challenges remaining to be addressed in order to promote full and equal participation of women in agriculture. According to data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), women constitute a significant proportion of the agricultural labor force in India. In the period 2010-11, around 43% of cultivators and 52% of agricultural laborers were women. Moreover, women’s participation in the agricultural labor force has increased over time, with the proportion of female cultivators rising from 37% in 2002-03 to 43% in 2010-11, and the proportion of female agricultural laborers increasing from 48% to 52% over the same period. The Periodic Labour Force Survey or PLFS (2019-2020) data shows a 5.5 percentage point surge in female labor force participation in agriculture (from 2018-19). This phenomenon of increased participation by women, in agriculture, is referred to as the ‘feminization of the Agri-workforce’.

Feminization in any particular sector or industry can lead to

  • It brings women into the public sphere and allows them to socialize with various communities.
  • It does make their labor visible and often accounted for (though this is not always the case).
  • It can lead to building women’s skills and confidence.
  • It strengthens alternative economic opportunities through schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and National Rural Livelihood Mission.

One of the main factors driving the feminization of agriculture in India is the decline in the male labor force in the sector. This decline has been driven by a range of factors, including the mechanization of agriculture, the shift towards non-agricultural employment, and the migration of men to urban areas in search of better job opportunities. As a result, women have increasingly taken on more responsibilities and roles in agriculture, including as cultivators and farm managers.

Another important factor contributing to the feminization of agriculture in India has been the increasing recognition of the value of women’s contributions to the sector. This recognition has been facilitated by the efforts of various civil society organizations and government initiatives, which have sought to highlight the contributions of women in agriculture and advocate for their greater involvement in decision-making processes.

While there have been positive developments in the participation rate aspect of feminization, women in India still face numerous barriers to equal participation in agriculture. The data from the NSSO shows that women’s access to land and other resources in agriculture is often limited compared to that of men. In the period 2010-11, just 13% of female cultivators in India owned the land they farmed, compared to 37% of male cultivators. This disparity is reflected in other indicators as well, with women having lower access to credit, extension services, and marketing and storage facilities compared to men. One of the main challenges is persistent gender-based discrimination and stereotypes that continue to limit women’s access to resources, knowledge, and opportunities in the sector.

To address these challenges and promote equal participation of women in agriculture, it is essential to implement policies and programs that support the full and equal participation of women in the sector. This includes initiatives that aim to address the persistent gender-based discrimination and stereotypes while improving women’s access to resources, knowledge, and opportunities.

Some ways for empowering women in agriculture

  • Providing women with equal access to land and other resources, including credit, extension services, and marketing and storage facilities.
  • Promoting the recognition and value of women’s unpaid and informal labor in agriculture.
  • Implementing policies and programs that support the education and training of women in agriculture, including vocational training and extension programs.
  • Promoting the involvement of women in decision-making processes at all levels, including farmer organizations, cooperatives, and other local institutions.
  • Supporting the development of women-led initiatives and enterprises in agriculture via the provision of technical assistance and financing.
  • Promoting women’s ownership of land to help them access benefits under multiple agricultural schemes that are only reserved for landowners.
  • Developing women-centric extension services like innovating farm machines that are better suited to female use will be rewarding.

What civil society can do to promote feminization in agriculture

Civil society can also play a critical role in organizing agrarian women into collectives, educating them about their all rights, enabling access to extension services, and offering them sustainable livelihood training. For example, Dr. Reddy’s foundation’s Oyster Mushroom Cultivation initiative in Bihar has been designed to be women-centric. Oyster Mushrooms have been identified as a suitable crop that women can cultivate in their indoors without much need for resources and investment. There is also a good market available for these mushrooms and women are being trained to produce and sell mushrooms.

Overall, the feminization of agriculture in India is a vital process that is essential for promoting gender equality and improving the sustainability and productivity of the sector. By addressing the challenges and barriers facing women in agriculture and supporting their full and equal participation, it will be possible to create a more equitable and prosperous agricultural sector that benefits all members of society.

Abhishek Raj | Assistant Manager – M&E (MITRA)

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