The invisible gendered problem in Agriculture

The invisible gendered problem in Agriculture

Agriculture in India is in the middle of a crisis. It is facing new challenges of changing economy along with the existing problems. Govt. and independent agencies have been working towards the solutions and developing policies to confront the issues in this sector. However, many of the policies and solutions have not addressed the gender dimension which may in fact be one of the crucial components to address agri-crisis.

Women form the backbone of the agrarian sector in India as farmers, laborers and entrepreneurs. Female farmers account for almost 80% of the female labor workforce in India, 33% as agriculture labor force and 48%  as cultivators. Adding to the picture is the fact that between 2001 and 2011, a total of 7.7 million farmers mostly men, left agriculture, and that the number of rural to urban migrants (most of whom are again men) in India stands at 100-200 million. This change in demographics is slowly changing the face of farming in India and has led to what is being called “feminization of agriculture” in the economic survey 2018. [1]


Work of a woman farmer


Many studies estimate that up to 80% of the work in the farms may be done by women. [2]Time-use studies reveal that female time-use in agriculture can vary widely depending on the crop, the phase of the production cycle, age, and the use of technology with low mechanized farms employing more women. The farm activities undertaken by women are typically seasonal and labor intensive such as sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, winnowing etc.[3]. During most agricultural work especially transplantation work, they remain bent or squatting for most of the day. An ICAR paper points out that rural women engaged in farm labour face high mortality and morbidity risks.[4]

Problems faced by the female kisans

Statistics apart, the contribution of women in the farming sector has always been portrayed as secondary. The image of the farmer or the kisan has always been male. There are many aspects to the problem that make it almost impossible for women farmers to be treated fairly.

  • Lack of ownership and control over the land – It is also noteworthy that though women may be involved in up to 80% of farm work, agricultural land is inherited in less than 2% cases by women and they own less than 13% of the farmlands in India. The low female ownership of farmland is persistently low across India.[5] The situation continues to be grim even after changes in inheritance laws, due to the entrenched patriarchy, socio-cultural norms pertaining to land rights and the inability of women to deal with hostile family members over land. All this has led to lack of identity for the female farmers.
  • Gender disparity in earnings- Another major issue is gender wage disparity with women earning just 70% compared to their male counterparts for doing the same work. This is comparable to the gender pay gap that is seen in the organized sector in India. Many women also engage in unpaid subsistence labor within farms owned by the male members of the family.
  • Lack of education, training and knowledge of extension services – This seriously limits the benefits accrued by the women farmers for their labor at the same time preventing them from accessing better information and linkages to extension services.
  • Policy failure leading to lack of entitlements and institutional support – Even Indian policies for farmers have failed to recognize female farmers, thereby denying them of the institutional support. The primary reason for this is that they are usually not listed as primary earners and owners of land assets within their families. This means that though they are termed “cultivors” in the Census, they are not “farmers”, as most state Governments only recognize land title holders as farmers. The absence of land rights not just keeps landless women and female agricultural laborers on the fringes, it also denies them credit, insurance, irrigation and other entitlements of agriculture-related schemes. [6]

Benefiting from equitable agriculture

The United Nations FAO states that if women are provided the same resources as men farmers, they could increase the yield by 20-30%. This would not just have a huge impact on food security but also improve the lives of numerous women and the children who depend on agriculture for their survival.[1]

These benefits can only be accrued if society starts to acknowledge the work done by women farmers along with giving them access and control over their lands & other resources and proactive measure needs to be taken by the stakeholders to include women farmers in the decision making process.

[1] http://www.fao.org/3/am307e/am307e00.pdf



[1] https://www.financialexpress.com/budget/economic-survey-2018-need-women-centric-policy-with-feminisation-of-agriculture-sector/1034820/

[2] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/agriculture/the-invisibility-of-gender-in-indian-agriculture-63290

[3] http://vikaspedia.in/agriculture/women-and-agriculture/role-of-women-in-agriculture-and-allied-fields-1

[4] https://www.villagesquare.in/2018/06/18/mountain-women-live-and-work-with-bent-backs/

[5] http://www.ncaer.org/news_details.php?nID=252

[6] https://thewire.in/women/women-farmers-agriculture-rights

[7] http://www.fao.org/3/am307e/am307e00.pdf

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