International Women’s Day 2013: Empowering Rural Women To Fight Hunger And Poverty [Part 3]
By Dr Amrit Patel:
Approach: Recognizing the discrimination that rural women face daily, the Government policies and programs should promote and support women as equal contributors to agriculture and rural development. Policies and programs should aim at[i] Guaranteeing women’s access to and control over critical assets [land, capital, knowledge and technologies]. [ii] Promoting and strengthening women’s agencies and their decision-making role in community affairs and representation in local institutions [iii] improving well-being and ease workloads by facilitating access to basic rural services and infrastructures.
The guiding principle has to be that development initiatives should incorporate the priorities and needs of both women and men and give them equal opportunities to access benefits and services. In this process, policies must address the structural inequalities that prevent women from realizing their potential as human beings, producers of food and agents of change in the fight against poverty.
Gender discrimination: Field experiences suggest the need to address the existing gender discriminatory issues in the light of facts, viz.[i] According to FAO, the rapid modernization of agriculture and the introduction of new technologies including those that characterized the green revolution have significantly benefited the rural elite more than the poor and men more than women. The International Labor Organization has also observed that new techniques in agriculture leading to commercialization of agriculture, “often shift economic control, employment and profit from women to men“. Studies reveal that women’s control over income benefits families more than income controlled by men and that the diversion of income from women causes increased suffering for families. [ii] According to World Bank, 2007, the design of policies and projects for agricultural development in most developing economies still continues to assume wrongly that farmers and rural workers are mainly men. Failure to recognize the roles, differences, and inequalities poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of the agricultural development agenda. The areas empowering women, among others, include [i] Land ownership: “Although women do the majority of work in agriculture at the global level, men still own the land, control women’s labor, and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems.” Despite women in developing countries account for 43% of agricultural labor force, less than 20% are land owners worldwide due to legal and cultural constraints in land inheritance, ownership and use, followed by 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 10% in Thailand and India and 5% in North Africa and West Asia. Land is the most important agricultural asset. Women farmers are disadvantaged by the prevalence of land tenure system that allocate primary land rights to men through gender-based marital and inheritance laws, family and community norms, their limited capacity to participate in community decision-making processes, and their unequal access to land markets. Absence of legal rights to hold land significantly limits women-farmer’s ability to access institutional credit and invest in land to improve crop productivity, which increases their exposure to food insecurity and leaves them disproportionately vulnerable to economic hardships. Conferring women’s right to land enables them to access institutional credit and motivates to invest in land for improving food output and income, and strengthens their bargaining power within the household in terms of production and wealth distribution. Interventions are necessary to reduce the gap in land rights, viz. supporting legal reforms, joint titling and land certification programs, supporting the increased women’s representation in land administration bodies and facilitating legal literacy programs for rural women. Strengthening women’s land rights is a matter of not just reforming land laws but that gender equity in land rights need to be upheld consistently across the entire legal framework, from the Constitution to family and civil laws, and supported by legal training enabling women to understand and claim their rights. [ii] Decision making: Despite women representing around 70% of the labor force in agriculture and allied activities and taking care of children, women’s say in these economic activities and family affairs has remained obscure for long since women seldom have any role in social, economic and political affairs or decision making processes. [iii] Loan: Often women receive loan of smaller amounts than men even for the same activities. This compels them either to purchase assets/equipment of inferior quality or borrow from informal sources at exorbitant interest rate.
Sustainable livelihoods: Livelihoods have been defined as comprising “the capabilities, assets [including both material and social resources] and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base. Social, economic and political empowerment of rural women to contribute to sustainable livelihoods is necessary since the factors influencing sustainable livelihoods include, inter alia,[i] Assets: Sustainable livelihoods depend on the access to and control over assets, viz. human, social, physical, natural and financial capital [ii] Markets: Agricultural markets include land, labor, financial capital, water, inputs, farm and livestock products etc. women’s participation and access to agricultural markets facilitates acquisition of assets, capital and production inputs, improves production, income and consumption to sustain the needs of the household and welfare of the family. [iii] Risk and vulnerability: Risk includes natural and man-made calamities, crop and animal diseases, food insecurity, climatic factors leading to floods, water scarcity, droughts and market and price risks [including trade shocks]. Women’s vulnerability to these risks can be minimized by enhancing their socio-economic status and income and access to assets. [iv]Knowledge, information and organization: Access to knowledge and information facilitates women to exercise their legal rights; acquire and control assets; greater exposure to markets and to minimize risk and vulnerability which ultimately improve sustainable livelihoods. Women’s engagement in organizations [formal and informal] of collective action, including the political and governance structures empowers women to exercise their legal rights and raise political voice.