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Feminism In Agriculture: A Study Of Gender Bias In Indian Agriculture

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By Arpita Sharma:

Society is the base for overall development of a nation. And the society’s structure depends entirely upon the status and condition of its women. The condition of women was far better in ancient India. In early period Aryans treated men and women alike in all religious rituals and social functions. But condition of women has declined gradually. Gender is the word used especially for the female population of the society. This article is an attempt to define the agriculture status of women in India.

Rural women are responsible for production of more than 55% food grains and comprise 67% of total agricultural labour force. The role of woman in agriculture varies from country to country. Asian woman contribute to about 50% of the food production. In south-east Asia, women play major roles in sowing, transplanting, harvesting and processing staple crops like rice. Complementary gender roles are also found in most areas as in Nepal and India where women exclusively gather fodder for buffaloes, cattle and other livestock. Almost all women in rural India can be termed as farmers, in some sense, working as agricultural labour, unpaid workers in families and farm enterprises or a combination of the two.

Gender issues:
Women’s contribution to agriculture, whether it is in subsistence farming or commercial agriculture, when measured in number of tasks performed and time spent, is greater than men. Their contribution in agriculture is aptly highlighted by a micro study conducted in Indian Himalayas which found that on a one hectare farm, a pair of bullocks work for 1060 hours, a man for 1212 hours and a woman for 3485 hours. Generally, operations performed by men are those that entail use of machinery and animals. Contrary to this, women always rely on manual labour using only their own energy. Not only are women overworked, their work is more arduous than that undertaken by men. Further, since women’s work is largely based on human energy it is considered unskilled and hence less productive. On this basis, women are invariably paid less wage despite their working harder and for longer hours. This makes the woman’s work invisible

Access to resources:
Despite their role as a backbone of food production and provision for family consumption in developing countries, women remain limited in their access to critical resources and services due to cultural, traditional and sociological factors.

  • Access to land: Not even 2% of the land is owned by women, while the proportion of female heads continues to grow. Land reforms programme, together with break-up of communal land holding have led to the transfer of exclusive land rights to males as heads of the household which ignores both the existence of the female headed household and the rights of married women to a joint share.
  • Access to agricultural inputs: Women access to technological inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides is limited as they are frequently not reached by extension services. In addition they often lack cash needed to purchase inputs even when they are subsidized.
  • Access to education, training and extension services: Two- third of one billion illiterates in the world are women and girls. Available figures show that only 5% of extension services have been addressed to rural women, while no more than 15% of the world’s extension agents are women.
  • Access to research and appropriate technologies: Women farmers’ roles and needs are often ignored when devising technology that may cause labour displacement or decrease workload.

Developmental Initiatives:
Efforts have been made by department of agriculture to incorporate gender issues into development agenda and ensure full and equitable participation of women in all agricultural development programmes. In an effort to ‘engender agricultural process’ the DOAC implemented special programmes/ schemes for women in agriculture sector, where a composite package of training, extension, input, managerial and entrepreneurial support was provided to selected farm women beneficiaries. Different approaches were followed in all these projects to provide a complete support package to women farmers. The technical back-stopping was provided through a blend of ‘skilled-based’ capacity building exercises coupled with extension support through “On field Demonstration”, “Mahila-Goshties” and “Study Tours”.

Women and Green Revolution: 
The green revolution of 1960 and 1970s with its package of improved seeds, farm technology, better irrigation and chemical fertilizers was highly successful in meeting its primary objective of increasing crop yields and aggregate food supply. Yet despite its success in increasing aggregate food supply, the green revolution, did not necessarily translate its benefits to the lower strata of rural poor including women. So a gender friendly second green revolution is to be ushered in.

Some administrative reforms :
The government in partnership with NGO’s has to further accelerate the process of bringing about these reforms.
1. Full and equal rights should be given to women to own land and other properties.
2. Ensuring that, women’s unpaid work and contribution to on-farm and off-farm production should be recorded in national account.
3. Making appropriate technologies available to rural women which focus on utilizing locally available materials.
4. Revising legislation which guarantees equal pay for work of equal value, improving working conditions and enforcing legal standards.
5. Promoting and increase in number of female extension functionaries and agricultural researchers


[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Arpita Sharma is a Doctoral Research Scholar and is getting UGC-JRF Fellowship from the Dept. of Agricultural Communication, College of Agriculture, at  G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar[/box]

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  1. Reeti

    Very Insightful article!

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