By Dr. Amrit Patel:
Unleashing rural women’s voice
Unleashing rural women’s voice to end hunger and poverty in developing countries has now been a sine qua non in the light of facts viz.
- Out of 60% additional food output required by 2050, about 75% will have to come from developing countries.
- Producing more is not enough if the poor do not have the assured and reliable means to buy food. More than 90% of the hunger in the world is due, not to drought or natural disaster, but to poverty. In developing countries, economic growth originating in the agricultural sector is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth originating elsewhere. This emphasizes the significance of economic, social and political empowerment of women in developing countries. India being an agrarian country needs to address gender issues and integrate gender-responsive actions in the design and implementation of agricultural policies, programs and projects.
Women’s role in agriculture:
Women play a significant role in agriculture in most low income countries where agriculture accounts for an average 32% of GDP and where an average 70% of countries’ poor live and work in rural areas.
- FAO’s projections through 2010 indicate that more than 70% of the economically active women in least developed countries work in agriculture. In Asia and Africa women work 13 hours more per week than men. On an average, rural women and girls spend almost an hour each day collecting fuel wood and carrying water needed to prepare meals. A study in Africa revealed that, in a year, women carried more than 80 tons of fuel wood, water and farm produce for a distance of one kilometre, as against men carrying only an average of 10 tons.
- According to FAO , women farmers account for more than a quarter of the world’s population. Women comprise, on an average, 43% of the agricultural work force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The census data suggests that in most regions of the world one out of five farms is headed by a woman. However, according to the FAO, female farmers receive only 5% of all agricultural extension services worldwide and women have less access than men to agricultural related assets, inputs and services. If they have easy, timely and reliable access to productive resources as men, women can increase yield by 20% to 30%, raising the overall agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%. This gain in production can reduce the number of hungry people in the world by about 12% to 17%, besides increasing women’s income.
- Women perform multiple tasks viz. crop and livestock production, collect water and fuel wood, and take care of children, sick and elderly people. Studies show that women use almost all that they earn from marketing crop and livestock products to meet household needs whereas men use at least 25% of their earnings for their other purposes. Despite the fact that women produce much of the food in the developing world, they remain more malnourished than most men are. Women’s concern and commitment to develop agriculture as a source of food security, providing rural livelihoods and a means to minimize the incidence of rural poverty in most developing countries including India, has yet to be recognized.
In the context of global food price crisis while refocusing on significant investment in agriculture, gender disparities must be removed to achieve food and nutrition security. These disparities seriously undermine the potential of women as drivers of agricultural growth and disable them in their roles as the pre-eminent agents of household food security and welfare. Policy and programs should, therefore, be initiated to significantly enhance the productivity and economic empowerment of women engaged in agriculture.
According to FAO and other research workers, agriculture and allied sectors in India employ as high as 89.5% of the total female labor .Women on an average contribute 55% to 66% in overall farm production. Women provide one half of the labor in rice cultivation and they are the crucial laborers in the plantation sector. Women’s contributions vary, depending on the region and crops, but they provide pivotal labor from planting to harvesting and post-harvest operations, as is evident from the facts that in the Himalayan region a woman works for 3485 hours in a year on a one hectare farm as compared with 1212 hours by a man and 1064 hours by a pair of bullocks. As farmers, agricultural workers and entrepreneurs, women constitute the backbone of India’s agricultural and rural economy. Yet, together with children they remain one of the most vulnerable groups. They perform, on a daily basis, the most tedious and back-breaking tasks in agriculture, animal husbandry and homes. The extent of health hazards faced by farm women in farm activities include
- 50% in transplanting and 26.5% in harvesting under farm activities
- 50% threshing, 33% drying and 67% parboiling under post-harvest activities and
- 47% shed cleaning, 23% fodder collection and 27.5% milking under livestock management. Not only are they invariably paid lower wages than men for the same agricultural work but also remained mostly unrecognized.
Land ownership titles are most often in a man’s name. Men often either take or dictate the decisions concerning farming and women have to compulsorily carry out. Farm produce is marketed commonly by men and that gives them complete control over household finance. More and more women are taking to farming as men are migrating to urban areas for work. However, they have no access to credit as they do not have legal ownership over the land. Only 11% women have access to land holdings, that too, mostly as small and marginal farmers.