The challenges faced by women farmers have been historically ignored. The recent decision of the Supreme Court to set up a committee with the objective of dissolving the farmer’s protests – constituting all-male members – is a continuation of such ignorance. The only perspective with which their existence was acknowledged was through a regressive lens to question why women and old people being “kept” as part of the protests.
The connotation of the word “kept” is not only discriminatory but also trivializes the very existence and hard work of women farmers. The real question is why is there not a woman in the committee to decide the fate of the much-contended farm laws in the country? De-regulating agricultural laws have the same impact on women as well as men. The implementation of these laws will cause grievances for which equal representation should be ensured. The crux of this Court Order is based on “good faith” and “confidence” but is that only towards the men?
The Supreme Court’s question of why women are at the farmer’s protest highlights their regressive, patriarchal mindset.
The lockdown measures and the protests have been ongoing for the past year. This has had a tremendous impact on all households. However, the economic hardships faced by farmer households across Punjab and Haryana have been extreme. Despite this, women farmers stood alongside their male counterparts through the rain and cold to express dissent. This is an empowering feat for the women who already lead to unrecognized and difficult lives and are much more vulnerable to poverty and landlessness. In the absence of men, women farmers are currently leading a number of protest sites across Punjab.
The Mahila Kisaan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM), which campaigns for the rights of women farmers have stated that about 75 percent of all the farm work is conducted by women yet only about 12 percent own their own lands. A similar statistic was put out by Oxfam as well. The gender-blind approach of the agricultural industry is problematic and reaffirmed by such underrepresentation.
Women farmers suffer from invisibility and underrepresentation showing the need for representation in the Supreme Court panel.
Women farmers constantly fight ‘invisibility’ despite being active members and working a full-time job as farmers. This battle for them is not just a way to show dissent but also a shout for identity and recognition. In a world where the voices of women are constantly silenced, this reaffirms the treatment of women as second-class citizens.
These women are not only worried about their own ‘invisibility’ when it comes to land ownership but also worry about maintaining their households and feeding their kids. Interviews conducted by Aljazeera and The Wire of the women farmers living in the makeshift homes in tractors reveal the deep-rooted issue. It also illustrates the urgent need to include a female representative in the final committee set up by the Supreme Court.
Around 2000 women farmers from all walks of life were protesting on the Tikri border against the farm laws that directly impact them. The underrepresentation is therefore appalling. This protest saw a number of women farmers interacting with major media channels and foundations in an attempt to be recognized as real full-time farmers. During the protests, women also made sure to collect and distribute rations from their homes at the protest sites.
If a negotiation were to take place it should be done in the presence of representatives from all aggrieved groups. The discussion should include the voices, perspectives, and grievances of all farmers. This is the only way to ensure an inclusive approach to the agitation and discontentment faced by the farmers.