This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

When 85% Of Rural Women Work On Farms, Why Do We Think Of Farmers As Just Men?

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Written by: Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta and Sunidhi Agarwal, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

Female labour force participation rate across India has been declining from 1990 to 2019. In the last decade, it has declined from 31% to 25% from 2005 to 2010 and then further down to 20% in 2019. This has contributed to employment loss for women.

In a webinar organised by Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) on Gender Gaps in Agriculture Sector- Issues, Challenges, and the Way Forward, Prof Surabhi Mittal said:

“Shift in economic activity has been observed as more women engage in the manufacturing and service sectors. This shift is evident in the World Development Indicators by the World Bank, which shows that the percentage of male and female employment between 2000 and 2018 have declined in the agricultural sector, whereas in the services and industry sector, it has increased.”

This shift is termed as development path and is characteristic of all the countries across the globe.

The labour market is challenged with the issue of wage gap, which is commonly found in all spheres of economic activities ranging from agriculture to non-agriculture. Women are paid less than their counterparts for the same amount of work. Prof Mittal highlighted that this gap is much wider in the non-farm sector.

While addressing the myths in the agriculture sector, Prof Mittal said, “There is a myth that women don’t have a major role in agriculture, except for livestock.” While refuting this, she quoted that the agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India of which 33% comprises the agriculture labour force and 48% of the self-employed farmers. In India, 85% of rural women are engaged in agriculture, but they have only limited access to resources, and hence own only 13% of the land.

The Economic Survey of 2017-18 has shown that the growing rural-urban migration of men for jobs has ‘feminised’ the agriculture, further increasing the role of women in the agricultural labour market. Around 60-80% of the total food production is being done by rural women. The myth does not recognise women’s contribution to agriculture.

While explaining her research study on the role of women in wheat production in the three biggest wheat producer states, Prof Mittal observed that in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, both the genders devote almost equal hours of the day to produce wheat. In Bihar, however, females devote more hours per day than men. Females of a household are involved in economic activities of cropping system, but their role is negligible in household decision-making and participation, irrespective of the gender of the head of the household. This exclusion will have a bleak outcome.

Women in agriculture lack in three major areas – including technical know-how; the context of cropping and access to markets, which cause a major gender gap in incomes; and the agriculture productivity of women. This stems from another myth: since women are excluded from decision-making, thus, they do not require any technical information to work efficiently.

Information gap in terms of literacy, limited access to assets, and cultural barriers and traditional mindset is an additional challenge for women. This creates a paradoxical cycle. Excluding women from decision-making denies them the technical know-how and knowledge, which excludes them from further decision-making.

While narrating her field experience conducted in 2012-15, Prof Mittal discovered that women not only listen to the agriculture information delivered to them over mobile phones, but also put them into practice. They are keen to learn new information and swift to apply it. Bridging the information gap among the females will empower women-headed households. This will further help women to put the information into practice. Consequently, their role in decision-making increases.

There is yet another myth in the agriculture sector: technology is gender-neutral. New technologies may increase yield and thus incomes, consequently, impacting women’s livelihoods. However, the use of technology is perceived differently by men and women. Women, having small landholdings and deprived of technical know-how, do not have enough income to hire labour to operate machines. Thus, they would always find it difficult to adapt to modern technologies.

Technology has created a bias where women are largely involved in manual work, indicating that mechanisation will land women more jobs that are towards drudgery. It is true that Labour-Saving Technologies (LSTs) will reduce the burden of work, but the gender lens of these technologies is important.

National agricultural data sources do not provide information that can help us understand the extent of the gender gap, thus indicating a data challenge in agriculture. Agriculture lacks the data of activity-wise time use data. The data showing access to food in terms of availability and affordability disaggregated by sex does not exist which is inefficacious in identifying gender gaps.

Prof Mittal advised to empower women with better ownership of resources, tools, technologies, spreading information to create awareness, and involvement in the decision-making process within agriculture. This will generate significant gains for the agricultural sector and society. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men then there would be:

two women farmers on agriculture fields

  • increase in the yields on their farms by 20-30%.
  • rise in the total agricultural output in the developing countries by 2.5-4%.
  • reduction in the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%.

She further said that one should recognise women as equal and an important aspect of the agricultural farmer community. This behavioural change will reduce the gender gap in agriculture.

Dr Amrita Datta, Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad, highlighted the decline in the number of people reporting agriculture as their primary occupation in the last decade. This shows feminisation of agriculture as well as agriculturisation of the female workforce because of lack of work in rural areas.

The picture of the feminisation of agriculture, where the female workforce participation rate is high, is juxtaposed with a steep decline in the female labour force. The feminisation of agriculture is more related to poverty and distress in agriculture. Thus, there is a need to shift women away from agriculture in a gender-equal manner.

Ms Pankhuri Dutt, Public Policy Consultant at NITI Aayog, begins by saying that there’s a need to look at the other 80% of the women who are not engaged in agriculture and the reasons thereof. Unavailability of data at the macro level impedes decision-making and policymaking.

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director at the IMPRI, said how unfortunate, underestimated and under-recognised the role of women in agriculture is. which is deeply entrenched in the systemic patriarchy of our country. She stated that mainstreaming of the advancement of women and gender in the curriculum of agricultural education at college and university level is lagging. It is important to ensure that the lingo used is gender-neutral. The best forward to resolve any challenge is to have more and more education to counter the evils in society.

The lecture was followed by the chair of the session, Prof Govind Kelkar, who opined that labour economists ignore the productive asset rights, and instead focus more on the workforce participation rate. Thus, there is a need for a paradigm shift in labour economics. She emphasised the urgency of four factors:

  • Access doesn’t necessitate ownership and control rights. Thus, accessibility should be used along with the latter.
  • Women should not only have management rights, but also have control over the factors and means of production.
  • While one analyses the work participation rate, one should also take into account the unpaid and unrecognised work of both urban and rural women.
  • A change in social norms, patriarchal institutions and masculine attitudes is needed to break the stereotype that only men can perform and take decisions in agriculture.
You must be to comment.

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Similar Posts

By Priyasmita Dutta

By Isha Tripathi

By Ankita Marwaha

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below