The unknown and unheard-of lot of women farmers in India

Even after 75 years of independence, India continues to be an agrarian economy. In a country where 70 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture for their livelihood, the burden of family income rests on the shoulders of men and women.

In the majority of cases, the male relatives leave their homes in the villages to earn a better income for the family. Women, who alone are responsible for running houses and farms, are left out. One study mentioned that 63 percent of all economically active men are engaged in agriculture, while the contribution of women is 78 percent.

However, women’s offer to the economy often goes unnoticed, inaudible and unrecognized. Seventy percent of all agricultural work is done by women and they play a crucial role in agricultural development in rural areas. Women also work in agriculture-related jobs such as animal husbandry, horticulture and fish farming, among others. The rampant practices of discrimination on the basis of sex have spared no sector. Beliefs associated with gender and occupation are deeply rooted and normalized.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), if women and men had equal credit and access to agricultural resources, agricultural production would increase by up to 30%. As a result, the country’s total agricultural production could increase by 4 percent and the number of hungry people asleep could drop by 12 to 17 percent.

Women invest 3,300 hours in agricultural activities: report

An Oxfam report states that in India, 75 percent of full-time agricultural workers are women and contribute 60 to 80 percent of the country’s annual output. Regardless of the agricultural season, it is estimated that women invest 3,300 hours in sowing and harvesting, compared to 1,860 hours invested by men in agricultural activity. Yet their massive contribution goes unrecognized, both from families and from the government. The report also mentions that a third of women in India work hard on farms owned by their parents, husbands or in-laws. About 12.8% of women in the country own land in their name.

Almost 400 million women in the world are engaged in agricultural work but do not have the same rights and property in more than 90 countries. In India, one of the main reasons for this gender bias is that women start out due to the lack of official recognition of women engaged in agricultural work and result in their exclusion from the rights and benefits provided by the government to agricultural workers. . Therefore, women farmers are not entitled to benefits such as rural credit, assets, technology upgrades and scientific inputs.

In part, this imbalance also has a lot to do with India’s man-obsessed inheritance laws. Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist women were granted equal property rights until 2005 legally. All other faiths have their personal laws to govern the transmission of property. A 2018 Landesa report mentioned that women who own properties in their name have almost four times the income of men.

Lack of access to institutional credit

In another Oxfam study, it was revealed that only 4 percent of women have access to institutional credit in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Land, as an asset, is also collateral for bank loans. If the women do not have properties in their name, they are not available to take advantage of the loan benefits for their farms. Lack of money pushes them to use obsolete technologies and old production methods, which ultimately affects the performance of their farms. Researchers believe that since three-quarters of Indian farmers are women, their problems will eventually become national problems and the governments in power must address them. They called it the “feminization of agriculture in India”.

Women played an active role in the protests, where restless farmers sat on the border of the nation’s capital. During the “Kisan Sansad” in Jantar Mantar, the women farmers said that these difficult times have shown that women and men form the backbone of agriculture in the country. While in some families men have shown up for months in a row at the border of the capital, women have taken over the houses, children and farms. In other cases, while women have come forward to participate in the protest, it is the men who have taken on the responsibilities at home.

Despite the hard work in the fields day after day, the cold shoulder to their efforts by families and authorities tend to have a lasting impact on women. Suicide rates among women farmers are often under-represented in India. According to Al Jazeera research, on average, a woman farmer commits suicide every month in the Amravati district of Maharashtra. Women’s access to justice through the justice system is already limited. In rural societies, women who turn to the courts or the police are still looked down upon.

Policy, Programs and Planning: Need of the Hour

To tackle the problem of women’s inequality and encourage their empowerment, the International Council on Agricultural Research (ICAR) has called women the backbone of India’s economy. While emphasizing the contribution of women to agriculture and primarily, the ministers also mentioned several central government policies and programs aimed at benefiting women in the farming community.

It has been justified in several cases that the contribution of women in agriculture extends far beyond the contribution made by their counterparts. However, the credit granted to them is much less. Women’s education plays an important role in this regard. Even though they devote more time to the fields, they ultimately depend on their husbands, brothers, fathers or sons to enjoy legal benefits and refrain from going through the necessary paperwork. Therefore, formulating policies that would allow women to improve their knowledge and skills in agriculture would be helpful. Second, rural awareness programs specifically targeting women and their development would be a step forward. Providing a door-to-door service for making IDs and bank accounts will save them time for their families and homes.

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