Seeds of patriarchy yoking Women in Agriculture
New Delhi, March 10 (G’nY news service): Though agriculture forms the backbone of India’s economy, the share of women in agriculture has remained steady at just a little over 30 per cent. It is complicated by the fact that there are pockets that suffer severe outmigration, where women have to handle the triple burden of farm, family and calamity. Add to this a gender insensitive system that promotes a rather lopsided, disguised empowerment of women.
The female work participation rate in rural India seems to have increased in recent years as per the Census records 23 per cent (1981) to 27per cent (1991) to 31 per cent(2011). However, women have traditionally been assigned low-skilled, back breaking and repetitive jobs that do not entail any decision making. The crop to be sown is decided by the male kin, the seeds procured by him, the cows bought and sold, the machinery procured etc. The women are primarily delegated the job of sowing seedlings, weeding, fodder collection, shed cleaning, parboiling, manual winnowing and so on. In areas where agriculture is capital intensive and done with advanced machinery, women are relegated to drudgery.
“Tools need to be introduced to reduce this drudgery,” said Neelam Grewal, the director of Directorate of Research for Women in Agriculture. There are instances where the scientific community has devised tools that reduce the drudgery and enhances the health status of women in agriculture. These need to well-marketed and women farmers need to be trained in order to use it.
Photo courtesy: miraimages.photoshelter.com
The transfer of title from the male kin to women will go a long way in asserting a role in decision making. According to the forest rights act (FRA), the land deed should be in the man and woman’s name. Rukimini Rao, the Executive Director of the Gramaya Resource Centre for Women, has observed that while the man has no problem with this, the officials end up making documents in the man’s name. “The officers must implement the law, not patriarchal mindsets,” she said. The system must be sensitized from the grassroot level to the policy makers.
There are many governmental programmes that seek to empower rural women, primary being the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) which mandates enlisting 33 per cent women. No doubt that it has made a difference in the earning pattern of women in agriculture. Grewal believes that a concerted effort needs to be made in the area of implementation, as the framework is in place, to empower women in agriculture.
With positions overturned in many locations, de facto women headed households need special attention.For such households and for women farmers in general, sustainable agriculture can be a viable alternative. This can be done by enabling control over seeds. Second, organic fertilisers must be promoted so that they don’t depend on chemical fertilizers, whose prices are only rising; for this subsidies can be given directly to the women farmers who can use it for composting. Self Help Groups (SHGs) are already being used for this purpose.
SHGs, women’s collectives and federations at the grassroot have worked to bring about a change. Mohar Singh Solana, a farmer in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, believes that women who cannot return to agriculture after the death of a male kin can be involved in SHGs and collectives, or they can be absorbed into the government schemes – like anganwadi, ASHA, mid-day meal workers – to ensure a livelihood. The Samakhya Movement that aligns women under education and have worked wonders in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, can work in the north too.The same system may be used to train women in agriculture take informed decisions and avail of the various farmer related schemes that the government offers. Micro-credit is also a new area of exploration that needs to be worked upon to increase women farmer’s visibility.
As per a paper by S. Mahendra Dev, 2012, ‘Small Farmers in India: Challenges and Opportunities’ producer women’s groups and other forms of group efforts, where they do not already exist, should be promoted to overcome constraints of small and uneconomic land holdings, for the dissemination of agricultural technology and other inputs, as well as for marketing of produce. It is important to link women to the markets, said Grewal, as market linkages are currently missing. “In places where it is difficult to link individual women, the collectives or cooperatives, which have proved to be a successful model, can be used to provide linkages”.
There has also been greater emphasis on women’s collectives. For example, Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO enables women from landless families to access various government schemes to establish claims on land, through purchase and lease.There are four critical steps that ensured local food security in an experiment by the DDS in Andhra Pradesh where the ‘sangams’ – women’s collectives –improved 6,000 acres of degraded land, dalit women took cultivable land on lease, organised their own public distribution of grains with accent on coarse cereals consumed by 65 per cent of our rural population; built grain banks at village level, and made systematic collection and preservation of seed varieties.
Solana said that if you try to empower women in agriculture alone, it will not work as the entire family is involved in agricultural activities; for the woman to progress the entire family has to progress. However, Grewal identified that women must be involved in post harvest value addition at the micro level which includes small and medium enterprises. She added, “They can be given a level playing field by updation of their knowledge, and access to resources – loans, seeds, fertilizer”. Rao suggested that the unused government land can be given to women farmers, or at least leased to them. In the same way, unutilised SEZ land must be returned to the community, in the woman’s name.