Even after completing 75 years of Independence, India still continues to be an agrarian economy. In a country where 70 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture for their livelihoods, the weight of income for the families lies on the shoulders of men and women alike.
In a majority of cases, the men in the family move out of their homes in villages to earn a better income for the family. Left behind are the women, who are single-handedly responsible for managing homes and farms. A study mentioned that 63 per cent of all economically active men are engaged in agriculture, while the contribution of women is 78 per cent.
Yet, the offering of womenfolk towards the economy often goes unseen, unheard and unrecognised. Seventy per cent of the total farmwork is done by women and they play a crucial role in agricultural development in rural areas. Women also perform jobs allied to agriculture like livestock production, horticulture and pisciculture amongst others. The rampant gender discrimination practices have left no sector untouched. The beliefs associated with genders and occupations are deep-rooted and normalised.
The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), if women and men were given equal credit and access to farm resources, the agricultural production would increase up to 30 per cent. Consequently, the total agricultural output in the country could increase by 4 per cent, and the number of people sleeping hungry could dive down by 12 to 17 per cent.
Women Invest 3,300 Hours In Farming Activities: Report
A report by Oxfam mentioned that in India, 75 per cent of full-time farm workers are women and contribute 60 to 80 per cent of the country's annual yield. In any crop season, women are estimated to invest 3,300 hours in sowing and harvesting, as compared to 1,860 hours that are invested by men in the farming activity. Yet, their massive contribution goes unrecognised, both at the hands of families and the government. The report also mentioned that one-third of women in India toil on the farms owned by their parents, husbands or in-laws. On 12.8 per cent of women in the country own land in their name.
Nearly 400 million women worldwide are engaged in farm work but lack equal rights and ownership in more than 90 countries. In India, one of the main reasons for this gender-based bias is that women begin due to the lack of official recognition of women engaged in agriculture work, and transpires into their exclusion from rights and benefits provided by the government to the agricultural workers. Therefore, women farmers are not entitled to benefits like rural credit, assets, technological upgrades and scientific inputs.
Partially, this imbalance also has much to do with India's male-obsessed inheritance laws. Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist women were given equal property rights as late as 2005 legally. All other faiths have their personal laws to govern the passing down of property. A Landesa report in 2018 mentioned that women who have properties on their names have income nearly four times that of men.
Lack Of Access To Institutional Credit
In another study by Oxfam, it was revealed that only 4 per cent of women have access to institutional credit in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Land, as an asset, also forms collateral for bank loans. If women do not have properties on their names, they are unavailable to avail of loan benefits for their farms. Lack of money pushes them to use outdated technology and old methods of production, thus eventually impacting the yield of their farms. Researchers believe that since three-fourth of Indian farmers are women, their problems will eventually become national problems and the governments in power must address them. They have termed it as 'Feminization of farming in India'.
Women played an active role in the protests, where the agitated farmers have been sitting on the border of the national capital. During the 'Kisan Sansad' at Jantar Mantar, the women farmers had said that these tough times had shown that women and men form the pillars of agriculture in the country. While in some families men came forward to protest for months at a stretch on the Capital's border, women took charge of homes, children and farms. In other instances, if women came forward to be a part of the protest, it was the men who took up the responsibilities at home.
Despite working hard on the fields day in and day out, the cold shoulder towards their efforts by families and the authorities tend to have a long-lasting impact on women. The suicide rates by female farmers are often under-represented in India. According to Al Jazeera's research, on average, one female farmer takes her life every month in Maharashtra's Amravati district. Women access to justice through Judiciary is already limited. Amongst rural societies, women approaching the Courts or the Police are still looked down upon.
Policy, Schemes And Planning: Need Of The Hour
To address the issue of women inequality and encourage their empowerment, the International Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) called women the backbone of the Indian economy. While emphasising women contribution towards agriculture and primarily, the ministers also mentioned several policies and schemes by the Central government that was aimed at benefitting women in the farming community.
It has been justified in several instances that women contribution in agriculture extends way beyond the contribution made by their counterparts. However, the credit given to them is far lesser. Women education plays a huge part in this regard. Even though they are contributing more time to the fields, they are eventually dependant on their husbands, brothers, fathers or sons to avail legal benefits and abstain from indulging in the necessary paperwork. Therefore, formulating policies that would enable women to upgrade their knowledge and skills in farming would come in handy. Secondly, rural awareness programmes aimed particularly at women and their development would be a step forward. A provision of a door-to-door facility for making identity proofs and bank accounts will help them spare some time for their families and homes.