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Women Farmers, You Say? Why We Need To Recognise Them Too!

Posted: September 5, 2019

When you think of farmer, you only think of men. Why not women farmers? The author gives you several reasons to think of women farmers!

In Bihar, agriculture with its allied sectors, is the key to the overall development of the State economy. It is also the largest source of livelihood.

According to the Agriculture Ministry of Bihar, agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy as 77% of workforce are involved in agriculture. It generates nearly 24.84% of the State Domestic Product.

Talking in broader context, in India FAO says, 70 percent of rural households are still depended primarily on agriculture for their livelihood. While 82% of farmers are small and marginal. Also Indian agriculture sector contributes 18% to GDP and provides employment to 50% of the countries workforce.

Why are all farmers men? There’s women farmers too!

Now the question arises on the workforce behind these activities. Google “Farmer,” and you will see the images of mostly the male farmers and not female farmers.

Show-cased as a male-dominated profession, women have been often excluded from the farming narratives. Most of the narratives are associated stereotypically with farmers who are men.

Referring to farmers in speeches, politicians or media houses say, “Kisan Bhai.” According to National Commission for Women, Bihar’s agricultural industry employs 85% of female but they are not officially treated as farmers. They are either labelled “agricultural labourers” or “cultivators”.

From preparing the land, selecting seeds, transplanting the seedlings, applying manure/fertilisers/pesticides and then harvesting, winnowing and threshing, women work harder and longer than male farmers. Yet they are never given recognition.

History is proof that there were women farmers

M.S. Swaminathan, the famous agricultural scientist says “Some historians believe that it was women who first domesticated crop plants and thereby initiated the art and science of farming. While men went out hunting in search of food, women started gathering seeds from the native flora and began cultivating those of interest from the point of view of food, feed, fodder, fibre and fuel”.

85% of rural women are farmers!

It is very necessary to examine the reasons behind not recognising female farmers in Bihar. Why do all the issues related to farming revolve only around the male farmers? Why are only male farmers given space in media and not the female farmers in spite of their contributions?

It is important to understand that the involvement of female farmers (from buying seeds to harvesting crop) is still unrecognised. We need to figure out the discriminatory provisions in the law and make women equal partners in land inheritance and ownership and ensure effective implementation through sensitising land officials.

According to a study by Women Earth Alliance, 85% of rural women in India are farmers (including seasonal and part-time work in the fields). Yet only 5% of land is owned by them.

Without ownership over land, women have very little access to credit and are often barred from government schemes that are meant for their support. Women’s land rights in India are mediated by various personal laws.

The laws also don’t support them

The Hindu personal law allows women the right to own the ancestral land but some customary practices and traditions do not allow to follow it in some states. On contrary, Muslim personal law does not allow for women’s share in agricultural land, except in few states.

Therefore, more than 90% of the agricultural land continues to be transferred only through inheritance where women face discrimination. For women, land is not just a productive asset but also equally a source of security, status and recognition that they are often denied.

Besides not having land ownership, women often have to be content with low paid jobs in agriculture. Also, women being the main driving force behind the agricultural economy have no right in decision-making. Neither do they have the same access to resources as men do. In a landscape where a farmer’s plight is only worsening, the story of farm women of India is that of multiple barriers.

According to a report by the UN, “If given proper rights and land share, women can control additional income and spend more of it than men do on food, health, clothing and education, thus helping tackle poverty.”

There is vast wage difference between the male and female farmers, and this reflects the patriarchal mindset which leads to women getting paid less than men. Some historical movements of women have won them certain rights at workplaces mostly in the secondary and the tertiary sectors by securing their job rights by building safe work environment. But, when it comes to farming and allied activities women farmers do not have their rights fulfilled. Another reason for this wage difference is migration of male farmers to cities in search of good paid jobs which forces women to fill this vacuum.

Farmer suicides affects both genders

Farmer suicides are talked about on a large scale in media but the major crisis is that it forgets to mention the women. Farmer suicides rose by 42% between 2014 and 2015, according to NCRB data.

What is more significant here is that out of a total of 8007 farmer suicides in 2014, 441 were women farmers. Among the suicides by agricultural labourers, the NCRB recorded 577 women.

Despite all these troubles, and the discrimination women farmers have an emotional relationship with the land as it provides them with food. But they are not given credit for the work they do even at their homes.

National Women Farmer’s Day

15th October is celebrated as National Women Farmer’s Day or Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas in India but is it of any significance if women have been unable to achieve economic equality in gender which has also been guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, under the aegis of Article 14?

We need to get some solutions to the women farmers’ issues, right from recognising them as farmers, by the Indian media, and how the concept of farmer is masculine which results in the ignorance of the problems of the female farmers despite their contribution.

Picture credits: Screenshot from the movie Mother India

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