The woman farmer outstrips Narayana Murthy’s model young worker who puts in 70-plus hours of labour each week, week after week. She does much more. And this she does unseen, unsung.
By Alok Sinha
Women are everywhere. Without them, there would be no babies, and without us there would be no rapists either !
And without women,there would be no farming either. But women remain hidden, from perceptions as well as governmental policies/programmes. As the 2023 Oriental Black Swan booklet called Becoming A Farmer has established, it is outdated (but still going strong) assumptions about gender roles and gendered distribution of labour that keeps this man’s world quite woolly-eyed. “Faulty assumptions that only men perform the primary farming tasks” led the belief that men are ‘natural’ farmers. This has “led to the allocation of government resources into initiatives that targeted men and largely excluded women”.
I know for a fact that while holding the plough has historically been the man’s prerogative, in Garhwal hills it has been the woman’s burden (more likely an unwanted yet unavoidable privilege ?) as most able-bodies men join the armed forces, the para-military, or any sundry jobs in the vast plains of India. And yet this is changing.
It is not that the Garhwali woman is being liberated from the shackles of holding the plough. It is that while the plough in the plains has been upgraded to the tractor-pulled one, the woman there too is becoming more and more the primary farmer, as the menfolk turn to other jobs to supplement the home incomes.
Curiously, the new term of “female headed rural households” has arisen in South Asia as lure of better-than-meagre incomes in urbanised/industrialised habitat is naturally pushing village men to towns and cities. This phenomenon has perforce turned the rural woman into a seasonal head-of-household.
But there has been no concurrent shift in ownership rights, and with little control over their own incomes, this newly-emerging situation has made such women more of a multi-tasked worker , though with same levels of spending power. Little reason then to glorify and celebrate the woman farmer. Even when she becomes the principal family farmer, the woman continues in her role as an endless worker.
In fact, she outstrips Narayana Murthy’s model young worker who puts in 70+ hours of labour each week, week after week. She does much more. And this she does unseen, unsung.
This major, though unseen and unsung, change is happening because male migration out of the poorer rural areas has been on the rise. The consequent labour vacuum has pushed the left-behind rural women to take up not only household responsibilities but even agricultural activities hitherto done by menfolk.
Such “feminisation of agriculture” has a deep impact hitherto unforeseen.
Now, a quarter of the world’s population comprises women farmers. In Afro Asia, these percentages go up. 43 per cent of agricultural workforce in developing countries are women. Closer home, in South Asia, this goes up to 70 per cent! And in India, 33 per cent of land-holding cultivators and 47 per cent of agricultural labourers are women.
No surprise then that according to UN data, women farmers produced almost half of all food crops globally.
Such are the ever-rising footprints of women in agriculture. Yet, ownership rights are rarely enjoyed by them. Facing domestic violence in most patriarchical societies, now women are also increasingly burdened with the “privilege”of taking on more and more of hitherto male-world of agricultural responsibilities, but without being legally-entitled heads of households.
This newly-emerging scenario is as yet out of the horizons of both governmental activities as well as the wider world of political action and social activity. In a world increasingly noisy about gender justice, there is a pressing need to recognise this gap in rural gender equity. And consequently, there is an urgent need for a call to action by all stakeholders holders.
About the author:
Alok Sinha is a former Additional Secretary Agriculture, Government of India, and retired CMD of the gargantuan Food Corporation of India. He has spent more than half his IAS career in various rural sectors.
As a Founder of VillageNama, he can be contacted at:
Image: Hippopx.com Creative Commons