India 2016: Feminised agriculture plagued by women's unfair wages, denial of credit, land rights etc Print E-mail

 Tuesday March 8 2016

Gender bias rampant in farm sector

By K. Venkateshwarlu

  Sixty per cent of all agricultural operations are handled exclusively by women while hourly wage rates vary from 50 to 75 per cent of that of men.­ (File photo)

Even as they keep breaking the proverbial glass ceiling to move up the corporate ladder and make a mark virtually in every field, women in agriculture continue to face discrimination, in terms of owning productive assets like land and payment of wages, accessing credit, technology, market and irrigation facilities.

Such is the gender bias that even when her spouse commits suicide forced by agrarian crisis, the woman farmer is left to fend for herself, often denied her rightful share in the family’s agriculture land and the ex gratia, a study has revealed. Post-suicide, the farmer’s land ownership is transferred to either his father or brother and not his widow owing to deeply entrenched, patriarchal socio-cultural practices both within the households and on agricultural fields.

“Women are hardly recognised as farmers in their own right, though they contribute in a big way to the family’s livelihood by toiling on the farms and performing a majority of the farm-related tasks,” Ms. Usha Seethalakshmi, who is conducting the study on women in agriculture for an UN organisation told The Hindu .

With no support from the government and denial of rights to land, these women are left with a huge burden of debt and children to take care of. Evidence from various macro data systems further indicates the poor status of women’s landownership across different classes and caste groups in India. Figures from the latest Agricultural Census of 2010-2011 indicate that this situation has only improved by a small margin with women’s land holdings accounting for 12.79 percent of all holdings comprising about 10.36 percent of the operated area.

Out of all the rural households which own some land, there are only 11% households where at least one woman owns some land, Ms. Usha says. This means that 89% of rural households in India having some land effectively keep out women from accessing any rights to such property!

The agriculture sector is also characterised by decelerating and differential wages on the basis of gender, she says. Sixty percent of all agricultural operations are handled exclusively by women while hourly wage rates in agriculture vary from 50 to 75% of that of men, too low to overcome absolute poverty.

When it comes to credit, women farmers are denied equal access because the land is not in their name. While there is no gender disaggregated data about how many women exactly access credit for farming related purposes, existing data and a World Bank study of 2014 shows that only 26% of female adults in India have an account with a formal financial institution. Similarly an RBI report shows that women’s credit outstanding from commercial banks accounts for only 5% of all credit outstanding. And despite expansion of self- help groups and micro-credit lending through micro-finance institutions, there has been no discernable impact, Dr. Usha added.

Going by the 2011 Census there has been “increased feminisation of agriculture”, with 24 per cent spike in the number of women agriculture labourers compared to previous 2001 census. But little recognition of their role in land and livestock management meant that women have largely remained invisible to the government in terms of agricultural policies, programmes and budgets, she added. Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) and Department of Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh are jointly organising a national convention of women farmers at College of Agriculture at Bapatla from March 17 to 19 to discuss all such issues.

Women continue to face discrimination in terms of owning assets like land and payment of wages, accessing credit, technology, market and irrigation facilities