The participation of women in farming has been on equal footing, yet they have not been given their due recognition and their due compensation for the same.

Just to set a context, please refer to the these two specific Sustainable Development Goals :

(SDG 2.3) – By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment

(SDG 5a.) – Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.

india agricultural country Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

India has also agreed to achieve these global goals, but have we really examined the case of crisis, the case of women in agriculture in India!

In our school days, each one of us must have been asked to write as essay on the subject My Country India or Our Country.  Such an essay was a sort of a religious performance. And as far as I remember, and so I claim that its starting line too was a ritual one:  India, my country is an agrarian country.  Even today this much repeated line is holding its prime position. But today, it is in tatters. Despite the fact that out of a working population of 48.17 crore Indians, 26.30 crore Indians are directly dependent on agriculture to eke out their livelihood (Census, 2011), our development-centric policy proclaims its main objective is to take these working hands out of the farming.

The rationale is that the field of agriculture is already overloaded, and hence people should look elsewhere for opportunities for their livelihoods. This rationale hides five important facts viz. 1. If people start deserting their farming lands, private companies / corporate houses will get their decisive foot and say in.

2. If the farming community leaves its productive enterprise, it will have to depend on the forces of market for its basic food security needs, where it will be devoid of any legitimate state protection for itself and will be left in lurch against the vagaries of contractual existence, 3. Agriculture is a larger sym-biotic system of all things natural, that is: forest, cattle stock, water sources, plains, mountains, hills etc. If the society itself is taken off from cultivation, the natural resources like minerals etc. will be left open for an easy exploitation by greedy industrialization.

4. This division of organized-unorganized sectors is not a natural phenomenon rather a synthetic one, carved out by an ‘ill-fare’ state intending to expand its jurisdiction by usurping the natural space of agriculture-natural resources-social enterprise. Such an illegitimate control forcibly renders the organically most-organized sector of the society, unorganized.

And on the other hand, the ubiquitously powerful lobby of corporate and business interest pounces upon to claim the ‘vacuum’ created by such a sinister design, and gains the legitimacy of being an organized sector, 5. And finally when the legitimate questions of the employment, livelihood guarantee and job-creations are asked, suddenly controversial statements start erupting, jinn of riots come forth, and thus the original questions of legitimate and bonafide demand are swept aside, cruelly.

empowering women Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

It has not been hunky dory all along in the fields of agriculture. Some important things have been left unsaid, latent there also. We have never mentioned the seminal role played by our women folk in the enterprise of agriculture and its related activities. Most certainly, our agriculture would not have sustained thus far without the role played by our women in its domain.

Crisis does not emerge in isolation, unequal work distribution and non-recognition from the gender perspective is the fundamental ingredients in keeping society on backtrack. “The proportion of rural females aged 15–29 years who spent their time in domestic duties increased from 54.8 per cent in 2004–2005 to 57.5 per cent in 2011–2012, while the proportion for the 30–44 year age group increased from 52.5 to 65.8 per cent during this period. In other words, in the economically active age group (15–64 years), 151.9 million and 81.8 million females were outside the labour force in the rural and urban areas, respectively, in 2011–2012[1]”.

microspinning cotton Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

Unequal distribution of labour and the blight of gender bias

In India, 84% population of the total working women earns its livelihood in the field of agro-production and subsidiary activities. In tea production, 47 per cent; in cotton cultivation, 48.84 per cent; in oilseeds 45.43 per cent and in the field of vegetable production 39.13 of the labour is directly contributed by women (EU-FTA And The Likely Impact On Indian Women: Centre For Trade And Development).

In human societies, the unequal distribution of labour and its discriminatory importance have both been used to sow the seeds of gender discrimination. In the domestic work related to agriculture women do most of the drudgery, but their contribution is not recognized at all, and hence they are paid almost nothing. As per a time study, Indian women spend some 25 hours a week on their domestic chores and about 5 hours a week on upkeep and care, and in the community service work (Role of Farm Women in Agriculture and Lessons Learned: Sage). And after this, they invest their 30 hours in an unpaid labour work. It is clear case, which proves that present growth policies (we must not call them development policies) are the key force in widening gender based disparities.

There is a very recent report by McKinsey Global Institute on Gender Equality in India, which marks sox Indian states (Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh, Biar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam) as states with “Extreme High Inequality (Femdex below 0.5)”, where as all other 25 States have “High Inequality”. According to the report “a simple average Femdex of 0.46 in India’s bottom five states on gender parity—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh—which is close to the GPS of Chad and Yemen”.

agricultural integrity Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

Agriculture is classified as unproductive job, of course by the Growth Philosophers, who are totally disconnected from the land and reality;   according to McKinsey Global Institute report – The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality in India “More women in India tend to work in low-productivity jobs than men. Seventy-five percent of female employment in rural areas is in agriculture compared with 59 percent for men”. Isn’t it strength of India? Although it says that Eight priority actions can help accelerate progress, including education and skill-building, job creation in key sectors, corporate policies to promote diversity, and programs to address deep-rooted mind-sets about the role of women in work; but it seeks to promote a approach which in self “derecognizes” the contribution (not merely role) of women on social-economy.

In, what is now the second biggest market of the world; India, the domestic chores and the attendant labour work have not received their due socio-economic recognition at the policy level. First, society decides that the domestic chores are the responsibility of women, and then, it further unfairly decides that such a work will not fetch any ‘value’ on its part. But it would be very interesting to note that if the regular domestic work and responsibilities of women are evaluated on the basis of prevalent skill labour rates at their minimum (average of the Indian States), their regular domestic work commands a value of Rs. 16.29 lakh crore annually, more than the annual budget of Govt. of India (For the year 2013-14, the revised estimate of Indian Yearly Budget was Rs. 15.90 lakh crore).

Not only this, there is no concept of a weekly off-day or rest day here. Our 160 million women shoulder have the very important responsibility of running their families, their homes, which is drilled into their psyche through a process of emotive socialization. As a result, we don’t hear that the so-called ‘housewives’ are on a strike as a mark of their protest. Just imagine, if they really go on a strike what would and could be the fate of our homes, families! It will be almost an impossible situation; an impasse. Not only from the vantage point of gender equity, the amount of labour and skill-set they put in their normal, routine, mundane activities, their roles should be recognized in pure economic value terms as well. Otherwise, ignoring their contribution will tantamount to the violation of socio-economic rights of our women.

perfect housewife Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

Our population is divided into two categories: working and non-working. People who are fully or partially engaged in an economic production are considered as working population and non-working category covers students, beggars, vagabonds and domestic workers. According to the data of census 2011, some 72.89 crore people have been categorized as non-working. As per the official definition, ‘non-working’ people are those who, in the notified period, have not done any or any type of the work. Their labour/work/activity are not thought of as a contributing one to the overall economic enterprise.

Out of these 72.89 crore ‘non-working’ people 16.56 crore are the persons whose main job is to furnish domestic responsibilities. And the more significant aspect of this equation, 15.99 crore are women among these so-called ‘non-working’ / house people, that is, a whopping 96.50 per cent. As per the census 2011, only 34.49 lakh males (3.5%) specify domestic responsibilities as their primary job. Sad part of this whole rigmarole is, despite women performing numerous important and very useful domestic chores like cooking, washing clothes and utensils, cleaning and dusting etc., caretaking et al) they are classified as ‘non-workers’.

Organizations fighting for women’s rights have demonstrated that every woman is a worker in her own right; whether working out-of-home for an income generation or working at-home to shoulder the domestic responsibilities. On this basis, every woman has her basic right to motherhood. In Mountain Research Journal a research study on Garhwal Himalaya Zone was published, whose subject was Contribution of Women in Food and Economic Security of their Families. During the study, the response of women was ‘non-working’ when asked of their working status. However, the analysis of this study revealed that while the men in the family work for 9 hours on average, women are put in whopping 16 hours of their quota.


If these men and women were paid at the minimum of prevailing official rates, the men would have got Rs. 128 per day per head, whereas a woman would have fetched Rs. 228 per day. While enumerating some of the domestic chores like brining fire wood, honey, water, and vegetables etc. routinely performed by women, at the market rates, it turned out that all these works / jobs would have cost the concerned family a whopping Rs. 34,168 annually but for the woman in the family.

Agriculture and Women

All over our country, women in agriculture perform numerous agri-tasks like preparing the soil, seed collection, handling sprouts / germinations, sowing, manure making, taking weeds out, chaffing and harvesting. Apart from all this, they also do many chores which are not directly linked to agriculture as such, but they fall in the domain of agri-sector. For example, husbandry is almost their domain. Even in fish-farming they play an important role. Bringing firewood for their hearths, fodders for their cattle, minor forest produce for domestic purposes, drinking water etc. all such chores require a great deal of labour and all these chores are performed dutifully by our women.

vimladevi woman farmer Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

Alas! These are not recognized as such and given their proper due. Women are not considered as farmers per se, and their participation in the farming-related decision making has been on decline for past some time. This has happened especially since the advent of hybrid seeds, heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and mechanization of farming, which have trampled upon the local and indigenous practices of agriculture.

Moreover, the market economy recognizes the official owner of the land as a farmer, irrespective of the fact who puts how much labour in the enterprise of agriculture and its ancillary activities.

As per the Agriculture Census, 2010-11, published in the month of February 2014, presently a mere 12.78 per cent of agriculture landholdings are in the name of women. This makes them vulnerable, as far as farming decision making is concerned. And it is not just an administrative matter; it has far-reaching economic-political implications. Government is not taking any judicial initiative in this matter.  After all, government too is patriarchal in its built-up.

Society at large knows that, as compared to men, for women agriculture is more of respect, responsibility and emotions than a plain resource / means. In such a scenario, if the reins of control go into the hands of women, the experiments wrought in the name of ‘advanced farming’ would first face a proper and adequate scrutiny, and the business of land profiteering will be duly resisted with.

According to the latest farming census, in the year 2005-06, the total number of agriculture landholdings stood at 12.92 crore, which though increased to 13.83 crore by the year 2010-11, but the acreage of agricultural land did not register any increment, as such, in the interregnum.  In fact, due to lack of land reforms, unequal distribution of land, and now the much-maligned land acquisition et al, the size of tillage has consistently shrunk. For example, in the year 1970-71, the average land-holding was 2.28 ha., which by the year 2010-11 got reduced to 1.15 ha. A little more than 85 per cent farmers hold less than 2 ha of land, and they are called small and marginal farmers. In such a situation, it becomes imperative that the techniques adopted for farming should be production-enhancing but without causing any harm to soil and its fertility. Green Revolution imposed its own techniques, chemicals, seeds et al which proved to be detrimental to small holding marginal farming. When 85 per cent of farmers are small and medium holding farmers, is it wise and ethical to hand over their holdings to big corporate houses whether directly or indirectly? The policy for promoting Industrial Agriculture is particularly disasterous for Women.

The Present Status of Agriculture

The first decade of twenty first century has brought so many challenges for us to deal with. It seems government is succeeding in its intention of driving people away from farming. In this first decade of the century, the working population of our country has increased by some 80 million in numbers. But, at the same time, people had to give up their resources and means of earning their livelihood through agriculture. In the year 2001, 12.73 crore people were classified as farmers. A decade later, in the year 2011, the number of farmers in our country got diminished by 86.2 lakh; everyday 2368 farmers leaving their age-old socio-economic-cultural occupation.

female farmers Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

In Uttar Pradesh (UP) alone, 31 lakh farmers have given up farming. In Punjab, this number is 13 lakh, in Haryana, it is 5.37 lakh, in Madhya Pradesh (MP), 11.93 lakh, and in Andhra Pradesh (AP), 13.68 lakh farmers have left their original job of agriculture.

The other side of this picture is more disturbing and painful. In this very decade, population of Agriculture laborers increased by 3.75 crore. This veiled superpower called India produces 430 Agriculture laborers every ticking hour. In the last decade, the state of UP has witnessed the number of its Agriculture laborers increased by 1.25 crore; in Bihar they have gone up by 49.27 lakh, in AP by 31.35 lakh, and in MP, the number of Agriculture laborers has gone up by 47.91 lakh.

Women in Agriculture

In general, the status of women in a society is measured / assessed by the recognition given to their participation and contribution. When we assess the number of women in farming activities, we realize the impact of the crisis prevailing in the agriculture sector.


Women Cultivators: Undoubtedly, the participation of women in farming and its allied activities has been on equal footing, yet they have not been given their due recognition and their due compensation for the same. In the year, 2001, India had 12.73 crore agriculturists / farmers, of which 4.19 crore were women, that is, 33 per cent. By the year 2011, the number of women participants in the field of agriculture declined further to 3.60 crore (30.3%).

farmers pm manmohan singh Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

In the state-wise comparison, the farming fame state of Punjab has had a mere 14.6 per cent of women Agriculture laborers to boast about in the year 2011, which declined even further to a measly 9.36 per cent by 2011. In MP, these figures are respectively 37.6 per cent and 33 per cent. However, we cannot say for sure that in Punjab, women are not doing farming work as their primary job. The only rationale here is their contribution and role as a ‘farmer’ is not being recognized. And yes, we need to remember that as we go higher up the socio-economic ladder, the status of women stands relatively more neglected and ignored.

In 2001, the better performing states in this respect were Rajasthan (46% women farmers) and Maharashtra (43.4% women farmers). But in the decade since, these two states also have suffered unfavorably.

More Women Are Deserting Agriculture: In the decade under study, out of 86.20 lakh farmers leaving farming, 59.10 lakh (68.5%) were women. In Haryana, a whopping 87.6% of women gave up on farming. Similarly, in MP, out of such 11.93 lakh farmers leaving behind the act of farming, 75.5 per cent (9 lakh in absolute numbers) were women. In Gujarat, the number of male farmers increased by 3.37 lakh but the number of female farmers decreased by 6.92 lakh. Rajasthan is the only state where the number of both women and men farmers increased by 4.78 lakh in the said period. In Jharkhand, on the other hand, the number of farming males saw a decline of 1.14 lakh, whereas that of women farmers witnessed an increment of 39 thousand.

Agricultural Laborers

The disturbing trend is the decline in the number of farmers over time, along with a significant increase in the population of Agricultural Laborers. It’s a telltale tragedy of forcing the agriculture-dependent people out of farming and at the same time leaving nothing honorable for them on the table to fend for themselves.

We would like to mention two things in this respect:

  1. Our society does not recognize its women as farmers, though it does recognize them well as Agriculture laborers. In the farmer group, there were 33% women, whereas farming laborer group had 46.3% women as its participants. But this also declined further, in the year 2011, down to 42.67 per cent. In all, women get impacted more adversely by any crisis of employment reduction.
  2. In 2001, the percentage of women in Agriculture laborers was like this: in Rajasthan 58.2%, in MP 52.2%, Maharashtra 54.47%, AP 53.34%, TN, 50.7%. After a decade, it saw a decline in its numbers. Nevertheless, the participation of women in the farming work in the states of Rajasthan, MP and AP was more than 50% in quantum.
  3. In the interregnum of a decade, the population of Agriculture laborers in India has increased by 3.75 crore, 32% of which are women. In this decade, in UP the number of Agriculture laborers has increased by 1.25 crore (women by 28.43 lakh), in AP it increased by 31.35 lakh (women by 14.59 lakh), Bihar 49.27 lakh (women by 10.87 lakh), MP 47.91 (women by 20 lakh).

changing female workforce Women In Agriculture In India – Status And Agenda

Dwelling deep into these facts reveal the discriminatory and disparity-centric nature of our present development policy, which is fatal not only for our agriculture but for our women folks as well.

Women in general, in India, are still deprived of their fundamental rights of healthy life, safe motherhood and physical and mental safety and security. On the other hand, women engaged in the farming suffer and endure extra burden of numerous crises like drought, flooding, fake and toxic seeds and fertilizers, unjust and unfair price-fixation of their crops by market forces. In fact, we need to do an honest critique of our development model; still more appropriately from the perspective of a female child. What an irony it is!

On one hand we seek a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, while on the other hand we are not able to provide a proper livelihood security to our poor and poverty-stricken farmers. The only palatable corollary seems to be the growth is not, and cannot be an end by itself. We all are demanding gender equality in employment and in economic growth, but intent needs to be examined! Does it mean, profit racketeers and resource grabbers need more hands to increase their control over systems and resources and for this propose only economic aspect of gender equality is being pushed  forward and the political economic agenda of women’s control over resources and in decision making has been set aside.

Decline in Rural Female Labour Force, Participation in India: A Relook into the Causes – Sunita Sanghi, A Srija, and Shirke Shrinivas Vijay (Vikalpa – The Journal of Decision Makers and SAGE)

 By Sachin Kumar Jain

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