In a man’s world

Women play a key role in Indian agriculture, although their important contributions go unrecognised and unrewarded. On the International Women’s Day (March 8), a conference was organised by the National Academy of Sciences in Allahabad to identify methods of recognising and rewarding women as farmers. The earlier definitions of farmer were gender insensitive, therefore the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) proposed the following definition: Woman farmer means and includes, irrespective of marital status or ownership of land, any woman who is a farmer which includes:

engaged in agriculture directly or through the supervision of others; or

contributes to conservation or preservation of agriculture related varieties or seeds; or contributes through traditional knowledge to any type of innovation, conservation or to propagation of new agricultural varieties or to agricultural cultivation methods or practices or

any woman living in rural area and primarily engaged in agricultural activity, though occasionally engaged in non-agricultural activity; or

any woman living in urban or semi-urban areas and engaged in agriculture; or any tribal women directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture or shifting cultivation or in the collection, use and sale of minor or non-timber forest produce by virtue of usufructory rights

State of human Development from a gender perspective: In India, the status of women’s education and health has improved since the year 2000. However, the progress has been uneven between states, with religion, caste, ethnicity and rural-urban areas serving as loci of inequality as with the rest of South Asia. Moreover, growth in capabilities has not been matched with an increase in economic opportunities.  Despite having almost half of the total seats in local governments, female representation in nation level institutions of decision making remains very low. The situation can be attributed to societal norms, poor implementation of laws, and the continued presence of discriminatory laws.

Women in India

Failure of neo-liberal policies to foster gender inequity is profound. Work and working conditions for the majority of women have worsened with high malnutrition and food inflation. Privatisation of social services and extraction of high user charges has resulted in a few private world class facilities for the elite and under-provisioned and poor quality services for the masses. The Constitution of India provides de jure equality for women with specific provisions for affirmative action and empowerment.  Even where law has given a right, conventions and practices do not recognize them (marriage, matrimonial and inherited property, etc.)

Health & nutritional status

The child sex ratio continues to slide unabated. This is the outcome of two inter-related phenomena: i) girls are not allowed to be born and ii) those born have a lower chance of survival. Women’s health and nutritional status is extremely poor, with high disparity across regions, location (rural/urban), income and social category.  The approach towards women’s health is piece-meal, and not nutrition and life cycle oriented.  A major lacuna is the absence of universal coverage, despite Supreme Court orders in the ICDS scheme, due to inadequate budgetary allocations, infrastructure and personnel.

Education & political status

Sexual harassment and violence become key restrictions that make even otherwise supportive parents unwilling to send their daughters to school.

The universalisation of ICDS scheme is critical, both for pre-school learning and nutrition, and also to relieve the care burden on young girls.

India is ranked a lowly 109th in the World rankings of women in national parliaments.

Presently, there are 46.7 per cent women in PRI’s

Closing the gender gap

Elimination of discrimination against women in access to agricultural resources, education, extension, financial services and labour markets

Investment in labour-saving and productivity-enhancing technologies and infrastructure to free women’s time for more productive activities

Facilitating the participation of women in flexible, efficient and fair rural labour markets Socio-political empowerment of women


Engender the concept of labour in the case of women  to include the operation of crèches, balvadis and School Noon-Meal programmes

Set up a Technical Support Consortium for each District to end the prevailing divorce between Intellect and Labour

Beyond 100 Days Programme – convert watersheds into bio-industrial watersheds, to provide opportunities for running micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit

Provide dignity and prestige to work and help the labour to gain in self-esteem and pride by establishing Environment Saviour Awards, to recognise the work of outstanding MGNREGA Teams in the areas of watershed development, rainwater harvesting, soil conservation and building soil carbon banks through fertiliser trees.

 If we are to do justice in the area of providing women farmers the support they urgently need, we should enact suitable legislation. When I was a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, I introduced a Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill. A bill to provide for the gender specific needs of women farmers, to protect their legitimate needs and entitlements and to empower them, with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes, of establishing mechanisms, authorities, powers and functions relating thereto and for matters connected therewith

The bill could not be considered because of frequent disturbances in the house. The proposed bill is still valid and needs to be considered by the government for appropriate modification and adoption.

(The writeris an agricultural scientist who led India’s Green Revolution)

M S Swaminathan