Magazine 2013
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Women Farmers of India: A Growing  
Force Without A Growing Voice  
Twinkle Sanghavi  
The paper is emphasizing on how women and agriculture are interrelated and they need to  
be addressed seriously if we are interested in sustainable development and women empowerment.  
Rural women are integral part of the agricultural system. They are actively engaged in majority of the  
on-farm and off- farm operation, their entire life revolves around farm and farming, where as men  
associates themselves with agriculture mainly at times of ploughing and marketing. All other activities  
are mainly taken care by women. Women remain “conceptually invisible” though they are “physically  
visible” in production and processing of the farm produce.  
Keywords - Gender, Feminization, Agriculture, Patriarchy  
India is basically agrarian with approximately 70% of the population involved in agriculture and agriculture  
interconnected activities for earning their sources of revenue. Agriculture accounts for almost one fourth of the  
cumulative domestic production.  
Women play a vital role in all societies. However, their low socio- economic status in an historical  
perspective is largely based on the fairy tale that women are inferior as agents of production. Much of the  
labour contributed by them especially in the domestic duty and also outside are not usually considered as  
productivity, firm/farm or at the household level.  
Women are pursuing great currier in many of the other fields like, Teaching, Fashion Designing, Engineering,  
Interior Designing, Astronaut, etc. but very few will mention about the Agriculture as a profession. Infect agriculture  
is the single largest force and nearly half of the employed are women.  
Rural women are the original part of agricultural system. They live within the system to internalize their  
role and value in search of alternatives for better performance of their roles. Women’s role in agricultural operations  
is very significant. Their involvement in agricultural operation is besides their usual obligations of discharging  
domestic work. Most of the contribution made by the women to farm sector also goes unnoticed as they are  
not directly paid.  
Research Methodology  
To understand the position of women in the agriculture and how gender stereotype has affected the  
development of women, the secondary source of data collection has been used i.e. books, articles, online  
journals etc. are being read and analysed. The findings are based on the available written material.  
Historical overview  
According to Swaminathan, the famous agricultural scientist, .some historians believe that it was woman  
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 lf food, feed, fodder, fibre and fuel.  
Prasad & Singh 1992).  
In agrarian societies, the family used to be the unit of production and men, women and children  
participated in the production processes. In the history of human civilisation, the advent of agriculture was the  
beginning of a settled life, with the settled life. With the settlement of erstwhile nomadic people, the relationship  
of family, kinship and community crystallised with time between different sexes and age group. Thus the beginning  
of agriculture had a special significance in defining and determining the status and role of women throughout  
the world.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
However, it must be added that the agrarian societies were not all over the same and uniform; and  
status and role of women differed not only amongst different societies but also within a society in its different  
groups, level and strata. Thus, a varied spectrum of division of labour is found in which the actual content, what  
the women and men had to do, vary significantly.  
Still one has to admit that the agrarian economy generated a collective life and a certain division of  
labour dividing and assigning different tasks to the two sexes. To understand women’s position in agriculture  
one needs to understand the origin and development of Matriarchy and Patriarchy. Matriarchy gives important  
to women’s position in house hold, especially in the process of decision making, where as Patriarchy is a  
system where ultimate power is in the hands of man which is, prevalent in the most of society it is also has to  
do with property rights etc.  
Traditionally, women have always played an important and varied role in agriculture as farmers, co-  
farmers, family labour, wage labour, and as managers of farms. The selection, preservation and maintenance,  
the development and sharing of seed stock has long been the preserve of women. They have been very active  
not just in crop cultivation but also in allied areas such as horticulture, livestock and fisheries.  
Transition from traditional agricultural household industries to modern organised industries and services  
and technological changes in the production methods have affected the role of women in Indian economy. The  
decline of village industries and handicrafts has thrown more and more women on agriculture for their livelihood  
increasing their levels of employment.  
Feminization of Agriculture  
Feminization refers to rise in female labour force participation and a relative, if not absolute fall in  
man’s employment. It also refers sometimes to jobs acquiring characteristic associated with the traditional  
pattern of women’s employment such as low wages, low level of skills, repetitive tasks and so on. Feminization  
in agriculture has been exceptionally difficult to establish empirically.  
(Krishnaraj Maithereyi, Kanchi Aruna pg 45)  
Condition that forces women in the Farming  
Debt and Farmers Suicide  
The burden of the agrarian crisis has obviously fallen on the, small and marginal farmers. The rising  
cost of cultivation, coupled with the risk associated with it, has not only added to the burden on the peasantry  
but made life uncertain for the poor peasants. A tragedy of unprecedented proportion is unfolding in Andhara  
Pradesh. According to the Andhra Pradesh Ryothu Sangam (APRS), 279 peasants have committed suicide  
(between May 14 and June 14 2004) after the Congress government assumed office, however the government  
has put the figure at 194 (Sridhar 2004).  
Unlike the rounds of suicides in 1987-88,1997-98 and 2000, when peasants growing particular such as  
tobacco, cotton, chillies and ground nut ruined this time death stalks every where. No crop appears safe and  
no section of the small peasantry appears insulated. The overwhelming proportions of the death toll is among  
small and marginal farmers and tenant cultivators, who have no claims on the land they cultivate and who pay  
exorbitant rents to the landlords.  
An increase in the suicide rate in a population is generally known to indicate acute stress that people  
undergo during a phase of social crisis. Death by suicide is among the most horrible consequence of the  
policies of the government. What is even more shocking is that the government ignored the repeated cries of  
depress in the peasantry.  
Deep in debt, following periodic losses suffered because of poor crops yields and low prices, farmers  
sold their kidneys. Highest number of cases has been reported from Rebitachintala Mandal in the Palamdu  
area (Sridhar 2004)  
For March and May are the months when farmers settle old loans and get new ones for kharif crop.  
This is also the time when moneylenders start recovering their money. With repeated crop failures and high  
costs of cultivation, the farmers had no money to repay debts. The elections also played a role, money lenders  
were quiet during elections. Immediately after, pressure began to pile up. There was talk of a moratorium on  
debt recovery. Moneylenders were in a hurry to get back loans. For heavily indebted farmers, the system  
cracked up, forcing them to commit suicide (Joshi 2004) (92)  
5 farmers in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra have killed in 2004 over debts as little as Rs. 8000,  
because when it does not rain and where proper irrigation facilities do not exist, these small amounts crush  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
hope and with it life. Thirty committed suicide in just June alone, very often, the family of the suicide victims do  
not have money to arrange for the last rites (Chaudhrui 2004)  
As men migrate in search of better-paid work, Man migrating in search of job outside the village, at  
times due to the heavy indebtedness, failure of crops, various reasons like Floods, Drought, Market situation  
farmer’s leave their native place and migrate to urban places in search of livelihood. Women in rural India are  
taking over agricultural work in the villages. They face scanty wages, long hours, hazardous work and sexual  
Problem faced by Women in Agriculture  
Gender Inequity  
Gender stereotypes and division of labour mark and define women’s labour market participation. The  
socio- cultural patriarchal structures have been responsible in hindering the extent and type of women’s  
participation influencing the distribution of paid and unpaid work they are involved in.  
According to Diane Elson ‘The gender division of labour, which tends to confine women to relatively  
subordinate and inferior positions in the organization of monetized production, is not overridden by ‘  
flexibilisation’ it is indeed due to the fact that ‘flexibility’ operates in a gendered fashion.  
Paul Tinku, pg 75)  
It is rightly put that since skills are socially constructed it is highly gendered. This leads women to  
occupy lower positions in the hierarchy. It is an extension of sex division in the family, thus women are often  
found to be engaged in home-based economic activities, which often go undervalued.  
Though, theoretically men and women are supposed to participate equally in all activities including  
agriculture, actually it is not so. There are significant differences in the role played by men and women. Male  
head of the family, who is considered as only farmer, represents household. Man associates themselves with  
agriculture mainly at the time of ploughing and marketing. All other activities are mainly taken care of by  
women. In spite of this, women’s participation in agricultural production is considered as an extension of their  
house hold work. They are regarded as providing only manual labour, not as productive member of the family.  
The work of farm women is not acknowledged as direct production.  
According to World Bank statistics, women perform two third of all the world’s work and produce more  
than half of the food in most countries. Yet they receive only 10 percent of the world’s income and own only  
one percent of the world’s property. (Tewari Poonam, pg 226)  
Tool and Equipments  
Women on farm usually employed in ardous field operation i.e. Pod crushing, stubbles collection,  
sowing behind Plough, transplanting, weeding, interculturing, harvesting, threshing, and agro proceeding. All  
these activities are labour prone.  
Morden day agriculture has become technology sensitive but the poor illiterate farm women have very  
little or no access to scientific advancement and technology to achieve higher productivity, higher profits and  
more income for their family. With the rapid development of newly farm technologies the farm women are in  
urgent need of acquiring knowledge and skills so that they could contribute more effectively to the farm  
Tools and equipments are available for almost for the entire farm activities. Most of these equipments  
available have been designed for male farmers and female farmers use them whenever available.  
Farm women are rarely considered as the customers for agricultural research and development or user  
of better technology. Agricultural technology is normally designed and distributed without considering women’s  
requirements. Women have different characteristic then man. The use of the available technologies result in  
poor work output, poor efficiency, and many other occupational hazards.  
Traditional Economic Ideas  
Traditionally, women did not have the right to own land. Even today, when they have the right to own  
land and inherit property, women are rarely allowed to exercise this right. Even in exceptional cases when they  
legally own some property, they do not have actual access or control over it. The patriarchal system prevailing  
in our society ensures that women’s actual control is made impossible. There is need of assisting women to  
exercise their legal rights.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Market and Income  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Women work from morning to evening and share major responsibility of household agricultural and  
allied activities. They are significantly involved in post harvest activities. Once the farm produce reaches home,  
it is sold in the market by the male member of the family and they only control the income. Farm women do  
not have access to the income earned as a result of joint venture. With the introduction of globalization and  
industrialization the situation of women further gets deteriorated.  
Decision Making  
Although women are active member in agricultural production, yet they do not enjoy much of decision  
making power. All powers related to agriculture and allied activities are vested with male head of the family.  
Women are forced to perform farm activities but are deprived of from participating in decision making.  
Women’s responsiveness to high human resource input is constrained by their low power of decision  
making. Women do not bargain for power to take decisions.  
Studies indicates that decision especially regarding financial matter i.e. taking up and return of loan,  
purchase of seed, fertilizer or machinery, employment of hired labour, sale of farm produce etc.  
Tewari Poonam, pg 229)  
Education and Extension  
Illiteracy is one of the biggest hurdles in farm women’s life has made them even more invisible as no  
training or extension activity related to agricultural promotional literature, new skills, and technological advances  
reaches to them. Due to social customs, taboos farm women could not participate in extension programmes  
conducted by government or private organisation. Their knowledge regarding agriculture remains confined to  
traditional practices.  
Lack of Geographical Mobility  
Traditionally women’s are not allowed to go out of the periphery of their cultural role. They are always  
kept under the control of their Family and society, this condition forces them to remain in the geographical  
area where they are born and lived for years so even in economical crises they couldn’t move out of the area  
and that actually becomes condition which pushes them to agriculture. Also there household responsibility  
stops them hard to leave their houses without fulfilling the expectations of family members.  
These are the major challenges women farmer faced during their contribution to the agricultural activities.  
To improve women’s position in the agriculture following suggestion are being made.  
Governmental efforts  
The planners and policymakers, of India has not overlook the conditions of women in especial reference  
to farming rather many policies are planned and put on the action for women since VI developmental plan i.e.  
Rashtriya Mahila Kosh was set up in 1993 to meet the credit need of poor and asset less women  
The Self Help Group (SHG) was introduced as a core strategy to achieve empowerment in the IX plan  
1997-2002) the major objective to organise women in to self help groups and thus mark the beginning  
of a major process of empowering women.  
X plan has given tremendous importance to empowerment, through 3 ways i.e. Social empowerment,  
Economic empowerment and Gender Justice.  
XI plan (2007- 2012) is consist of certain important points like one needs to work on the interlinked  
agrarian system.(entire agricultural system), invite more public investments, enhance purchasing power  
of women, women’s ownership rights on land, increasing their credit facilities etc.  
Strategy to empower women in Agriculture  
By increasing capacity building through literacy, which will help them in empowering them to right  
against social and cultural inequalities.  
Skilled training the farmer women should be given so that they can deliver best in their work.  
The advance Agricultural knowledge should be given to farm women.  
Women should also be taught regarding the finance management to maintain balance between the  
declining trend of farm income and increasing trend of family expenditure.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Women should be involved in every aspect of research, technology development and transfer of  
Make women aware about the different scheme available for them.  
Gender sensitivity planning should aim to make farm women visible like men farmer in terms of both.  
Increasing farm women’s access to micro- credit can access to micro-credit can accelerate the process  
of empowerment of work.  
Introduction of women friendly and cost effective appreciate drudgery reducing technology for farm  
work is the need of the have so that they could contribute more effectively to the production.  
There is incontrovertible evidence that Indian agriculture today rests on tender shoulders of women.  
Only 50% of male workers are in agriculture, 70% of female workers overall and 85% of female of female in  
rural area continued to be in this sector. (Krishnaraj Maithreyi, Kanchi Aruna pg 139)  
In the last few decades with man moving out of agriculture into other sectors, the future of this sector  
is now more than ever in the hands of women. Yet in public perception and in policy the image of a farmer  
remains decidedly male. The feminist has given couple of suggestion in XI plan for the betterment of women’s  
position in agriculture; apart from that group farming can be promoted also increasing the women’s membership  
in co-operatives.  
To sum up, promote policies which increase peoples’ and women’s access to employment, higher  
income, skills, and social services and space for their voice and for appropriate institution.  
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