Agricultural activity, from a philosophical point of view is an activity of creation, an activity that involves providing for the sustenance of human life. Historically, it is believed that women were the first to begin cultivation. When humans lived as hunters and gatherers men did the hunting and women predominantly did the gathering. This idea could probably give some validity to the claim that women were the ones to begin cultivation. Apart from these claims, women currently, play an important role in the agrarian economy. They provide for a major portion of the horticultural and dairy output in the developing world. However, the question that arises is whether agriculture is an egalitarian space for both genders.
Women play a very important role in agriculture. On an average, women constitute 43% of the workforce employed in agriculture. In some developing countries, they can be up to 70% of agricultural labour. They play a key role in allied activities such as poultry and cattle rearing. They produce a significant amount of the produce that provides for the nutritional needs of the population. The reality is that their role as small farmers and farm labourers has been unappreciated for a very long time. This can have repercussions for society as a whole. Neglecting the fact that women are important stakeholders can result in policy failures, as the gender changes the dynamics of resource ownership and utilization in the agrarian sector.
The major problem faced by women in agriculture is that of access. Men and women farmers do not have equal access to the various raw materials that are required for cultivation. This argument can be fairly extended to every input under consideration. To begin with, the land is the most important input for cultivation. The nature of the global inheritance laws that have been in place has not been in favor of women. They have not been given the ownership of land and this, in turn, has affected their position in the credit markets. Credit markets which provide loans (even in the agricultural sector) state ownership of property and land as a prerequisite for taking loans. This, in turn, hinders their capacity to improve their land and thereby improve the productivity of agriculture.
Another challenge faced by the women in the agricultural sector is a proper access education and skill training. The differential access to education hinders them to adopt modern agricultural technology and even chemical methods of cultivation. This is because they have lesser access to resources and education. Access to labour can also be a hurdle for women farmers. There is a gender differentiation of jobs in the agrarian sector, meaning that certain jobs are specifically reserved for women and while others are for men. Even though production requires both sets of workers, men hesitate to work with women farmers and sometimes even undermine their efforts and credibility and demand higher wages than women. These factors create a divide between men and women in terms of the returns that they derive from agriculture.
Women labourers, like women farmers, also face difficulties in the agrarian sector. The first problem is that of job segregation in agriculture. Some jobs like sowing, weeding, winnowing and the like are delegated to women. Men usually engage in laborious tasks like ploughing, irrigation and land preparation. The nature of the job has resulted in the differential wages for men and women. The general trend is that men are generally paid 1.5 to 2 times the wages of women. The wage differences also influence the wages that men and women are provided in kind. For instance, men may be given a meal along with their wage and women might not be given the same. Discrimination is also inherent in agricultural labour markets.
The question that arises now is that, how are we going to address these issues of discrimination? The first way is to bring about changes in our inheritance laws. Giving women the ownership to land and access to resources makes it important to improve the productivity of the land. Women have always been viewed as prudent cultivators who have utilised their incomes for health, education and nutrition. These would have a positive impact on society as a whole. Education and skill training of women is also essential for improving the output and address concerns of discrimination. However, there is a problem in addressing the differential wages because of the differences in the nature of the tasks and the extent of physical labour that is involved. But equal pay can be emphasised in areas where men and women perform similar tasks. There should also be some regulation of minimum wages in agriculture.
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