Gender in Agriculture Platform for Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP 4 GAP)
R P Singh, Ph.D.
Associate Director Extension, GBPUA&T, Pantnagar
Women does the most tedious and back breaking tasks in agriculture, animal husbandry and homes, but her hard
work has mostly been unpaid. Women’s involvement varies widely among different regions, farming systems, caste,
class and stages in the family cycle. Participation of women in agricultural developmental activities are important
and crucial. The research efforts in agricultural institutes have been tried to relieve her of the drudgery by providing
time and labour saving tools. In extension activities the women is now the centre point and activities (vocational
training, front line demonstration, on-farm testing) are being incorporated keeping her in view. Several
programmes started at national and state levels and KVKs are the right steps in this direction.
Key words: women’s involvement, farming systems, drudgery, KVK, participation.
The term ‘Gender in Agriculture Platform for Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP4GAP)’ is coined by
Shri Sarad Pawar, Hon’ble Union Minister of Agriculture & Food Processing and Public Distribution,
Government of India during valedictory function of ‘Global Conference on Women in Agriculture’
organized by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on March 15. 2012. The studies have also
indicated major contribution of women in various farm activities like transplanting and harvesting, post
harvest activities like threshing, drying etc and livestock management. However, despite their integral
role in agriculture it is indeed disheartening to note that only 11 per cent women have access to land
holdings, that too, mostly as small and marginal farmers.
The word ‘Agriculture’ covers various types of farming systems, single to multiple crops practiced under
various agro-climatic conditions thereby covering crop husbandry, animal husbandry, vegetable
growing, floriculture, horticulture, fishery, poultry, goat rearing, piggery, rabbit rearing, sericulture,
forestry and the like. Indian agriculture is a symbiosis of various production systems, a way of life, a
family enterprise and a tradition that for centuries has shaped the attitudes, way of thinking, the culture
and socioeconomic forces of rural life. Agriculture is well known of its multi functionalities of providing
employment, cultural heritage, livelihood, social security, family bondage, nutritional and food security.
The contribution of both male and female farmers is substantial, complementary and essential to
agricultural development. However, rural women despite playing an important role in this sector as
producers and processors of food and taking care of family responsibilities do not get equal benefit as
male farmer from extension services and programmes. The farm operations including cleaning of field,
raising nursery for seedlings, weeding, gap filling, picking, shifting production to threshing floor,
winnowing, storage and grading in which major amount of work done by farm women. They do more
than half work of sowing, thinning and manure application. The farm women do less than half work of
irrigation; cutting and threshing operations (Chayal et al, 2010).Women farmers generally have less
control over resources and land, machinery and technology. Achieving agricultural development goals of
efficiency, sustainability and equity is hindered by the predominant practice of directing extension
services primarily to male farmers based on the implicit assumption that the male farmers are main
participants. This results in exclusion of women as participants and beneficiaries of planned change in
agriculture sector. Women farmers despite their contribution in agriculture sector receive minimum of
all agricultural extension services including involvement in decision making, trainings, exposure visits,
credit, subsidies, etc.
The concepts ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ may be delineated as ‘sex; the biological differences between women
and men. They are generally permanent and universal. And gender refers to the socially constructed
roles and responsibilities of women and men given culture or location. These roles are influenced by
perceptions and expectations arising from cultural, political, and individual or institutional biases.
Gender is the social differences between men and women. These differences are learned, vary from
place to place and many change overtime (FAO &IIRR, 1995). Gender is a socio-economic variable used
to analyze roles, responsibilities, constraints, opportunities and need of man and women.
There are four situations where we see gender differences i.e. social, political, educational and
economic. In the social situations different perceptions of women’s and men’s social roles; the man seen
as head of the household and chief bread winner; the women seen as nurturer and care giver. Political
differences in the ways in which women and men assume the share power and authority; men are more
involved in national and higher level politics; women are more involved at the local level in activities
linked to their domestic roles. Educational differences in educational opportunities and expectations of
girls and boys: family resource directed to boy’s rather than girl’s education; girls streamed into less
challenging academic tracks. Economic differences in women’s and men’s access to lucrative careers and
control of financial and other productive resources: credit and loans; land ownership.
These situations force us to talk about the role of women in agriculture. My memory takes me back to
my childhood, since when I have seen the silent contribution made by the female members of the house
in the agriculture field. I have deliberately used the word ‘silent’ as despite getting engaged in most
tedious and back-breaking tasks in agriculture, her contribution has been hardly acknowledged or
quantified. In fact, in the Indian context, one just can’t imagine agriculture and allied sectors like animal
husbandry without the contribution of women. It has deep concern for espousing the cause of women
farmers and also giving full attention to the associated gender issues. Gender mainstreaming, gender
sensitivity, gender discrimination, gender equity, gender empowerment, drudgery and gender based
division of labour are the areas where people are working. But as talked about platform for
participation, participation is for partnership, a different issue. Participation requires involvement in
planning, decision making and ownership of the individual. Women are as work force but not playing
equal role in planning process, decision making process and spending their life without sharing
ownership in profit and holdings.
Participation is key issue for women empowerment and agricultural development. Data on the labour
force participation of women is notoriously inaccurate. Not only are the problems of undercounting and
invisibility rife, but there are often substantial variations in data across states which may not reflect
actual differences but simply distinct methods of estimation. Further, even statistics over time for the
same state may alter dramatically, as a result of changed definitions of what constitutes “economically
active” or because of more probing questions put to women, or simply due to greater sensitivity on the
part of the investigators. The impact of social structures is reflected not merely in the data, but in the
actual determination of explicit labour market participation by women. Thus, in certain regions of India
social norms determine the choice between participation in production and involvement in
reproduction, and consequently inhibit the freedom of women to participate in the job market or
engage in other forms of overt self-employment. The limitations on such freedom can take many forms.
While the explicit social rules of some societies limit women's access to many areas of public life, the
implicit pressures of other supposedly more emancipated societies may operate no less forcefully to
direct women into certain prescribed occupational channels.
Obviously, given the nature of women's participation in economic activities, which involves a substantial
amount of unpaid labour, overt participation in the labour market or in what is declared to be
“economic activity” does not capture the full extent of women's work. The major Indian sources of data
in this matter, the Census of India and the National Sample Surveys (NSSO, 2001), have increased their
attempts to recognize women's work by asking probing questions that seek to establish women's
involvement in economic activity. However, this is still defined to include only participation in work for
the household farm or enterprise, and does not include housework, childcare, care of the sick and old,
and related activities associated with social reproduction. It also does not include related work
necessary for provisioning for the household, whether it is fuel wood collection in rural areas, or
attempts to obtain access to clean water in urban areas, activities that are typically the responsibility of
the women of the household. In addition, even the 2004-05 NSS found that 52% of rural females and
63% of urban females (15 years or older) dominantly engaged in domestic work. This was not simply
because they were not working outside and therefore described themselves as working within the
home. Rather, the dominant proportion of girls and women who were engaged in domestic duties were
constrained to spend most of their days in this way, whether as sole occupation or in addition to other
economic activities. According to this survey, 45% of rural women and 56% of urban women dominantly
engaged in household work had no choice but to spend their time in this way -- mostly because there
was no other member to fulfill these tasks and they could not afford hired help (Ghosh J. 2007).
There are community-based differences regarding women’s participation in agriculture, therefore
location, cropping patterns, ethnic affiliation and economic and educational background also have
implications for the specific division of labour within a given family unit. Usually, women’s
representation is greater in allied agriculture than in grain production, and poor households require the
greater involvement of women in income-generating activities than financially stable ones. Women and
girls engage in a number of agro-oriented activities ranging from seedbed preparation, weeding,
harvesting and fruit cultivation to a series of post-harvest crop processing activities like cleaning and
drying grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts for domestic use and for market. A disproportionate number of
those dependent on land are women: 58% of all male workers and 78% of all female workers, and 86%
of all rural female workers are in agriculture. Female-headed households range from 20% to 35% of rural
households (widows, deserted women as well as women who manage farming when their men
migrate). Although the time devoted by both women and men in agricultural activities may, in several
communities and agricultural situations, be taken to be almost equal, women are dominant within the
domestic tasks. Rural Indian women are extensively involved in agricultural activities, but the nature and
extent of their involvement differs with variations in agro-production systems.
Progressive set of problems
The problems of women in agriculture resemble the ‘progressive set of problems’ that other
marginalised communities face in the general population, but in a more acute and distressing manner
(Kavya, 2010). These problems relate to land ownership, security of tenure, land quality issues in cases
where land ownership is assured, and land management issues in terms of agriculture and the support
systems it requires. Any changes in land ownership and agricultural patterns affect women far more
than men (positive or negative), given the existing gender roles that women are expected to fulfill,
mainly related to management of the household in their reproductive roles – fuel wood collection,
fodder collection, livestock tending in general, food security needs and so on. Their dependence on
agriculture on common lands, on forests and water is that much greater and more acute.
Rural women are often dependent on the natural environment for their livelihood. Maintenance of
households and women’s livelihoods are, therefore, directly impacted by climate-related damage to or
scarcity of natural resources. Limited rights or access to arable land further limits livelihood options and
exacerbates financial strain on women, especially in women-headed households. Poor women are less
able to purchase technology to adapt to climate change due to limited access to credit and agricultural
services (for example, watering technology, farm implements, climate-appropriate seed varieties and
fertilisers). Damage to infrastructure that limits clean water, hygienic care, and health services can be
especially detrimental to pregnant or nursing women (10-15% of all women, at any given point) as they
have unique nutritional and health needs. Public and familial distribution of food may be influenced by
gender and make women and girls more susceptible to poor nutrition, disease and famine, especially
when communities are under environmental stress. Increased time to collect water (due to drought,
desertification or increased salinity) and fuel (due to deforestation or extensive forest kill from disease
infestations) decreases the time that women are able to spend on education or other economic and
political enterprises, and increases their risk of gender-based violence.
Efforts for making partner
The Ministry of Agriculture has exclusive programs for gender mainstreaming, in addition to other
programs that aim at the farming community at large without any gender discrimination. One of the
goals in strengthening farming community at large is to include all human and gender dimensions in the
public policies and programs. the Gender Resource Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture established in
2005-06 is the focal point for convergence of all issues related to women in agriculture and provides
support for training, capacity building, research, impact on programs and activities related to women.
The International Cooperation arrangements under the Ministry of Agriculture foster mutually beneficial
partnership with other countries of the world and India and contribute to the World Food Program. The
Country Program 2008-2012 was under operation which aims at reducing hunger and nutrition of
women and children. Now with greater awareness and increased sensitivity of the issue, more and more
government schemes are tailored in a way to ensure larger participation and empowerment of the rural
women. Currently there are number of schemes, being implemented by Ministry of Agriculture wherein
there is a provision for women- specific activities. These include Gramin Bhandaran Yojana, the mega
schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), National Food Security Mission (NFSM), National
Horticulture Mission (NHM) and Integrated Scheme of Oilseed, Pulses, Oil Palm and Maize, which
caters to the technological needs of farm women.
As far as research on gender issues is concerned, the ICAR has already integrated the women
component within the National Agricultural Research System. The Agricultural Universities and the Krishi
Vigyan Kendras under the NARS are actively engaged in gender mainstreaming in education and
frontline extension programmes which will provide a great potential for widening the arena for women
in agriculture. The research efforts have focused on relieving women’s drudgery in agriculture by
providing time and labour saving tools. Vocational trainings are also being conducted, to impart skills to
undertake different vocations. In extension activities the women is now the centre point and activities
are being planned keeping her in view. To empowering women for inclusive growth in agriculture by
addressing the issues of access to resources, drudgery reduction, food and nutritional security, climate
related risks and market linkages in a holistic manner. A Gender in Agriculture Platform for Gender in
Agriculture Partnership (GAP 4 GAP) is required to be set up with hubs in different states to work in this
direction. The lack of knowledge resources, lack of communication, and linkages with other agencies are
causes of large gaps in adoption of new technologies in crop production, dairy management, and post
harvest management. To provide critical skills and technologies we must organize more and more
women farmers clubs. Another issue is leveraging the potential of the Information Technology to
increase the meaningful contribution of the women in the agriculture leading to a holistic development
of agriculture sector.
Chayal K., B. L. Dhaka and R. L. Sawalka, ‘Analysis of role performed by women in agriculture’, Indian
Research Journal of Extension Education, 10 (2), May 2010.
Ghosh J., ‘Uncovering Women’s’ Work’, Info change Agenda, News & Features, September, 2007.
Kavya D., ‘Women Farmers: From Seed to Kitchen’, Info change Agenda, News & Features, July, 2010
NSSO, 2001: National Sample Surveys Organization, 2001.
NSS, 2004-05: National Social Survey of India.
Resource Management for Upland Areas in South East Asia; An Information Kit, Farm Field Document 2,
FAO and IIRR, Philippines, 1995.