CGIAR Gender

Farmers, farm women or farmers’ wives?

Women, agriculture and changing roles and responsibilities

Women play an important and active role in farming. There is no doubt about that. When scouring through current literature however, what is most noticeable is how we have tried to define women’s involvement in agriculture; their roles and responsibilities.

We talk of the triple burden on women- intersectionality, impact of patriarchy especially ‘classic patriarchy’, and agency while assessing the extent of women’s involvement in agriculture. In the case of India, one positive aspect is that we do see that women have moved and continue to move ahead. In essence, their access to information and resources has improved. They have access not only to information and training but also to loans and are sometimes even members of self-help groups. While this is not the general state of affairs, we can infer that things are in fact improving for women, at least in some aspects.

While the caption reads farmers, farm women and extension officers, the audience captured here is predominantly male.

In one of the studies conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on women farmers conducted in 2015 in 450 villages of India’s Eastern states (namely Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal) (results forthcoming), women were given perception statements and asked to rate them on a scale of 1-5. They were asked about the current scenario and what it was like 10 years ago. Interestingly, these women reported positive change with regards to household decision making, for example, now, they are informed about debts or any monetary transactions in the family. Here, decision making was considered in general about both the major or minor decisions taken at the household level. The women are of the opinion that earlier (10 years ago), women were not considered for any household decision making but that the situation has indeed now changed.  They are however, indecisive at present when asked about women’s access to training in agriculture, involvement in mechanized agricultural operations and recognition as ‘farmers’. There is disagreement however, regarding their access (limited or no access) to training, recognition and related participation when asked about the situation 10 years ago. The point to be noted here, is that while there is denial about their access to training and recognition in the past, this no longer seems to be the case.

Personally, I consider this as a positive indicator that things have started to change, and that these women are in a transition phase. When asked, the women do agree that they are better managers (from managing the farm inputs to deciding on the use of the output i.e. whether to have the output for household consumption or for sale) of the farm if they were given the opportunity to do so, as well as access to resources. They had no similar response when asked about the situation 10 years ago.  This depicts their self-efficacy which did not exist a decade ago. These opinions and responses collectively provide a base for this discussion- how does a woman in agriculture identify herself? Is she a farmer, farm woman or a farmer’s wife? Her identity as a ‘farmer’ cannot be negated. She works equally hard in the field and at home as that of any man in the household, if not more as she may have a more significant share of household duties. Her decision on when, how, what, where regarding land preparation, crop establishment, crop care, harvesting, post-harvest, marketing should therefore be given due recognition.

When asked to define a farmer (women), a female farmer from Cuttack district, Odisha said: “We! We are doing all activities related to farming whether at home or in the field. We both (men and women) are the producers”. While a male farmer says: “Those who support men! They help in completing some of the tasks in farming. They help in the field to do a lot of labor intensive tasks and thereby save the cost of labor or during shortage of labor in peak season”.

This process of change should be gendered. Training women alone and improving their technical know-how will not create the necessary impact unless men are involved. Excluding men from this process will lead to what I term a ‘gender blind’ approach. In order to move towards a ‘gender aware’ society, developing women’s capacity and ‘gender sensitizing’ men should be simultaneous. This is required because empowering women in trainings and workshops will have no effect unless they are able to exercise their agency at the household level. This is only possible after men in the society are made gender aware, thus in a way propagating a Gender and Development (GAD) approach rather than a Women in Development (WID) approach.

As we move forward, and explore the role of women and their identity in the context of agriculture, it is critical to move away from identifying them as simply farm women, or farmers’ wives (except in a situation where it is indeed the case) but more so as farmers given their significant contributions to agriculture.

As Ester Boserup remarked, “economic development could not be fully evaluated without the recognition of the innumerable “hidden contributions” of women throughout the world, particularly in the form of unpaid work. ”

SujataGangulyNote: this post was submitted by Sujata Ganguly , a gender specialist at the International Rice Research Institute. Sujata is based in New Delhi, India and is part of the first cohort of gender specialists who participated in a three week workshop at Penn State University early this year. The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network.