Livelihoods of Rural Women in India

The following is the UNEDITED VERSION of what has been submitted for the report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India, of which I was a Member. Many have been asking me again and again for the full report, as well as this part of the HLC report. The un/edited reports are yet to be put out in the public domain, as editing is still underway. However, the following is being shared from my side, not to be treated as the Rural Livelihoods chapter of the HLC report, but as information and analysis that is useable in any case pertaining to rural women’s livelihoods in India, especially of women farmers. Please note that formatting that has been done in the form of boxes is not appearing as such in this post.



Farm and Non-Farm Livelihoods


This section focuses on Rural Women’s Livelihoods, to cover both Farm and Non-Farm sectors. ‘Farm livelihoods’ as a term here adopts the broad framework as proposed by the National Farmers Commission (Rashtriya Kisan Ayog), further incorporated into the National Policy For Farmers (2007) to include cultivation, agricultural labour, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, forest-based livelihoods, fishers, pastoralists and so on. The following structure has been adopted for presenting the analysis with regard to rural women’s livelihoods:


  1. Rural India’s dependence on Agriculture and Situation of Agricultural Households;
  2. Rural women’s participation in the economic sphere;
  3. Trends in Agriculture and impacts on women’s livelihoods;
  4. Land rights of, and land ownership by women in India;
  5. Women’s Forest Livelihoods;
  6. Women in Fisheries and Livestock Rearing;
  7. Women in flagship agriculture-related programmes and schemes;
  8. Women in Cooperatives;
  9. Recommendations on Farm Livelihoods;
  10. Rural Non-Farm Livelihoods – state of affairs; and
  11. Recommendations on Rural Non-Farm Sector and Women’s Livelihoods



Women in the economic sphere in Rural India


It is seen that women’s work force participation rates in rural India are significantly higher than those of urban India, but also significantly lower than those of rural men. Further, employment in subsidiary status is quite high when compared to men. These trends show no systematic variation over the decades, except some small improvements in urban female employment. However, in the past decade or so, trends show a marked decline in rural employment for women and this contraction was led almost entirely by a drop in employment in agriculture, as shown in the sub-section on employment trends for women in rural India.


Within rural women, scheduled tribe and scheduled caste women’s WPR is higher. However, that of Muslim women is nearly half the national rate for women of all religions. In rural India, the Workforce Participation Rate in 2004-05 of illiterate women was greater than literate primary, middle, secondary, higher secondary or even graduate women – diploma/certificate course is the only exception, which is a point worth noting on ‘skilling’. An overwhelming majority are employed in Agriculture, though on a steady and slow declining trend – this decline is much sharper for men, leading to ‘feminisation’ of agriculture. Both in Agriculture and Non-Agriculture, “Self Employed” status, which could consist of significant unpaid work, is a major employment status for rural women, followed by Casual work. It has been seen that women often get wages lower than stipulated minimum wages in this sector. It is also seen that as economic status improves, work participation rates decline for rural women, suggesting social norms strongly influencing such participation when there are no compelling economic reasons. Further, gender wage gap exists in all categories of employment, and women are concentrated in lowest wage-paying work[1].


The most important issue for women working in agriculture is the lack of visibility, recognition and support as farmers in their own right. This denies them various entitlements and support systems that are due to them, since the status of “farmer” is usually conferred to land-owners.




In 2007, based on the Kisan Ayog recommendations, the National Policy for Farmers defined a farmer as ‘a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry. The term will also include tribals engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce’[2]. Such a definition adopted in the official agricultural policy of India should have conferred the rightful recognition to, and supported women cultivators and agricultural workers, the ones who are visibly working in agricultural production but also those that declare themselves to be ‘principally engaged in housework’ (61.6% of rural women aged 15 to 59 years report household work as their principal usual activity status, with 45% engaged in various activities for obtaining food for the household: working on kitchen gardens, maintaining household animal resources, collection of food and food processing activities).


However, this definition of farmers is yet to be operationalized in the context of women farmers and this is one of the most critical aspects to the invisibility and lack of support to rural women’s livelihoods.


1.1. It is often said that the key to achieving several development targets around poverty, hunger and malnutrition is in the hands of women farmers and their empowerment. This section looks at women’s farm livelihoods in India, in addition to non-farm sector in rural India.


1.2. During the Eleventh Plan period, the contribution of agriculture and allied sectors to the GDP stood at 15.2% in India, down from 19% during the Tenth Plan. By 2009-10, agriculture sector’s share in employment came down to 51.6% compared to 58.5% in 1999-2000. It further decreased to 47.1% in 2011-12. In absolute numbers, this was 204 million persons. As per the 68th Round of NSSO, 64.1% of rural workers in India (59% of the ‘usual status’ male workers and 75% of female workers) were engaged in Agriculture, when it comes to distribution by industry of work. As per Census 2011, while there were 9 million less cultivators in 2011, compared to 2001 (in percentage terms, it is a decline of 7.1 percentage points in the total workforce, to 24.6% in 2011), there were 36.8 million agricultural labourers added in 2011, compared to 2001 (an increase of 3.3% in terms of distribution of total workforce into agricultural labourer status, arriving at a figure of 30% of India’s workforce being categorized as agricultural labourers). In rural India, 33% were classified as Cultivators in the total workers and 39.3% as Agricultural Labourers by Census 2011. That adds up to 72.3% engaged in agriculture.


1.3. The NSSO’s 70th Round survey, the findings of which were put out in December 2014, for only the second time in independent India, focused on the status of agricultural households (the first Situation Assessment Survey was taken up in 2003). Here, 57.8% rural households have been classified as agricultural households. Here, it is important to note that the NSSO 70th Round tried to de-link the definition of agricultural household with possession of land and has expressly kept out those households which are completely dependent on agricultural labour out of the scope of the survey.


1.4. From all the above, the continuing importance of this sector for the largest sectoral workforce in India cannot be overemphasized. While on the one hand, the growing economic opportunities for corporate India in agriculture are highlighted in numerous ways, whether it be the inputs industry (seed, farm machinery, irrigation inputs, agri-chemicals etc.) or the outputs (commodity trading, agri-processing and packaging industry etc.), the grassroots level situation in terms of viability and profitability of farm livelihoods remains bleak. Out of 89.35 million farmer households in 2003, 48.6% were reported to be indebted, with the average amount of outstanding loan per farmer household being Rs. 12585/- at all-India level. At that time, 57.7% households had loans outstanding from institutional sources. In 2013, indebtedness in terms of average amount of outstanding loan per agricultural household was Rs. 47,000/- approximately, with 52% of agri-households estimated to be indebted; out of this, 60% were from institutional sources, which is a minuscule improvement in terms of institutional coverage. In the lowest size class of land possessed, only 15% of outstanding loans were from institutional sources and the debt burden can be imagined from this piece of information. Increasing risk in farming with greater weather variability with very little insurance coverage, greater investments, undeveloped and unremunerative markets and increasing indebtedness are hallmarks of the existence of a vast majority of farmers in the country. The average monthly income of agricultural households, from all sources of income, was only Rs. 6426/- while the average monthly consumer expenditure per household was Rs. 6223/-. 47.9% of this income was from cultivation and 11.9% from livestock. This would mean about only Rs. 107/- daily earnings per adult from all sources, taking two adults on an average per agri-household. In most places, this would be below minimum wages prescribed for unskilled workers. A closer look at the income and expenditure findings across different landholding categories shows that around 6.26 crore agricultural households are running on a debt economy, so to speak. On an average, there is a deficit of Rs. 856/- per month per household in terms of their expenses exceeding receipts, for these households. This is the situation of nearly 70% of agricultural households in India. In terms of land ownership, it appears that between 2002-03 and 2012-13, a decrease of nearly 14.86 million hectares of land has happened for rural households in India. In terms of land operated, this is about 13.17 million hectares. This, then, is the most current picture available of agricultural households in India (December 2014, NSSO 70th Round findings).


1.5. In the National Policy For Farmers (NPFF 2007), India attempted a decisive shift away from a productivity and production-centred agriculture policy, to bring in a socio-economic thrust on the well-being of farmers. The aim of the policy was stated to be the stimulation of attitudes and actions which should result in assessing agricultural progress in terms of improvement in the income of farm families, not only to meet their consumption requirements but also to enhance their capacity to invest in farm related activities[3].


1.6. However, one manifestation of the continuing agrarian distress is apparent in the form of the unabated phenomenon of farm suicides, which continue to be at rates above than the general population’s suicide rates. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India from 1995 onwards, which many analysts and activists point out is actually under-reporting, including through tinkering with data classification in the recent past.


1.7. The agrarian crisis that has erupted in India much more starkly post-liberalisation of the Indian economy has been noted and analysed by many scholars. These scholars have shown that a number of crucial and inter-related indicators of rural well-being have worsened. Agricultural growth rate (which is picking up again), rural employment growth, rural development expenditures, formal credit to cultivators especially smallholders, food grain absorption per capita, farm suicides, indebtedness, land alienation, (lack of) opportunities for decent work etc., have all shown worrying trends and have been inconsistent with claims of decline or constancy of poverty[4].


1.8. At the root seem to be several reasons. As CP Chandrasekhar (2007) put it, domestic agricultural growth is no longer a constraint on the growth of the non-agricultural sector[5]. Pointing out to decisive shifts in inter-sectoral linkages, he shows that trends in non-agricultural growth point to a tendency where demand for agricultural wage goods would grow at a much lower rate than output, partly because of the slower growth in employment and partly because increases in per capita incomes accrue to those whose demand for food is satiated. The net result is that agriculture is increasingly faced with a growing demand constraint at a time when input costs are rising.


1.9. Utsa Patnaik blames sharp cuts in rural development expenditure and deflationist stance of governments despite rising unemployment, contributing to the crisis. She argues that there is no basis to the rationale that drives such cuts (that ‘public investment crowds out private investments’). She also points that this led to declining per capita output of food grains, that it is consistent only with worsening income distribution of a particular type, involving an absolute decline in incomes and purchasing power for a major part of the population.


1.10. According to others like Jayati Ghosh (2009), the advanced stage of crisis in Indian agriculture is related to farmers being exposed to highly subsidized competition from abroad through more open trade, reduced protection to farmers exposing them to market volatility and private profiteering without adequate regulation, reduced public expenditure that too in critical areas, destruction of important public institutions and non-generation of enough non-agricultural economic activities[6]. Apart from other measures of intervention that she recommends, she also calls for cheaper and more sustainable input use, protection of farmers from volatile output prices and emphasis on rural economic diversification. She recommends that NREGS must be expanded to cover all adults (not per household), for as many days as required, with the list of permissible works expanded to cover all activities “that improve rural quality of life”.


1.11. There are others like Jha (2006) who have looked specifically at agricultural labour in the current agrarian crisis, on the assumption that in a period of agrarian distress, agricultural labourers are likely to be worst hit, through adverse impacts on wages and employment opportunities directly in agriculture and through multiplier effects, indirectly in non-agriculture as well[7]. Using NSS data, he shows that the proportion of rural households without any access to land has increased from mid-1990s to mid-2000s and landlessness has been a growing trend for most states of India. He concurs with the view that ‘the crisis of the countryside is intimately linked to neo-liberal policies themselves, and that it cannot be overcome within a neo-liberal regime’. As far as agricultural labourers are concerned, the growth rate of real wages (an important variable for the well-being of agri-labourers) declined substantially; he shows that other indicators like consumption and indebtedness have also worsened.


1.12. When it comes to explicating the financial/macro-economic crisis to the situation of women’s work and employment, there seem to be divergent schools of thinking, as explained by a recent paper by Ghosh (2013)[8]. One approach says that women workers tend to be disproportionately employed with fragile/flexible contracts and therefore, tend to have weaker bargaining positions, prone to job loss and the first to lose jobs in a downturn. That they are further disadvantaged by social attitudes and seniority rules that favor men. Another approach notes that concentration of women workers in insulated industries and occupations provides relative protection from job loss given that such activities are not as quickly or significantly affected by cyclical changes in outputs. A third approach argues that women workers’ lower bargaining position and lower pay makes them attractive substitute workers for men in times of crises. Discussing the agrarian crisis resulting from public policies that favored trade liberalization and reduction of protection to producers, Ghosh points out these factors become a major drag on the viability of cultivation. The difficulty is heightened in the case of women farmers because of lack of land titles and other forms of property rights recognition, which in turn has deprived them of benefits such as access to institutional credit, extension services and subsidized inputs. Women tend to have higher cultivation costs than their male counterparts and less state protection as a result. In addition, in the absence of specific measures, they are also more likely to be deprived of the benefits of crisis-relief packages. Ghosh explains that women’s unpaid labour is also directly and indirectly affected by financial crisis. The extent and conditions of unpaid work are crucially affected by the state of physical infrastructure, access to natural resources like water and fuel, and to basic public services such as health and care services.


It is against this backdrop that the livelihoods of rural women in India, farm (in a major way) and non-farm, have to be understood.




2.1. While the NSSO’s 68th (2011-12) round indicates some improvements in women’s economic participation compared to the 66th round (2009-10), the Census shows an overall declining trend in work participation rates of women. The 66th Round was pointed to be a drought year which may not reflect the overall trend, while 2004-05 round is seen to be an unexplained outlier. Therefore, comparison between 1999-2000 and 2011-12 rounds is more apt and this reflects what the Census points to: a sharp decline in employment of women in rural India.


2.2. Most rural women are self-employed, that too in agriculture, working on the family’s land and hiding a large proportion of unpaid labour. While there have been some changes in the status of employment in terms of distribution across self employed, regular wage/salaried and casual labour categories, especially for urban females, this cannot be said of rural females, however. Defying the national picture, in states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Tripura etc., more rural females were working as casual labour than as self-employed, when it comes to status in employment, though the pattern at the all-India level is different (more rural females as “self-employed” (593), than casual labour (351) or regular wage/salaried (56) in every 1000 rural female workers (2011-12).


2.3. Scholars have also pointed out that the “self employed” segment in women masks a large segment of unpaid workers (nearly three fourths of the women in the self-employed category) and in reality, casual labour is the principal form of paid work for rural women[9].


2.4. In terms of industry of work, a majority of female workers are in agriculture, with some increases in Construction sector also. By 2011-12 (68th NSSO Round), there were 48.9% of total workers in Agriculture (43.6 male and 62.8 female), 24.3% in Secondary (25.9% male and 20% female) and 26.8% in Tertiary (30.5% male and 17.2% female). A steady decline of female and male work participation in agriculture sector can be seen. The decline is more rapid for women.


2.5. In rural areas, nearly 59 per cent of the usual status (ps+ss) male workers and nearly 75 per cent of the female workers continue to be engaged in the agricultural sector (2011-12). Among the male workers, 22 per cent and 19 per cent were engaged in secondary and tertiary sectors. The corresponding proportions for female workers were 17 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.


2.6. Here, it is seen that this pattern is different in states like Kerala (with only 3869 per 10000 being in Agriculture sector), Manipur (2412), Tripura (1912), Goa (707) etc., while the highest concentration in agriculture is reflected in states like Arunachal Pradesh (9037), Uttarakhand (9025), Chattisgarh (9019), Nagaland (9017), Maharashtra (8912) etc., as against the national figure of 7494 per 10000 rural female workers in the agriculture sector (NIC 2008 industry sections, Table S35 of NSSO 68th Round report on Key Indicators of Employment and Unemployment).


2.7. As per the Census of India 2011 findings (Chapter 4, Main Workers and Marginal Workers), overall work participation rate for males and females (proportion of workers to total population, with persons who have participated in any economically productive activity with or without compensation or profit, with one year reference preceding the enumeration) in India increased to 39.8 in 2011 from 39.1 in 2001 census. For urban, it increased from 32.3 to 35.3, while for rural, it was a marginal increase from 41.7 to 41.8. It has to be remembered that in 1961 census, it was 43.0, with rural being 45 and urban being 33.5.


2.8. For females, the decadal change from the previous census (2001) to latest (2011) is a decline in overall (from 25.6 in 2001 to 25.5 in 2011), led by a marginal decline in rural work participation rate (from 30.8 in 2001 to 30.0 in 2011) and an increase in urban work participation rate (from 11.9 in 2001 to 15.4 in 2011).


2.9. States like Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir exhibit a significant decadal decline in rural work participation rate while a few states have posted an increase (Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh etc.). It is worth recalling that in the 1961 Census, the rural work participation rate for females was 31.4, (which dipped dramatically to 13.1 in 1971) and touched 22.4 in 1981. Since then it has been picking up again (touched 30.8 in 2001), except for the latest decadal decline (to 30). In absolute numbers, the female worker population is around 15 crore persons, with 12.18 crores in rural areas.


2.10. The gender gap in rural work participation rate, which was 26.8 in 1961 has not reduced in any noteworthy way, with it continuing to be 23 even in 2011, which is actually wider than it was in 2001 (21.3 points, in terms of difference between male and female rural work participation rates).


2.11. Cultivators: Coming to percentage of cultivators to total workers, there is a significant decline from 31.7% in 2001 to 24.6% in 2011. Amongst males, this decadal decline was from 31.1 in 2001 to 24.9 in 2011; however, the decline amongst cultivators expressed as percentage to total workers is more in the case of females, where it has declined from 32.9 in 2001 to 24% in 2011.


2.12. While the decline over the past census decade in percentage of cultivators to total workers amongst males has been significant in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc., when it comes to female cultivators, the decadal decline has been noteworthy in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, in the North Eastern states except Manipur, West Bengal (where it nearly halved), Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat etc. There is not a single state which showed any improvement in percentage of cultivators over the last census decades amongst women. This is incidentally a pattern similar to male cultivators.


2.13. Agricultural Labourers: With regard to Agricultural Labourers, there has been an increase in the past census decade in the percentage of agricultural labourers to total workers, with 30% of the total workers being agricultural labourers in 2011, up from 26.5% in 2001. While the trend in increase in male agricultural labourers was from 20.8% in 2001 to 24.9% in 2011, when it comes to females, it increased from 38.9% in 2001 to 41.1% in 2011. In absolute numbers, this is around 6.16 crores of women, compared to 8.27 crores of male agricultural labourers.


2.14. In states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, the percentage of female agricultural labourers to total workers is remarkably high, at 60.8%, 58%, 57.8%, 54.4%, 51.5%, 47.1%, 44.8% and 41.6% in 2011. This is significantly higher than the overall 30% figure of agricultural labourers amongst total workers at the national level, male and female, rural and urban.


The proportion of women in agriculture (cultivators as well as agricultural labourers) as compared to men, in 2011 and 2001

Total Persons Male Female
Cultivators 118692640 82706724 35985916
Percentage of men and women 100 69.68 30.32
Agriculture labourers 144329833 82740351 61589482
Percentage of men and women 100 57.33 42.67
TOTAL 263022473 165447075 97575398
Percentage of men and women 100 62.90 37.10
Total Persons Male Female
Cultivators 127312851 85416498 41896353
Percentage of men and women 100 67.09 32.91
Agriculture labourers 106775330 57329100 49446230
Percentage of men and women 100 53.69 46.31
TOTAL 234088181 142745598 91342583
Percentage of men and women 100 60.98 39.02

Source: Compiled from Primary Census Abstract, Census 2011 and Census 2001


2.15. The following table shows the decadal trend across states, between rural male and rural female workers in agriculture (cultivators and agricultural labourers). Data here, compiled from Census 2011 on Cultivators and Agricultural Labourers shows very clearly that 65.1% of female workers depend on agriculture, either as cultivators or agricultural labourers, while only 49.8% of male workers do the same[10]. In states like Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh, it is apparent that livelihoods of women workers depend quite substantially on Agriculture as the table below shows.


Table : %age of Cultivators and Agricultural Labour to Total Workers

State Females Males
Percentage of cultivators to total workers Percentage of Agricultural Labour to Total Workers %age workers in agriculture, to total workers %age of cultivators to total workers %age of Agricultural Labour to Total Workers %age workers in agriculture, to total workers
  2001 2011 2001 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011
Andhra Pradesh 20.1 14.0 55.8 58.0 72.0 18.0 33.6 51.6
Arunachal Pradesh 75.5 63.1 4.5 7.5 70.6 43.6 5.2 48.8
Assam 41.1 28.1 16.2 20.9 49.0 36.3 13.2 49.5
Bihar 23.2 15.3 62.6 60.8 76.1 22.8 49.8 72.6
Chattisgarh 44.5 31.3 44.1 54.4 85.7 34.0 32.9 66.9
Gujarat 28.0 17.8 39.1 47.1 64.9 23.6 20.3 43.9
Haryana 43.7 32.8 21.1 23.1 55.9 26.3 15.3 41.6
Himachal Pradesh 85.8 76.2 2.9 4.7 80.9 44.3 5.0 49.3
Jammu & Kashmir 54.7 42.5 5.2 11.8 54.3 24.0 13.0 37.0
Jharkhand 43.0 32.6 39.6 44.8 77.4 27.2 27.8 55.0
Karnataka 24.7 19.0 43.4 40.3 59.3 26.0 18.0 44.0
Kerala 4.8 3.9 21.5 14.7 18.6 6.5 10.2 16.7
Madhya Pradesh 43.3 28.5 40.4 51.5 80.0 32.7 31.3 64.0
Maharashtra 35.8 29.6 41.1 39.9 69.5 23.3 20.8 44.1
Odisha 20.1 12.9 53.9 57.8 70.7 28.4 29.3 57.7
Punjab 13.9 9.9 17.8 19.1 29.0 21.7 15.4 37.1
Rajasthan 67.0 52.6 16.2 24.2 76.8 41.1 11.7 52.8
Tamil Nadu 19.0 13.2 44.8 41.6 54.8 12.7 22.6 35.3
Uttar Pradesh 36.1 22.2 39.6 38.4 60.6 31.1 27.7 58.8
Uttarakhand 77.8 64.0 6.1 8.8 72.8 28.8 11.2 40.0
West Bengal 14.1 7.7 32.2 34.0 41.7 16.8 27.9 44.7
ALL INDIA 32.9 24.0 38.9 41.1 65.1 24.9 24.9 49.8

Source: Census of India 2011




3.1. The seasonality and the risks (production-related as well as market-related) associated with agriculture as an area of economic enterprise are well-recognised. Needless to say, the trends emerging in agriculture have a direct bearing on a large chunk of ‘working women’ in the country. This is also a sector in our economy which has been bogged down by slow growth rates, and with severe agrarian distress manifested in increasing numbers of farm suicides.




(as defined in the Women Farmers’ Entitlement Bill introduced as a private member’s bill in the Indian Parliament on 11th May 2012; a broad definition for Women Farmers is provided in this Bill, with certification at the Gram Panchayat level as the main mechanism to lend formal recognition to women farmers, without waiting for land ownership to determine the definition of “farmer”, so that women can be covered under credit, insurance, extension and so on)


The term “farmer” will include, but not limited to, agricultural operational holders, landless cultivators, agricultural labourers, planting labourers, pastoralists, sharecroppers and tenants. The term will not include corporate entities operated by or involving farmers. In case of landless farmers migrating or moving from one State to another, if anyone stays in a State for at least six months, such a person may be considered as a farmer in that particular State.


“Woman farmer” means and includes, irrespective of marital status or ownership of land, any woman who is a farmer as defined in subsection (c) of section 2 and includes (i) any woman living in rural area and primarily engaged in agricultural activity, though occasionally engaged in non-agricultural activity; or  (ii) any woman living in urban or semi-urban areas and engaged in agriculture; or (iii) any tribal woman 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.



A variety of factors determine women’s participation in agriculture. These include agro-climatic conditions, type of crops grown, availability of irrigation, subsistence or commercial cropping, crop intensity, degree of diversification, technological choices, mechanization as well as socio-cultural-economic factors like poverty, landlessness, caste, class, cultural norms of social mobility and seclusion, education and skills and accessibility to non-farm opportunities. Studies point out that most of the states with high female WPR (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnatka and Tamil Nadu) are predominantly dryland regions. 56% of all women agricultural workers in the country are in primarily rainfed states. Here, high participation is attributed partly to livestock economy and partly to the predominance of specific crops like rice, groundnut and cotton. Distress migration of men is also cited as a cause. The predominance of certain migrant castes and tribes has also been associated with a large proportion of landless female agricultural labourers.


Source: N C Saxena (2012): Women, Land and Agriculture in Rural India, UN Women


3.2. Land Use Shifts: The economic opportunities and more expansively, the livelihood opportunities for a large majority of women in (rural) India depend on natural resource availability and use, control over the same in addition to the state/quality of such resources. Within this, particular land use patterns go a long way in positively influencing a rural woman’s livelihood potential in addition to easing many of her gendered roles in a household (livestock management, food security roles, fodder and fuel-wood access and use etc and such other gender-imposed roles).


Land Use Statistics, India (presented as Percentage of Total Reported Area)
1950-51 1960-61 1970-71 1980-81 1990-91 2000-01 2009-10
Total Reporting Area (in Million Hectares) 284.32 298.46 303.75 304.16 304.86 305.19 305.61
1. Forest Area
Forest 14.24 18.11 21.01 22.18 22.24 22.88 22.92
2. Land Not Available for Agriculture
(a) Area put to Non-Agriculture Use 3.29 4.97 5.42 6.44 6.92 7.78 8.56
(b) Barren & Unculturable Land 13.42 12.03 9.26 6.56 6.36 5.73 5.49
3. Other Uncultivated Land, Excluding Fallows
(a) Permanent Pastures and Other Grazing Land 2.35 4.68 4.37 3.94 3.74 3.49 3.32
(b) Miscellaneous Tree Crops and Groves 6.97 1.49 1.44 1.18 1.25 1.13 1.1
© Culturable Wasteland 8.07 6.44 5.76 5.51 4.92 4.47 4.21
4. Fallow Lands
(a) Other than Current Fallows 6.14 3.75 2.87 3.2 3.17 3.36 3.43
(b) Current Fallows 3.76 3.9 3.49 4.88 4.49 4.84 5.15
5. Net Sown Area
Net Sown Area 41.77 44.63 46.37 46.12 46.91 46.31 45.82

Source: Agriculture Statistics At A Glance, 2012. Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India (


3.3. Some important points to note:

  • Land put to non-agricultural use has increased by around 280% in 2009-10, compared to the extent in 1950-51. In the reporting area, it increased from being 3.29% in 1950-51 to 8.56% in 2009-10. In absolute terms, this is an increase of about 168 lakh hectares of land put to non-agricultural use. The reasons for such a shift are many, including urbanization, land put to “development use” etc.
  • Current fallows have also been on the rise – around 50 lakh hectares over 60 years; in the early 2000s, this figure touched 220 lakh hectares. This obviously has implications for availability of agricultural employment.
  • The decline in pastures, grazing lands, culturable wastelands, tree crops and groves also has its own livelihood implications – an 88% decline in these categories of land and a decrease of 230 lakh hectares of what essentially constituted the non-forest commons has its own bearing on various facets of rural livelihoods.
  • Forest area has increased in absolute terms by around 296 lakh hectares (from 14.24% of reported area in 1950-51 to 22.92% in 2009-10). However, it is important to note that while on paper this area has increased, the kind of forests that exist in addition to ownership/access/management models are the more critical elements when it comes to livelihoods. Forest based livelihoods of women are discussed in a separate section of this note.
  • Net area sown has increased by about 213 lakh hectares, by 2009-10, when compared to the extent in 1950-51. The implications for women’s role and participation in the agricultural activity however, is very much dependent on various factors that go into farming – the cropping patterns, access and ownership of resources, technological approaches adopted and so on.


3.4. It is to be noted further that there are many civil society groups that have been pointing out that the data in official records of national land use still does not begin reflecting the rapid shift of land towards non-agricultural use[11]. Speculative acquisition of land, in addition to acquisition in the name of development and public purpose however much the scale might be, may not begin showing up in the official records, for instance. There is much anecdotal evidence to show that there is substantial ground-level change in land use systems. This includes access of the poor, and in particular, of women to village commons for a variety of needs and roles to be fulfilled (food and energy security, for example). More direct and tangible economic benefits for millions of rural women are linked to the commons, including the forests.


3.5. These numbers also do not reveal the reality of the state of various resources as contained in the land use statistics or the level of degradation. Needless to say, this has a direct bearing once again on livelihoods. Intensification of women’s work burdens, along with a deterioration of their work conditions is seen related to resource use changes, including degradation.


The link between women’s livelihoods and natural resources is explained some more in this HLC report, in the Women and Environment section. This section also brings up issues of governance and management of these resources, and women’s role in the same.


3.6. Cropping pattern shifts: It is widely recognized now that women’s contribution to farming, forestry and fishery has been grossly underestimated and to this day, the full recognition of the extent and nature of their roles and contribution is missing. Women’s contribution to food production has been projected anywhere between 50% to 80% based mainly on their labour contribution, in various studies across the world.


Year Total area under Crops (in ‘000 ha) Food Grains (cereals/pulses) Non-Food crops
1950-51 131893 101196 24797
1980-81 172630 127608 34955
1990-91 185742 127948 44711
2000-01 185340 122680 46847
2008-09 195104 124222 52760

Source: compiled from Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2012, GoI


3.6.1. Shift in Food Crop Area: It is seen that there is a 122.7% increase from Food Crop Area in 1950-51, to 2008-09. In absolute terms, this is an increase of 230 lakh hectares. However, in terms of percentage of food crops within total cropped area, there has been a decline from 76.7% of total cropped area in 1950-51 to only 63.7% in 2008-09.


3.6.2. Shift in Non-Food Crop Area: There has been a 212.8% increase in area sown to non-food crops over the decades, compared to the area in 1950-51. In absolute terms, an increase of 280 lakh hectares can be seen under non-food crop area. Within total cropped area, the increase has been from 18.8% of total cropped area in 1950-51 to 27% of total cropped area. There is also an argument that classifying certain crops like hybrid maize or hybrid pearl millet as food crops is not appropriate any more since most of the produce from these crops goes into industrial uses or livestock/poultry feed, though the official classification puts them under Food Grains[12].


3.6.3. Literature from elsewhere has classified crops as Male or Female crops in a gendered context. In the Indian context, however, more than the classification of a crop as a food crop or a non-food crop and a male or female crop, the context of cash cropping might be a more appropriate determinant of women’s role in decision-making and control over income, and her economic or livelihood status.


3.6.4. This distinction is being made in the context of so-called food crops where such food crop cultivation need not be synonymous with subsistence farming, but for commercial markets, while non-food crops are usually destined for markets, in any case. It goes without saying, however, that most food crops, even if they do not meet nutrition security and sustainable production requirements, might reduce to an extent the household level food security responsibility that a woman bears in most societies. It is this responsibility that often drives the classification of, and perception related to certain crops as “female crops” and certain others as “male crops”.




‘Women are critical to household as well as national food security’ is an under-statement. Their productive as well as reproductive activities related to food (farming, post-harvest processing, cooking and care) are key to the very survival and sustenance of entire populations. It has been noted in literature time and again that women, by choice or restriction, focus largely on subsistence production of food crops and this further adds to the fact that women contribute significantly to world’s food output. Further, foods gathered from forests and commons make an important contribution to the overall food basket in many communities – when such commons decline/degrade along with women’s access to these resources, this will have a direct bearing on women’s food security.


On the other hand, it is well established that women are more vulnerable to, or are more affected by hunger and poverty. This is all the more so in the case of women from marginalized communities. Evidence points to women eating the last, eating less, having lesser calorific intake, eating lower quality foods and even skipping meals in times of food shortages. Even nutritional needs of pregnant women are found to be neglected, especially in nuclear families. It has also been noted that the period of greatest nutritional stress for rural women is also the period when energy demands of agricultural work tend to be the highest. Gender has been found to be the most statistically significant determinant of malnutrition among young children and the most common cause of death among girls below the age of 5 years by some scholars.


At another level, micro-studies establish that women’s low status is one of the primary determinants of under-nutrition across the life span, and that maternal autonomy (women’s personal power in the household and her ability to influence and change her environment) is inversely related to child stunting[13]. Literature points to under-nutrition not being correlated as much to income (including household agri-income) as to non-income determinants such as female secondary education, access to safe water and sanitation facilities etc. Further, important nutritional entry points appear to be irrigation, crop diversification and livestock ownership contributing to household dietary diversity[14]. Needless to say, women’s empowerment and these determinants are closely connected too.


In this food/nutrition security responsibility thrust on them, women are neither supported by entitlements over resources and support services nor are the socio-cultural norms favorable to a woman taking care of her own individual food/nutrition security needs. Bina Agarwal’s research shows that women’s access to even a small plot can be a critical element in a diversified livelihood system and can significantly improve women’s and the family’s welfare, even if the plot is not large enough to provide full family subsistence[15].


Micro-studies reveal ‘persistence of strong social norms and ideologies of male provisioning and female dependence which women in particular and men to some extent feel obliged to reiterate’[16]. Findings reveal real barriers to women’s engagement with markets and other public spaces or laying claims to their land rights, contributing to women’s non-participation in decision-making, reinforcing the vicious cycle.


In policy discourse, at the international and (sub-) national levels, there is increasing emphasis on women’s empowerment in various ways including through securing her land rights for increased food security in addition to other development goals. There exists an express realization in many quarters that without addressing women’s empowerment, food and nutrition security targets and mandates cannot be met. The FAO exhorts that the ‘gender gap’ in agriculture needs to be closed urgently, whereby women’s contribution to food production and enterprise needs to be increased by providing equal access to resources and opportunities. It estimates that this could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.


Indian policy documents like the New Agricultural Policy (2000) talk about providing joint titles to men and women for improving food security at the household level, arguing that “women spend most of their income on household expenditure unlike men and this would help improve the nutrition of the children”. Micro evidence does suggest that women invest larger amounts of money in nutrition and health and households wherein women have access to their own incomes tend to have an expenditure pattern different to the one existing in male dominated households. A study based on a sample of 6990 households of 6 districts of Vidarbha found that higher the food crops’ production, lower are under-nutrition levels in regions like Vidarbha[17]. “A large proportion of farmers opting for commercial/cash crops instead of food crops but still facing malnutrition implies that this visible change in agricultural patterns as such cannot be taken as an indicator of better nutritional status of household members”. The Kisan Ayog also emphasizes the need to empower women farmers. In a sense, there has been an express transfer of burden for household food security onto women. Authors have argued that while the discourse could be right in bringing the focus onto women, the increasing attention on women may not really reflect growing gender equality, but might actually be enhancing the burden on women without changing their status[18].


For food and nutrition security to be actualized for all citizens including the last marginalized girl, women’s empowerment in all dimensions is a must – this then must also include redistribution and sharing of roles even as control over resources is a prerequisite. As Amartya Sen (2001) said famously, “Since maternal undernourishment is causally linked with gender bias against women in general, it appears that the penalty India pays by being unfair to women hits all Indians, boys as well as girls, and men as well as women”.


While continued emphasis on food production and supply dominates the food security discourse, actual food and nutrition security outcomes cannot be delivered without reducing gender inequalities, that too ‘in direct access to the means to acquire food’.


With the recent backdrop of the global food crisis, unequal trade regimes and the current era of climate change, scholars have argued for the focus to be squarely on women as food producers, consumers and family food managers. Bridging productivity differentials between male and female farmers by helping women overcome production constraints, and a group approach to farming are advocated in this context[19].


3.6.5. The debate around cash crops’ questionable benefits to women’s empowerment is essentially about the existing asymmetries that come into play when it comes to either input or output markets in a gender-unequal world. These asymmetries pertain to asset ownership and control, on existing norms and values related to women’s roles in the economic sphere, on literacy and education etc.


3.6.6. There is evidence that female participation in cash crop cultivation is often lower than male participation. It is seen that women face constraints accessing both input and output markets[20]. In many parts of India, marketing activities are wholly specific to men; even female headed households are dependent on male relatives for marketing.


3.6.7. Importantly, it is seen that decision-making is taken out of the control of women and men tend to appropriate the income earned, and are less likely to use such income for the welfare of the family[21]. An IFAD paper based on experiences in India points out that shift to market-oriented production can pose a risk to household food security, particularly in the short term[22]. In such a situation of reduced family food supply, women were seen to reduce their own consumption of food as well as to work harder to meet the food needs of the family. It was also seen that cash income led to greater alcoholism. Literature from elsewhere shows that food price volatility can make being a net buyer of food quite risky, which will be the case with cash cropping where the household has to exchange cash crops for cash, and cash for food (net seller of one crop and net buyer for other crops). This risk is compounded by price volatility of the cash crop that the household wants to sell in the market. Added to all of this are the constraints posed by volumes/scale of produce to be marketed, as is often the case with smallholders. A majority of women cultivators are known to be smallholders, in India as elsewhere.


3.6.8. Crops and cropping patterns, along with technologies adopted, do have a bearing on women’s role and participation in agriculture, for their practical as well as strategic needs. For crops that are traditional, women manage the resources and also have the knowledge and skills associated with the resources. When the shift to cash-cropping happens, there is a certain amount of de-skilling, which also affects decision-making processes. The de-skilling is in the context of the resource itself not being used (seeds saved from the crop and re-used, for instance), which then de-values the associated knowledge and skills, leading to further de-skilling over a period of time.


3.6.9. On the other hand, there are also studies that show that cash cropping has the potential to improve women’s incomes, provided gender-based market and other asymmetries are addressed. It is seen that gender inequalities in resources result in different levels of participation, methods of production and modes of marketing cash crops, and bear consequences for women’s potential outcome in the cultivation of high value crops (Vargas Hill and Vigneri, 2011). There is also evidence that even general market linkages (not necessarily ones that favour women) with definite buyback arrangements, in the case of certain crops, have facilitated greater female labour absorption that too in the skilled category, as a village in Tamil Nadu illustrates[23].


3.6.10. It is to be noted here that compared to the literature that has been generated in Africa with regard to cash cropping and its impacts on women’s livelihoods, there is a certain dearth of literature in India. Within cash cropping or commercial agriculture is another important segment related to contract farming or corporate farming. Here, literature from around the world shows that very often, women farmers tend to lose out in such arrangements in the intra-household dynamics, in addition to the fact that smallholders themselves are documented to miss out any potential benefits out of contract farming arrangements[24] (since the contracting firms tend to minimize their transaction costs by dealing with large farmers) – it is worthwhile to remember that most women cultivators are in the smallholding category.


3.6.11. It is seen that there is a masculinization of the markets and the post-harvest system for rice, for instance, especially in a commercialized context with particular technologies (scholars like Ester Boserup have called this ‘Productive Deprivation’), and that technological changes displace female labour disproportionately to that of men. Further, it is shown that grain markets are strongly regulated through gender relations. It is seen that such masculinization co-exists with a high level of female economic participation; here, the process of proliferation of markets and commodities is instituted in ways that have perpetuated petty scales of production and unwaged women’s work in conditions of economic and social insecurity[25]. In India, the official procurement by government agencies for the Public Distribution System rests on land ownership documents produced, and here again, women get marginalized despite state support system existing for marketing opportunities.


3.6.12. Cash cropping should also be seen in the context of unequal international trade rules in a globalised scenario. While farmers here seek to integrate themselves into a market economy through commercial farming, they might get priced out given the unfair international trade rules on agriculture of WTO/bllateral trade agreements.




As a report by Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) presents, WTO (which is a highly visible symbol of globalization and liberalization, and embodies global trade in a significant way, apart from various other free trade agreements) with its Agreement on Agriculture, Agreement on TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), Agreement on SPS (Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures) is pitted against the interests of women farmers – whether it is their income, or their rights over resources like Seed, or discounting of their expertise and skills in agro-processing etc. The secondary impacts are in the form of displacement of people from agriculture and causing agrarian distress, which in turn manifests itself in increased violence against women in various forms[26]. Devaluing and disempowerment of women in agriculture is correlated in many ways to globalization and liberalization, whether it be a shift towards commercial cropping, or intensive agricultural technologies with increased hazards and riskiness. A micro study commissioned by the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India found that shift in cropping patterns from cereal crops to aquaculture, floriculture and horticulture led to significant loss of women’s employment to a tune of around 10.89 days per month, not compensated by the shift. The study argues that the shift was mainly aimed at the global market and to an extent, the internal market[27]. Wages were marginally lower than in cereal cultivation, and this study captures the increase in indebtedness of respondents after the shift, in addition to environmental impacts.


One sector that captures the more direct implications for women with trade liberalization is the Dairy sector. The livestock sector contributes over 25% of the output of the agriculture sector. While majority of the landholdings are small and marginal, in addition to 32% of rural households being landless, these categories of households own around 75% of the country’s livestock resources (value of output from livestock is valued at Rs. 1733 billion in terms of trade, in 2004-05), making it a pro-poor sector. Within the livestock sector, small and marginal farm households account for almost 60% of female cattle and buffaloes, making dairying an important source of income. Milk is the single largest agri-commodity in India, in terms of value of output (higher than paddy or wheat output value). Dairying provides employment to 75 million women, and the Indian dairy sector, based on income parameters, provides the largest employment opportunity to women in India. While the importance of this sector in women’s livelihoods is apparent, in the global trade scenario, the vast multitude of cooperatives in India could not compete with domestic support that is enjoyed by dairy producers elsewhere (with ‘box-shifting’ of the subsidies leading to ‘hidden dumping’), nor penetrate the impregnable markets of the developed world with their tariff rate quotas and special safeguard provisions to insulate their markets. Analysts point out that import of subsidized skimmed milk powder from EU in 1999-2000 and butter oil from New Zealand in 2002 in huge quantities nearly crippled the domestic dairy sector[28]. Meanwhile, costs of production are increasing for our producers for various reasons. However, it is often seen that India’s negotiations in WTO or FTAs do not appreciate the vulnerabilities or the uniqueness of the dairy sector, and its importance to women’s livelihoods. Analysts project that FTAs with investment clauses that will allow foreign investors to acquire land and other resources legally would limit women’s access to various resources affecting their livelihoods. While many farmers’ groups have been asking for WTO (and FTAs) to not include agriculture sector, some advocacy groups have been asking for special protection mechanisms, including gender-specific mechanisms, to ensure that the livelihoods of the marginalized are not adversely impacted[29].


3.7. Technological choices: It is indeed a combination of cropping decisions and technological choices that leaves many impacts on women in agriculture. Those crops and technologies that require a greater interaction with mainstream markets tend to crowd out women given the pre-existing gender-based asymmetries in market access and control, which often are related to asymmetries born out of socio-economic and cultural factors like asset ownership, literacy, knowledge, mobility etc. In the matrilineal community of Garos in Meghalaya, for instance, technological modernization and shifts to settled agriculture from shifting cultivation has been associated with marginalization of female labour, registration of private plots in male names and a systematic deprivation of Garo women of their traditional land rights[30].


3.7.1. On the economic front specifically, multi-cropping (or diversity-based agriculture) as the basis of agro-ecological farming would reduce costs of cultivation, is known to ease labour demand-supply situation in villages, reduce risks of failure in cropping through increased resilience, restore crop eco-systems which in turn reduces risks of pest or disease attacks, addresses soil productivity management issues to an extent, in addition to meeting the practical needs of women (food, fuel, fodder etc.). In the context of climate change, it is often seen that diversity-based cropping makes for a more resilient system in the face of unpredictable weather variability. Field studies in the 1970s when the Green Revolution was being established in states like Haryana show that the new technology seemed to have made remarkably little different to the absorption of female labour while demand for hired labour had gone up by as much as three times. Cross section evidence was used to show that the adoption of Green Revolution technology reduced women’s share in employment except in special circumstances, with an inverse relation to the proportion of area under HYV technology. This was also related to the re-allocation of unpaid family labour (female and child) to animal husbandy at that time. Added to this was the introduction of weedicides, mechanized threshers and harvesters, fertilisers replacing manure application all of which depressed women’s share directly[31].


3.7.2. On the other hand, intensive external-input-based agriculture, that too in a non-food cash cropping setting, tends to alienate and disempower women in numerous ways. For maximizing profits, (male) farmers tend to bring in monocultures without adequate appreciation of the medium and long-term implications of such monocultures on their economy and environment. Such monocultures set off a vicious cycle of more and more external inputs, which end up degrading the resources. This means more investments to sustain such farming, even as market prices are unremunerative due to a variety of reasons. To make matters worse, climate change brings in more disasters and weather variability to the scene and high-external-input monocultures increase the risk. All of these factors add to the greater riskiness to the enterprise even as faulty technologies erode/degrade the very productive resources on which farm livelihoods depend. While risk increases, no safety nets are in place[32].




Official data on farm suicides in India puts the figure at around 3 lakh deaths since 1995 which is roughly one suicide of a cultivator every half an hour. As per a reply to a Lok Sabha question on 6/8/2013, just in the years of 2010, 2011 and 2012, the number of suicides recorded under “Self Employed: Farming/Agriculture” by the National Crime Records Bureau adds up to 43745 (which in itself is seen to be under-reporting by activists). While the government does not accept all suicides as “genuine” or agrarian distress-related, there are many analysts who have blamed the government policies squarely for the suicides, which are seen as a manifestation of the agrarian distress in the country.


K Nagaraj’s paper in 2008, based on 2001 census data points out that farm suicide rates were higher than general suicide rate in the population, both for males and females (8.5 in general population, female and 10.1 in cultivators, main workers, female – the corresponding figures for males were 12.5 in general population and 17.7 in cultivators in main workers. He acknowledges that there could be an undercounting of female farm suicides, since identification as a farmer is linked to land title. After the 2011 Census findings emerged, authors like P Sainath argue that the rate of farm suicides should be re-visited given the drastic reduction in number of cultivators.


What is often overlooked in this debate is the fate of the family members, especially the widows, who are left to bear the burden of running the agri-enterprise as well as deal with the debt burden that the deceased leaves behind. Civil society groups have documented the disproportionate burden on daughters of such suicide victims whose educational and other opportunities get disrupted severely in the aftermath of the suicide. There is gross inadequacy of relief and rehabilitation support lent to such families by the state.


Further, given that only men are seen as ‘farmers’, the official figures also under-report the suicide phenomenon with regard to women producers who also take this extreme measure in the absence of any support. In 2013 for instance, at the all-India level, 11772 farm/agri-suicides took place (NCRB report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2013, Table 2.6). Out of this, 1283 deaths were of women, with most of them below 45 years of age.


P Sainath narrates the story of Kovurru Ramalamma of Digumari village in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh, and describes how even compensation claims around her death are sticky for the family: how do they prove they were farmers when the suicide happened, given that Ramalamma had leased in land? The pressure of running the agricultural enterprise, by running to the banks and money lenders, even as they bring up the children and run the household became too much to bear for many women in the absence of husbands who had migrated out – such cases have been documented by the All India Democratic Women’s Association in AP. In 2001, more than 311 women’s suicides were recorded officially in Anantapur district alone, and a lot more could have gone unreported. It was seen that the worse the farm crisis got, the more the dowry demand and problems. Weddings were delayed due to lack of money and instances of young girls committing suicides not wanting to be a burden on the family were recorded. Analysts point out that all of these are linked to the farm distress, even though it appears that this distress is not the immediate or proximal cause[33].


There is an urgent need to address the root causes of such extreme distress, especially as embedded in inadequate market support policies, unfair trade rules, faulty technological choices, lax regulatory regimes, negligible coverage against various risks and inappropriate or insufficient investments and support to smallholder agriculture. While this will ameliorate the situation in the medium and long term, there is also an urgent need to ensure that relief and rehabilitation measures are in place to support the livelihoods of the suicide victim families, mostly headed by women.


Ref: K Nagaraj (2008): Farmers’ Suicides in India: Magnitudes, Trends and Spatial Patterns


3.7.3. In the intensive agriculture paradigm, technologies are new and constantly evolving, and extension support is not available to women, since the system often does not recognize women as farmers in their own right. In a setting of scarce knowledge unsupported by appropriate extension advisory, with little institutional support for working and other capital extended to women, and given that even skills related to operating particular machinery are missing, men tend to dominate the scene with women relegated to more marginal roles.


3.7.4. It is also seen that in this intensive agriculture approach, women’s gendered care roles are affected adversely by depletion and degradation of resources (water depletion as well as contamination for instance). Lack of mixed cropping tends to affect fodder and fuel supply, which in turn might impact income possibilities from livestock in addition to nutrition security.


3.7.5. Women’s economic opportunities are affected by technologies like herbicides and combined harvesters, especially in the given setting of gendered division of agricultural operations across India (manual de-weeding, harvesting, sowing and transplanting are usually roles assigned to women – while these are admittedly drudgery-laden, they also provide work/earning opportunities to women but these operations are increasingly being performed by other methods displacing women).


3.7.6. In the case of seed, though this cannot be said to have directly contributed to economic empowerment of women, earlier farming systems where seed was farmer-bred and farm-saved provided a critical role to women in agriculture. Women played a central role as seed keepers, with seed selection, storage and maintenance taken care of by them[34]. This was associated with intimate knowledge and skills of seed keeping[35]. With seed (of their preference) in their control, some practical needs of women could be met. Today, Seed Replacement Rate is the main strategy adopted by the government for its productivity increase drive. Seed is supplied from external (proprietary) sources increasingly, and in this, women’s choices and say do not figure much. Seed comes as a package, in a manner of speaking – the seed choices of farmers more or less determine other agronomic choices like chemical use or mono-cropping. To that extent, women’s role has been marginalized.


3.7.7. In the fisheries sector, commercialization of harvesting through mechanized fishing has also had implications for marketing processes which were mostly the women’s domain in this sector. While some women have managed to become small scale wholesalers in trends of increased production, it is seen that for most women, lack of access to capital and constraints on mobility in the changing geography and political economy of fish trade ended up burdening women. They have had to formulate new survival and coping strategies, like working in collectives, taking up agitations for government funded transportation facilities, tactics like changing their names effectively challenging the purchase records of commission agents and ‘disappearing’ from particular marketplaces for an extended period of time[36].


3.8. Feminisation and Masculinisation of Indian Agriculture


3.8.1. It is very clear from all the data above, drawn from various sources, that an overwhelming majority of women workers depend on agriculture for their livelihoods – 12.18 crores of around 14.98 crore total female workers are rural workers, and a vast majority of the 14.98 crore female workers are in agriculture (cultivators: 3.60 crores and agricultural labourers: 6.16 crores, which is 65.1% of total female workers). By 2011-12 (68th NSSO Round), there were only 43.6% male workers in agriculture.


3.8.2. There are two trends apparent in Indian agriculture, as evident from all the above data and analyses. One can be termed as ‘masculinisation’ of agriculture – where cash cropping is on the increase and high-external-input agriculture is being practiced. This, as discussed above, crowds out women and disempowers them in numerous ways, including on the economic front, though some argue that addressing other asymmetries will ensure that cash cropping brings in more income for women too. Where this is not expressly addressed, it is seen to disempower women since this market-oriented intensive agriculture model has very little role for women in decision-making.


3.8.3. It has been noted in the context of research on livestock based livelihoods, for instance, that state policies leading to dramatic changes from food to commercial crops meant several implications – this has threatened food and fodder security, biodiversity of crops, natural flora, local livestock and poultry breeds and led to unsustainable extraction of ground water and high levels of indebtedness, with women having to bear the brunt of these changes. Women who formerly played key decision-making roles have been marginalized, their knowledge and expertise made valueless[37].


3.8.4. On the other hand, there is also another trend, of ‘feminisation’ of agriculture. The context is that the share of men working in agriculture has declined much more compared to women, since the 1980s, as men leave farms in the care of their wives and parents and migrate in large numbers in search of jobs, even for short periods into other sectors. As more men move towards non-farm jobs outside the village, there has been a “feminisation of agriculture”. This applies to agricultural wage employment as well as cultivation. Agrarian crisis is also supposed to have propelled this feminization, as has been seen in districts like Kasaragod in Kerala. Analysis shows that in the period of agrarian distress, there is a significant rise in employment rates of women in the district in casual employment, even as small scale farmers abandon their productive agricultural activities to join the ranks of agricultural labourers[38]. In some areas, this is seen to change the social status of women, with greater decision-making power in their hands[39].


3.8.5. It is also noted that women are increasingly left to cope with the burden of managing farms and ensure earnings through farm labour, with very little formal, institutional backing of any kind to manage the agricultural enterprise. There is a marked increase in agricultural work, including a wide range of farm tasks, a heavier workload and less time for domestic tasks and childcare. In such a situation, it is shown that women may resort to limiting agricultural operations. There is a higher demand for unpaid female family and exchange labour in these conditions[40]. A study from Telangana shows that despite having a considerably higher share of wage employment as compared to men, women’s relative wages and working conditions are acutely depressed (due to lack of ability to diversify into non-farm work and due to little control over household assets and resources), even as men who migrate are further able to use migration incomes to strengthen their ownership over land and other productive assets. The authors argue that this is causing the already considerable wealth gap between men and women to widen further[41].


3.8.6. The feminisation process has blurred gendered division of roles in farming to an extent, even as it has burdened women to carry on an enterprise in an increasingly unremunerative setting. There is also an acknowledgement amongst several scholars that feminisation of agriculture has always been there in various parts of India, with women performing many roles and tasks in agriculture; that this is not a new trend. However, the current trend of feminisation is requiring women to take more decisions and risks on their own in an unequal relationship with the external world.


3.8.7. Overall, both the masculinisation and feminisation of agriculture in India are only bringing more hardships to women in agriculture, given the lack of formal recognition of women farmers, often disempowering them actively or not supporting them adequately.


3.9. Women in Farming Invisible and Ignored


‘Agricultural development’ programmes from government are usually planned by men and aimed at men.


3.9.1. Even though the largest chunk of working women in India are in Agriculture, working as managers or workers in farms and tending to livestock, their presence and contribution in these roles is largely invisible and ignored. This neglect of attention towards women in agriculture is unconscionable, given their large contribution to agriculture. There is a lot of evidence that shows that women, if provided the same support systems that are extended to male farmers and same access to resources, will produce 20-30% more in terms of productivity. There is also enormous evidence to show that recognizing women farmers is critical to addressing food security issues at all levels[42].


3.9.2. This invisibility raises questions on women’s identity and citizenship in this sphere, where the household and the male identity of a farmer very often subsume individual women workers. One of the main reasons for this lack of any formal recognition as farmers is the lack of women’s ownership over Land (this issue is discussed in greater detail in the following section). This invisibility of farming women to the various institutions in agriculture translates into predominantly gender-blind research, lack of coverage of women under institutional credit, lack of extension outreach to women, dearth of marketing support to women, missing insurance coverage etc.


3.9.3. When it comes to Agricultural Research, for instance, there has been very little understanding on gender issues that determined the priorities set. It was in the Eighth Five Year Plan processes that an idea for a National Research Centre for Women in Agriculture was mooted. In April 1996, this was set up and subsequently upgraded as Directorate for Research on Women in Agriculture in 2008. DRWA is thematic approach in creating a repository of gender disaggregated data and documentation; technology testing and refinement; drudgery assessment and reduction; gender sensitive extension approach; capacity building of scientists and functionaries; efficient resource management; and gender mainstreaming. While the Directorate is certainly a step in the right direction, this is not adequate for engendering agricultural research in India. In fact, all major research projects including the network projects should be appraised afresh with a gender lens with women’s needs prioritised. Within the Agriculture Ministry, the Home Science project is considered to be meant for women and classified as such, for example.


3.9.4. There is not enough research that builds on women’s knowledge and skills, on the other hand. It is not evident that women’s needs and preferences go into agricultural research including plant breeding or agronomic research. Similarly, it is not evident whether any gender patterns have been discerned in terms of crops themselves being perceived as “women’s” or “men’s” crops and research agendas being set by this. Some amount of work has certainly gone into reducing drudgery of operations that women perform.


3.9.5. Coming to agricultural extension too, there is very little evidence that women in villages are treated at par with men by the agricultural extension machinery. It is reported that extension messages is not provided in a language that women easily understand. Where exclusive Farmer Field Schools with women farmers have been created or where farmer field schools have proactively included women, this asymmetry has been addressed to some extent (a USAID collaborative project with USAID on IPM in different countries, for example[43]; or an IFPRI review of experience in IFAD projects with FFS[44]). Within the departments of agriculture, there is no ready data available on how many women work as extension officials.


3.9.6. Looking at agricultural credit to women, it is seen that women received on an average only about 6 percent of the total direct agricultural credit in the period 2004-06[45]. By March 2013, the female individual accounts in terms of percentage distribution of outstanding credit of small borrowal accounts of scheduled commercial banks in rural India was 16.8%, as opposed to 79.8% for men, with the amount outstanding at 16.2%, compared to 80.2% for men. On the other hand, when it comes to deposits, female accounts are 24.8% and deposit amount is 19.2%, as against 58.4% and 57.8% respectively for men in rural India[46]. In Jharkhand, it was seen that only 4% of Kisan Credit Cards were issued to women, while in Gujarat this was only 2%, and in UP not a single woman had a KCC in field studies[47]. There is also considerable regional variation when it comes to access to banking services for women, with the Southern and Western regions faring better. Between 1997 and 2006, it is seen that the share of dalit and adivasi women in the total bank credit has declined steadily and in 2006, they received only 1.3% of the total credit given under Small Borrowal Accounts as compared to 4.8% in 1997 (though this is not just about agricultural credit, this gives an indication of what the situation is, when it comes to SC/ST women). Only 9% of an average woman’s credit was received by dalit/adivasi women in 2006[48].


3.9.7. While Bank-SHG linkage has been touted as the solution to lack of coverage of women in financial services of different kinds (22.3 lakh SHGs, an overwhelming majority being women’s SHGs, have received financial support between 1992 and 2006 in India), the extent of support is still significantly small. As Chavan illustrates, the total cumulative credit disbursed through bank-SHG linkage programme from its inception in 1992 to 2006 formed only a minuscule 6 percent of the total agricultural credit disbursed in just one year of 2005-06. It appears that no data is collected on women cultivators receiving any insurance coverage for their enterprise (the overall crop insurance coverage itself is quite low).


3.9.8. Experience from the ground shows that women farmers can comfortably receive financial services’ support through the SHG model. The credit programme of PMGKS (Priyadarshinee Mahila Grameen Kalyan Sanstha), a micro-finance organization in Vidarbha of Maharashtra, for instance[49], offers a crop loan product to its women members where the loan is repayable in nine months and carries an interest rate of 24 percent on a declining balance. The loan is disbursed in the first week of June; interest was payable quarterly and the principal to be returned post-harvest, between December and March. Lending was through cluster level federations, which in turn lent to SHGs. This product’s terms and conditions were designed to suit the cyclical cash flows in agriculture. Further, savings facility was also offered to the clients which can potentially act as a backup support to farming households in lean times. While this was a civil society initiative, it is important that bank credit earmarked for agriculture has specific coverage for women.


3.9.9. Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) are issued only to farmers who are land-owning and this effectively keeps out a very large proportion of women agricultural workers and cultivators, though recent initiatives for Kisan Credit Cards for Bhoomi Heen Kisan are supposed to address this long-standing problem. However, recent RTI-obtained information shows that gender-disaggregated data is not being maintained to assess if women are indeed benefiting from this de-linking of agricultural credit from land ownership.


3.9.10. As it is, very often financial services are interpreted only as credit products. While KCC system does not offer much hope for women farmers, other financial products like insurance, seed capital etc., are difficult to come up for women farmers.


3.9.11. The other area to look at is marketing support. In terms of market support for women in agriculture, an indication of the neglect that women face is apparent in terms of small indicators with market infrastructure. A national survey of 5,000 markets in India showed that none of the markets had a rest house for women producers who come to markets. The markets are lacking in basic facilities such as toilet blocks. Appropriate market infrastructure for women farmers is grossly missing in the market yards, which reduces market participation of women[50].


3.9.12. It has been seen that female farmers risk losing control of their products as they move up the value chain from farm to market, for a variety of reasons. Restrictions on mobility, lack of appropriate transportation, time constraints, lack of literacy/education, lack of knowledge about a plethora of rules and regulations etc., may also be barriers to women’s greater participation in marketing. In Karnataka, it has been seen that even land owning women do not participate in decisions related to what to sell – it is seen that men market the produce and handle the transactions irrespective of who owns the land. “This signals that women are much less integrated into agricultural product markets than men, being much less aware of market procedures”[51].


3.9.13. The Ministry of Agriculture’s flagship programme, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana does not have anything specifically allocated for women, or for addressing gender issues in farming. In the 12th Five Year Plan document, under “Women’s Agency and Child Rights”, it is proposed that “women’s access to various agricultural schemes being implemented by the government will be ensured. A quota for women will be incorporated by modifying the guidelines of agriculture related schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. Further involvement of women can be ensured by providing financial and infrastructural support to SHGs for seed production, storage, preservation and distribution” (23.21, pp 168).  The Plan document further says that “technology transfer to women would be prioritized in all aspects of farming and farm management, including dryland farming technologies, animal husbandry, forestry, sustainable natural resource management, enterprise development, financial management and leadership development”.

A study conducted on the status of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh shows that only 6% of women own land, less than 1% have participated in government training programs, 4% have access to institutional credit and only 8% have control over agricultural income. NGOs working with small and marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh got together to launch the Aaroh campaign in 71 districts across the state. The main aim of the campaign is to help women gain recognition as farmers so that they own agricultural land and access institutional credit, new technologies and government programs. Three years of intensive community mobilization is yielding results: some women are gaining ownership of agricultural land in the different districts and 8000 husbands have shown their willingness in writing for joint land titling.


3.9.14. While the above is the case of lack of identity and citizenship for women farmers in general, the situation of more marginalized women like dalit and adivasi women requires much more attention and action. According to an ILO study, dalit and adivasi women farmers comprise 81% of farming women in India[52].




3.10.1. This is a significant category of women workers in India. There is a disproportionately high concentration of the most marginalized groups in this category of rural casual agricultural labourers – half of them are dalits and adivasis, far higher than their share in the population. It is also noted that women here get fewer days of work and rarely get the minimum wages laid down by the government.


3.10.2. Studies indicate that female agricultural labour supply in India is significantly correlated to the proportion of particular castes and communities in the population (dalits and adivasis, as women from other castes are governed by status and stigma norms) as well as opportunities available to men in non-farm sector (women find lesser opportunities than men outside the farm sector).


3.10.3. Further, in India, as found in other countries too, there is a gendered division of agricultural operations. Certain tasks are seen as exclusively women’s (transplanting, de-weeding, harvesting of particular crops, certain post-harvest processes etc.), while certain others are seen as men’s (ploughing, operating certain machines, transporting materials etc.). Estimates indicate that nearly 60% of agricultural operations are performed exclusively by women. It is also seen that many of the activities that women are expected to perform in farming also have a greater degree of drudgery (transplanting, for instance).


3.10.4. Grassroots data estimates show that women work nearly 3300 hours in a crop season while men work for 1860 hours[53]. In the Indian Himalayas a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours in a year on a one-hectare farm, a figure which illustrates women’s significant contribution to agricultural production[54].


3.10.5. Further, evidence shows that gender wage gap in absolute terms in rural India’s casual labour is increasing. The following table presents the latest picture with regard to daily Wages received by casual labourers and regular wage/salaried employees of 15-59 years, in rural areas:


Regular wage/salaried employees Casual labour in works other than public works Casual labour in public works other than NREGS Casual labour in NREGS public works*
Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 68th Round (2011-12)
Rural female 201.56 103.28 110.62 101.97
Rural male 322.28 149.32 127.39 112.46
Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 66th Round (2009-10)
Rural female 155.87 68.94 86.11 87.20
Rural male 249.15 101.53 93.33 90.93
Daily wages of rural workers of age 15-59 years, as per NSSO 61st Round (2004-05)
Rural female 85.53 34.94 49.19
Rural male 144.93 55.03 65.33

Note: * While the above is the wage rate as per the NSSO 68th round, the stipulated MGNREGA daily wage rate ranges from Rs. 135 in states like Arunachal, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim to Rs. 214/- in Haryana. The apparent anamoly can be also due to the schedule of rates applied for various works in NREGS.


3.10.6. When it comes to rural wages, it is seen that the average wage differential between rural male and female casual labours (in works other than public works) at the national level was Rs. 46.04 in 2011-12 (and Rs. 32.59 in 2009-10, and Rs. 20.09 in 2004-05). In states like Kerala, however, this difference was starker (at Rs. 175.53, in absolute terms and less than half the wages of men and this large difference was present in earlier rounds of the survey too). A large wage differential is found also in the case of states like Karnataka, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh etc. In Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram and Sikkim, the wages received by females were higher than those for males for rural casual labour (Manipur also in 2009-10). When it comes to public works (other than NREGS), however, the situation improves, with many states reporting higher wages for women or near-equal wages. Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand however have higher wages for male casual labour even in public works. Under NREGS, the difference has been bridged to a significant extent, with several states reporting higher wages for female workers accruing here.


3.10.7. In rural casual labour which encompasses agricultural wage work also, the gender wage ratio in 2011-12 was 69.17% whereas in 2009-10 it was 67.90% and in 2004-05, it was 63.49% at all-India level.


Daily wages (Rs 0.00) received by regular wage/salaried employees and casual labourers of ages 15-59 (at current prices), Rural and Urban, Male and Female


1983 1993-04 1999-00 2004-05 2009-10 2010-11
Rural 12.81 34.89 78.61 85.53 155.87 201.56
Urban 19.50 62.31 140.26 153.19 308.79 366.15
Rural (other than pub works) 4.89 15.33 29.39 34.94 68.94 103.28
Pub works other than MGNREG 18.52 39.48 49.19 86.11 110.62
MGNREG 87.20 101.97
Urban 5.57 18.49 38.22 43.88 76.73 110.62
Rural 17.83 58.48 127.32 144.93 249.15 322.28
Urban 25.66 78.12 169.71 203.28 377.16 469.87
Rural (other than pub works) 7.80 23.18 45.48 55.03 101.53 149.32
Pub works other than MGNREG 24.65 49.04 65.33 98.33 127.39
MGNREG 90.93 112.46
Urban 11.12 32.38 63.25 75.10 131.92 182.04

Source: NSSO 66th and 68th Rounds


3.10.8. An analysis by Chavan and Bedamatta (2006) that looked at trends in agricultural wages in India from 1964-65 to 1999-2000, found that there was a slowdown in the rate of growth of real daily wages of male and female agricultural labourers in more than half of the districts in the sample in the 1990s, in contrast to the rise seen across all states between 1983 and 1987-88. Second, there was a rising trend in the variations in real wages across districts in the 1990s. The authors also found that the differences between the average wages of male and female agricultural labourers have widened over the years, and importantly, the daily wages of male agricultural labourers exceeded the minimum wage levels in most states, while those of women were below the minimum in most states. This, combined with the rising male-female earnings ratio indicates that gender disparities in wages in rural India are widening, the authors concluded[55].


3.10.9. While the above is a picture with rural casual labour daily earnings and analysis with regard to agricultural wage rates in particular, India’s gender wage differentials in general, at the national level are reported to be declining.


Gender Wage Differential, 2004-05 and 2011-12

Average Daily Wage in 2004-05, in Rupees Gender Wage Gap in Percentage Average Daily Wage in 2011-12, in Rupees Gender Wage Gap in percentage
Male Female Male Female
146.13 103.45 29.21% 333.26 267.34 19.78%


3.10.10. The ratio of female to male agricultural wages varied widely across regions ranging from 90% in Gujarat to 54% in Tamil Nadu in 2004/05 while it was around 70% on an average at the national level. Surprisingly, the southern region of the country, which is supposed to exhibit greater female autonomy along various parameters, exhibits larger gender gaps. This spatial variation is explained by scholars mostly in terms of high female labour supply for particular farm operations in this region (sexual division of work, non-farm opportunities for males and substitutability between men and women), in addition to greater proportion of women from particular social groups like dalit communities. Irrigation and land inequality are also implicated in increasing the wage differential[56]. Authors suggest that even though there are no direct benefits accruing to women at the same magnitude as men in the non-farm sector, there are indeed positive effects on male and female wages with the withdrawal of men from agriculture. Gender wage gap as well as gender gap in labour force participation are both therefore flagged as dimensions that deserve equal attention.




It is estimated that worldwide, some 215 million children work, full time. It is also estimated that 60% of all child labourers in the age group of 5-17 years work in agriculture, including farming, fishing, aquaculture, forestry and livestock. The majority of child labourers (67.5%) are unpaid family members. Child labour is seen as both a cause and consequence of poverty. Census 2001 showed that in India, there are around 12.66 million working children which was increase from the 1991 figure in absolute numbers (while the Main Workers declined, Marginal Workers increased). 11 million were rural child workers. The share of child workers was 6% of all children in that census, and 4% of the total workforce (3% for boys and 5% for girls). Boys were 6 million while girls were 5 million amongst the rural child workers in 2001. ST female children’s work participation rates were higher than the ST boys’ as well as all girl children (almost double of all girl children). Between 1991 and 2001, it was seen that the percentage increase in girl child workers was 13, while for boys it was 9%. As per Census 2011, the number of child labourers is down to 4.35 million[57]. The NSSO estimates in 2009-10 were close, at 4.9 million, with 1.8 million of them being girls. NSSO 2009-10 estimates suggest that around 30% of India’s child labour are engaged in agriculture[58]. The agricultural work is mostly as unpaid family labour, especially in small and marginal landholding operating households, during certain operations with peak labour demand. It is interesting to note that proportion of girl children exceeds that of male children in rural manufacturing too, once again mostly in household enterprises[59]. Various rounds of NSSO from 1993-94 reveal that amongst boys, the proportion of working children fell from 6.4% in 1993-94 to 2.7% by 2009-10 and amongst girls, it fell from 6.1% to 1.9%, showing a greater decline in girl child labour. The decline in rural India has been higher than in urban India, which deals with fresh influx into urban areas of rural children looking for employment. Studies reveal that incidence of child labour is significantly and negatively correlated with expenditure on education[60].


Within the scenario of girl child labour, the plight of migrant girl children used for hybrid cotton seed production is much reported. Here, not only are the work hours long and underpaid (this being one of the primary reasons why child labour is preferred to payment of adult wages when seed corporations produce hybrid seed) but dangerous, with toxic pesticide fumes affecting the children in addition to cases of sexual abuse reported routinely. After Bt cotton was introduced in India, hybrid cotton seed production increased manifold resulting in greater attention to this issue, spurred by civil society reports and activism in various states.






The All India Report on Number and Area of Operational Holdings of Agriculture Census 2010-11 was released in October 2012. The total number of operational holdings in the country has increased from 129 million in 2005-06 to 138 million holdings in 2010-11. There is a marginal increase in the operated area, from 158.32 million hectares in 2005-06 to 159.18 million hectares in 2010-11. The average size of operational holding has declined to 1.16 hectares as compared to 1.23 hectares in 2005-06. The percentage share of female operational holders has increased from 11.70 in 2005-06 to 12.79 in 2010-11 with the corresponding operated area of 9.33 and 10.36.



Key Indicators of Land and Livestock Holdings in India, NSSO 70th Round


The latest figures related to land ownership at the time of writing this report are from the 70th Round of NSSO related to Land and Livestock Holdings in India (December 2014). This data however does not present gender-disaggregated information on land ownership. According to this survey, the estimated area of household land ownership in rural areas in India has come down by 14.86 million hectares, between 2002-03 (59th Round) and 2012-13 (70th Round), bringing the area owned to 92,369,000 hectares. The average area owned per household came down to 0.592 hectares from 0.725 hectares in 2002-03. Landlessness in terms of percentage of households is reported to have decreased from 10.04% to 7.41%, 75.42% of households fall in the marginal landholding category (with the average land ownership per household being only 0.234 hectares), but they own only 29.75% of area owned.


4.1. The lack of control and ownership over Land as a primary and critical resource for farming seems to be one of the main reasons that women do not receive formal recognition as Farmers. This becomes all the more critical in a context where it is estimated that women-managed households are now about 32% of rural households[61]. Quite apart from this is the fact that women have a right to their due share of resources as well as identity/recognition. Further, there is also a need that they be entitled to different support systems as farmers, irrespective of land ownership. However, there is no clear and accurate picture available on women’s land ownership since there is no disaggregated information maintained on the same. Different sources of official data gathering, whether it is NSSO or Agriculture Census do not have any gender-disaggregated picture on ownership.


4.2. By law, most women in this country have an equal share in property but in practice, this is not followed. It was only in 2005 that the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) was amended (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are governed by this), to bring all agricultural land on par with other property, to make Hindu women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across states, overriding any inconsistent state laws. Further, all daughters were included as coparceners in joint family property. The Act also began giving all daughters the same rights as sons to reside in or seek participation of the family dwelling house. It also allowed certain widows (of predeceased sons, for instance) to inherit property even if they remarried. In the Muslim Personal Law, women are allowed to inherit – however, the woman is given only one half the share of the male. Further, the mother is entitled to a share in her (deceased) son’s property and even a grandmother has a share in her grandson’s property if there is no mother or paternal grandmother for the said grandson. A widow is entitled to get a quarter share in her husband’s property when there are no children. A widow also has a right of retention here, with her maher (ranking as a debt of the husband as per law), with priority over the other heir’s claims to have it satisfied out of his estate. In the Christian Law, daughters have an equal inheritance right and widows have an entitlement of a one-third share of the deceased husband’s property[62].


4.3. Coming to the amendment to HSA, Andhra Pradesh (1986), Tamil Nadu (1989), Maharashtra (1994) and Karnataka (1994) had already amended the law to give equal rights to daughters by the time the HSA amendment was brought about. A study taken up to assess impact of the law by comparing inheritance in states like AP, TN, Maharashtra and Karnataka with other states using panel data found that there is indeed a distinctly greater likelihood of female inheritance in these states, pointing towards a significant impact of the amendments[63]. On the other hand, a study of 403 women owning land in Gujarat found that 48% were widows who had claimed a share in their husband’s property, 41% were wives who had received titles with a view to claiming particular state announced tax benefits and only less than 5% were women who had inherited natal property and even here, it was because their parents had no legal heirs[64]. The preference for claiming a share of marital property rather than staking claims to natal property has been found elsewhere too, like Jharkhand[65].


4.4. However, what is striking to note is that there is no disaggregated data available on land ownership (no accurate data on land ownership based on land records exists in the first instance in a country where settlement surveys are pending for years, and updation of land records is not taken up; then there is the issue of no data being available separately for men’s and women’s land ownership; within that is the picture needed for different classes of women). What we do have information on, is “Operational Holdings” and that is what we analyse here, to begin with.


4.5. Female operational holdings are only 12.79% in 2010-11, while they were 11.70 in 2005-06, a marginal increase of 1% over half a decade. The operated area had increased from 9.33% to 10.36% in the same period. 9.5% of the female operational holdings are with Joint Titles (several state governments have sought to incentivize this approach to land ownership). This is within 138 million operational holdings in India, covering an operated area of 159.2 million hectares. In the absence of a picture on women’s land ownership, we rely on looking at operational holdings of women.


Percentage of female operational holdings as per results of various Agriculture Censuses

Size Group 2000-01 2005-06 2010-11
Marginal (<1 ha) 11.84 12.60 13.63
Small (1 ha – 2 ha) 10.27 11.10 12.15
Semi Medium (2 ha – 4 ha) 8.67 9.61 10.45
Medium (4 ha – 10 ha) 6.86 7.77 8.49
Large (> 10 ha) 5.22 6.00 6.78
All size groups 10.83 11.70 12.78

Source: Annual Report 2014-15, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. Pp. 133


4.6. Some Characteristics of Female Operational Land Holdings


4.6.1. Average female operated area size: 0.81 Ha, whereas it is 1.16 Ha for men and women together. SC female operated area is only 0.68 Ha on an average, per holding (while the average SC male operated size is 0.81 Ha). In the case of ST women, the average holding size is somewhat larger, at 1.35 Ha (while the average ST man operates around 1.55 Ha per holding) – so, it is a situation where in all cases, women’s operational landholdings are less than the male counterparts, even as there is variation within different categories of women.


4.6.2. Within female operational holdings, 10.8% belonged to SC women. In the overall landholdings, 12.4% belonged to SCs (SC men and women together), showing that SC women are worse off than their male counterparts. Within female operational holdings, 6.8% belonged to ST women. In the overall landholdings, 8.71% belonged to STs (ST men and women together), showing that ST women are also worse off than their male counterparts.


4.6.3. Amongst all SC landholdings, 12.3% belong to women covering 10.4% of the area operated by SCs. Amongst all ST landholdings, 11.2% belong to women, covering 9.9% area. As mentioned already, in the overall landholdings of all social groups, 12.79% are female operated.


4.6.4. When it comes to area, while operated area by SCs is 8.6% of the total operated area, the area operated by SC women is also 8.6% within the female operated area. While the overall operated area by STs is 11.49%, the area operated by ST women is 11% of the total female operated area, reflecting a certain parity with men of the same community when it comes to area, and marginally higher than what women across social groups are operating


Female Operational Holdings in India (2010-11), by size class
Number of Holdings (‘000) %age within female operational holdings Within this, Joint titles (‘ooo Nos) Area operated (in ‘000 Ha) %age area within female operational holdings area
Marginal (less than/upto 1Ha) 12616 71.6 1089 4538 27.5
Small (1-2 Ha) 2999 17.0 292 4205 25.5
Semi Medium (2-4 Ha) 1438 8.2 192 3827 23.2
Medium (4-10 Ha) 495 2.8 91 2813 17.1
Large (10 Ha and more) 70 0.4 18 1101 6.7
17618 100.0 1682 16484 100.0

Source: Compiled from Agriculture Census 2010-11, Government of India


Women operational holdings and operated area: India (in ‘000s)
Some chosen states Operational Holdings Operational Area
Female Total %age female holdings to total Female Total %age female operated area to total
Andhra Pradesh 3346 13175 25.4 3145 14293 22.0
Bihar 2277 16191 14.1 849 6388 13.3
Chattisgarh 472 3746 12.6 503 5084 9.9
Gujarat 666 4738 14.1 1306 9979 13.1
Haryana 195 1617 12.1 405 3646 11.1
Himachal Pradesh 68 961 7.1 45 955 4.7
Jammu & Kashmir 106 1449 7.3 48 895 5.4
Jharkhand 297 2709 11.0 259 3165 8.2
Karnataka 1486 7832 19.0 1898 12161 15.6
Kerala 1340 6831 19.6 210 1511 13.9
Madhya Pradesh 855 8872 9.6 1204 15836 7.6
Maharashtra 2053 13699 15.0 2593 19842 13.1
Mizoram 10 92 10.9 10 105 9.5
Odisha 154 4667 3.3 148 4862 3.0
Punjab 10 1053 0.9 26 3967 0.7
Rajasthan 546 6888 7.9 1329 21136 6.3
Tamil Nadu 1551 8118 19.1 1056 6488 16.3
Tripura 60 552 10.9 25 286 8.7
Uttar Pradesh 1602 22929 7.0 942 17089 5.5
Uttarakhand 90 913 9.9 68 816 8.3
West Bengal 249 7123 3.5 110 5509 2.0

Source: Compiled from Agriculture Census 2010-11, Government of India


4.6.5. Studies indicate that women’s landholding varies between 0.9% (in a state like Punjab) and 25% (in Andhra Pradesh)[66]. There appear to be wide regional disparities in the constraints faced by women in owning and controlling/managing land and this is evident in the landholding data thrown up by the latest Agriculture Census. No ready studies exist on how the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have reached upto 19%- 25% female operational landholdings (as far back as the 2000-01 census, this regional variation is apparent) and this needs to be understood better to chart out a similar road map in other states. What is interesting to note is that the trends here are not reflective of what is conventionally seen as regions of greater feminization of agriculture. Further, while this is about operational land holdings, large studies from the ground indicate individual land ownership by women to be around 14% in a state like Karnataka, as against 71% by men individually[67].


4.6.6. In the case of AP, it is unclear right now how far a new legislation that sought to support and encourage as well as visibilise tenancy has started reflecting in the operational landholdings data of the latest Agriculture Census given that the law came into force after July 2010-June 2011 when the Census was undertaken. The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh also attempted to bring in a separate legislation for facilitating collective land lease and cultivation by women’s SHGs – while the Bill did get passed by the legislature, it never got notified and enacted.


One of the members of the HLC found an interesting trend during visits to Yavatmal district in Maharashtra and Karimnagar district in Andhra Pradesh (during June and July 2014). It is found that a lot of land is getting registered by male farmers in the name of wives in villages like Tivsala in Ghatanji block of Yavatmal, and Repaka in Illantakunta mandal of Karimnagar. The ‘gift deeds’ in the name of wives is mostly so that households can access various subsidies and schemes meant for small and marginal holders, like crop loans in the name of two persons in a family rather than one, sprinkler and drip irrigation systems, loan waivers, sale of produce to government procurement agencies etc. In the past, such transfers in the name of wives or mothers would be seen usually in cases where land ceiling statutes were sought to be bypassed. Here is a new trend where access to schemes is driving the change. While it does not appear that there is any empowerment motivation behind this trend, asset ownership in the name of woman should surely mean potentially better spaces in decision-making for the woman in question. Tivsala today has 21% women’s landownership while Repaka has 20%. The most rapid change has happened in the past 5-6 years. It is unclear how widespread this trend is.


4.6.7. It is well known that there are three sources by which women can acquire land for themselves: government re-distribution efforts; purchasing from the market and by inheritance. In terms of the discourse, there has been some progress when it comes to state land re-distribution efforts and the acknowledgement to secure land rights for women. (Public) LAND DISTRIBUTION: While the first round of land reforms lacked any policy agenda around women’s land ownership, from the 1980s onwards, there has been a policy articulation around Joint Pattas for land distributed by government[68]. The 11th Plan had suggestions for providing women access to cultivable land, including through joint or sole ownership, facilitating group ownership or leasing and allotment of homestead lands with priority to single women etc. It was only in this Plan that individual titles or group titles rather than joint titles (with men) were advocated, given that some evidence exists of joint titles with husbands actually putting women in a difficult situation in the case of marital breakup or domestic violence. Meanwhile, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (popularly known as FRA or Forest Rights Act) requires fifty percent of the land pattas given to forest communities to go to women. The draft national land reforms policy (circulated for public feedback in July-September 2013) for instance does not talk about joint titles, but titles to women and women’s collectives. However, the ground reality on actual ownership of land by women is different. More importantly, there is only a minute fraction of land exchanging hands in these redistribution efforts (less than 2% of arable land in all these years of land ceilings enactment and land reforms efforts).


Draft Land Reforms Policy, 2013


A draft National Land Reforms policy was put out for public discussion and feedback in July 2013 by the Ministry of Rural Development. This draft acknowledges the strong linkage between land and social status of an individual in a predominantly agricultural society like India and that landlessness is a strong indicator of rural poverty. Social unrest and violence in some parts of the country, being connected to inequitable distribution of benefits from recent land use patterns, are seen as the relevance of revisiting land reforms. The draft says that “increasing participation of women in agricultural labour and other farm activities also calls for a policy strategy that addresses the issue of access and landholding rights to women”. Apart from expressly promising a policy that will seek to empower women with land titles wherever state-enabled land redistribution occurs, the draft policy exhorts states to adopt a group approach in land cultivation and investment in productive assets, and grant group titles to women’s groups. Land purchase support is promised in addition to reviewing and “strategically acting upon” various provisions of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act (HSAA) 2005.


The draft Policy’s proposals with regard to governance, management and development of Common Property Resources (CPRs) grossly neglect the importance of these commons for women’s empowerment and fail to provide any strong role to women in governing and managing these resources.


Even in the case of implementation of women’s land inheritance rights, the draft policy fails to put any measures in place to hold line departments accountable for not ensuring devolution of rights. It should also be noted here that while draft policies like this one on land reforms appear to empower women in hitherto unstated ways, the reality of large scale shift of land ownership and utilization in the land markets is very different. When land is acquired on a large scale by big corporate players (through SEZs) and also held for speculative purposes by others, the intent expressed in such draft policies cannot be actualized and poor women’s livelihood needs cannot be secured. MARKET BASED TRANSACTIONS FOR WOMEN’S LAND OWNERSHIP: When it comes to purchase of land from the market, there are serious limitations again both in terms of quantum of land traded in the market as well as in women being able to acquire land by purchasing it from the market. Certain schemes like the SC Corporation’s joint land purchase scheme in Andhra Pradesh are worth a mention here.  However, such schemes are not being scaled up. This is very important given that land ownership may be limited in the first instance, whereby even if inheritance rights are implemented, there may be nothing to be inherited. The work of Deccan Development Society in securing own land for poor landless dalit women both through land purchase schemes as well as long term collective leasing is well-acknowledged in policy circles in India by now. In Kerala, Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) in Palakkad as part of Kudumbashree program have been able to purchase small plots of land out of profits generated from collective farming on leased in land and this is worth emulating. INHERITANCE OF LAND BY WOMEN: The third source, which is Land from the family is the most important, while talking about land rights for women. That is because 86% of the arable land is private property, and nearly 75-78% rural households own some land, as per some estimates. This is where the largest possibility of women acquiring land is from – moreover, it is their entitlement as per the law (Hindu Succession Act amendment in 2005). Social and administrative biases seem to be at the root of women not realizing their rights when it comes to Land. Women, as evidence shows, are “voluntarily” giving up their right in favour of their brothers. This is also drawn from social norms on how a ‘good sister’ or ‘mother’ has to behave, imbibed by the women. Despite laws for equal rights existing, in a state like Karnataka, field studies have shown that women only 12-20% of land (wealth).


Increased commercialization with consumer goods, television, advertisements etc., invading rural India in addition to increasing seasonal migration is leaving a noticeable impact in an increased desire for consumer goods. Dowry is seen as an easy way to meet this desire. Dowry is thus spreading to communities where it did not exist before. A study on land rights for women in West Bengal found that 39.9% of the households surveyed have had to part with land or raise loans at high interest rates in order to pay dowry. 79% of the families who sold land to pay dowry were Muslim, a community where dowry was not a tradition. In addition, the people who were selling or mortgaging their lands for dowry were agricultural labourers and marginal farmers[69]. It is believed that having to give away land to a daughter is an additional cost to the family, which is already having to invest in (illegal) traditions such as dowry and on the education of the daughter where it happens. Parents also face a social taboo of turning to daughters in case of crisis and would rather keep the land with the sons who are supposed to look after them. In addition to these issues is a real practical problem of inheriting land and managing it in a distant village since women are often married into distant locations, away from their natal village. But on this count, given that absentee landlordism is very much prevalent amongst male landowners and should not be an impediment in the case of women. The case for securing land rights for women is a well-settled one. Bina Agarwal’s theorizing around efficiency, welfare and empowerment linked to women’s land ownership has gained much space in policy circles too[70]. This is not to say that this alone (land ownership) will address various problems of discrimination and inequality; however, there is overwhelming evidence to show that a woman’s position is vastly improved with land ownership. As is well known, one of the economic bases for land reforms was to create an ‘incentive effect’ so that production inefficiencies associated with tenure insecurity can be removed and that the actual cultivators can possess rights over land. Even here, the State did not hesitate to intervene in entrenched rural class structures (somewhat synonymous with caste too) to ensure this redistribution. In the case of women, evidence shows that with all things being equal, women farmers can produce 20-30% more than male cultivators. This itself should be a great motivating reason for the State, to ensure food security. A recent report from ADB and FAO (2013) argues that challenging the constraints that women face must be treated as a key component in the fight against hunger and malnutrition[71]. Such an approach is achievable, it is inexpensive and it can be highly effective, the report asserts. The cost to society of not acting urgently and more decisively will be considerable. Importantly, this report goes beyond an argument around meeting the practical needs of women, so to speak (not just for the “instrumental value” but women’s empowerment being a priority goal in itself and an intrinsic human right), and makes a strong case for empowerment of women. “This means a greater role for women in decision making at all levels, including the household, local communities and national parliaments”. It argues that social and cultural norms and the gendered division of roles they impose must be challenged. Numerous micro-studies indicate a plethora of positive spin-offs with women acquiring property/land in their name. These benefits accrue to the family and the community as well as to the woman herself (intra-household bargaining outcomes). It is in the form of health benefits and better education for the children. It is seen that the impact of reforms that strengthened women’s inheritance rights is seen in the level of primary education of daughters[72]. Another paper that also examined the impact of women’s property inheritance rights on their education found that this has an impact on educational attainment of women as measured in primary school going age group and suggests that the underlying mechanism is that in order to prevent fragmentation of household property, parents compensate daughters by investing in their education[73]. Land ownership also leads to women having a greater say in decision-making related to various aspects of agriculture, and greater control over income from the agricultural enterprise. Recent studies point to the fact that endowing women with inheritance rights equal with men increases their autonomy within their marital families, and the effect seems to be stronger for women whose husbands’ occupation is complementary to the form of property inherited especially in rural areas[74]. It has been seen that land ownership protects women from eviction from the household and reduces domestic violence against women[75]. The socio-cultural attitudes towards women are seen to change with ownership vested in their hands. A study from Karnataka shows that women’s ownership of land or a house enhances her mobility as well as ability to take decisions about employment, health and use of money independently[76]. However, it is also seen that women landowners are quite variably involved in central decisions regarding agricultural production (in a cross-country study, Karnataka in India scored the lowest in terms of participation) – the degree of participation in decision-making depends on whether they are partnered or unpartnered, according to individual or joint ownership of land with the partner/others and also based on the specific decision. It is seen that within land owned by women, the unpartnered women have higher decision-making participation related to what to cultivate and how to use income and to a lesser extent on what to sell[77]. In a study that looked at gender asset gap in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka to compare patterns of asset acquisition by women in matrilineal and patrilineal communities, it was seen that women in matrilineal communities continue to enjoy their traditional rights to own and inherit land and other physical/financial assets – they also exercise a greater degree of decision making power over their assets, contributing to a greater sense of empowerment among women from the matrilineal communities in comparison to women in patrilineal communities[78]. It is not just for all these livelihood benefits that land should be put into the hands of women – but because it is her right to acquire and control land. Because land in India is about social status, security, freedom and dignity. It is about the condition as well as the position of women. Scholars have argued that there is a need for male cooperation in this effort to secure women’s land rights, going by lessons from past land struggles (“gender relations are an arena not just of conflict and contestation but also of mutuality and emotional attachments”)[79]. Even though the law has been amended for a majority of women in India so that equal rights are recognized in the case of women, in reality the situation is very different. It is seen that women forego their claims for numerous reasons. Further, women also face impediments in operationalising the statutes and getting their names included in the records. This is not surprising given that this situation is prevalent in the case of men too, but certainly more so in the case of women. Further, ownership on paper does not mean actual control, especially if ownership has been transferred only for opportunistic reasons by the man involved. Very often, women lack the awareness and wherewithal to claim what is duly theirs. It is acknowledged that conscientisation is the way forward since the issue is cultural as well as administrative. Decades ago, it was acknowledged that ‘in poor rural women’s struggles for subsistence, in which control over land is a crucial element, the material and the ideological are closely interwoven, so that joint struggles on both the economic and cultural fronts become necessary’[80]. It is clear that the absence of land ownership keeps women out of the State’s outreach to farmers on numerous fronts. The lack of serious action and intervention from the State in putting the control and ownership over land in the hands of women as their legal entitlement is perplexing and worrisome. The State has not hesitated to intervene in the case of discriminatory social institutions like Caste, when it comes to securing land rights for the dispossessed; similarly, the intervention of the state into Family as an institution is evident in legislations against domestic violence, or upholding the rights of parents to care and support from their children. However, when it comes to women’s property rights, no resolve has been witnessed so far.


A study done by FAO in 1997 identified certain trends in women’s land rights in tribal communities. Despite women not having inheritance rights to land under customary law among most settled tribes, various social arrangements have existed to ensure adequate care of women in situations of widowhood, breakdown of marriage, single women and for families having only daughters. Thus, widowed women acquired use rights to their husband’s property for maintenance for life. On their death, the property passed into the hands of the husband’s nearest male relatives. Both unmarried daughters and daughters who returned to their paternal homes due to breakdown of marriage, similarly acquired use rights in their paternal property for life maintenance. In the case of families having only daughters, sons-in-law could inherit their parental property if they agreed to settle in their wife’s paternal village. Severe social sanctions for violation of these norms reduced the vulnerability of women in such situations. However, the weakening of traditional institutions has reduced such traditional social protection enjoyed by tribal women. The rising value and scarcity of land are leading to a breakdown in women’s maintenance rights. Several incidents of women inheriting land being labelled witches and being hounded out (occasionally even killed) by male relatives to grab the land, have been reported from the Jharkhand area. The worst sufferers in this category are widowed women in the age group of 55 and above. During the field visits, it was found that unmarried daughters of Ho families are now allocated only one acre of their paternal land for life maintenance, while the rest is divided equally among the brothers, irrespective of the total size. Given the taboos against women ploughing, sowing and building roofs, such women remain dependent on their male relatives both for cultivating the land and for shelter. With many such women continuing to live with one of the brothers after the parents’ death, their status and condition within such households needs to be understood better. There were also indications that the number of daughters remaining unmarried may be increasing for a variety of reasons[81]. India has seen land struggles by women in different states like Bihar (the famous Bodhgaya math land struggle by scheduled caste and backward caste women), Maharashtra, Jharkhand etc. and a Supreme Court case by tribal women supported by women’s rights activistis questioning customary laws. These have yielded mixed results. In the recent past, newer approaches have been adopted to secure land for women: efforts like that of Deccan Development Society in Telangana, Working Group on Women’s Land Ownership (WGWLO, a network of organisations and individuals in Gujarat which seeks to secure the rights of women farmers with a thrust on their land rights), of Kudumbashree in Kerala in creating Joint Liability Groups for collective land cultivation by women farmers, of state governments like Telangana which has recently taken up a large scale effort to distribute public lands to landless dalit women, or that of the undivided Andhra Pradesh where Velugu/Indira Kranthi Patham focused on securing land for poor households with the women at the centre of the effort, with additional focus on sustainable agriculture, of schemes that incentivize men to transfer the titles in the name of their spouses or children are all ringing in change. Successes have emerged from struggles and collective action. Changing attitudes of bureaucracy was a central part to these efforts. However, these achievements are small compared to the huge task at hand, and there needs to be concerted efforts put in to ensure that women’s land ownership is secured. It is also important to prevent land grabs in whatever garb, from the resource-poor in the meantime. Any discussion on Women’s Land Rights should also be contextualized in the larger reality of increasing landlessness in rural India. In fact, for some analysts, this is one of the main reasons for the contraction of female employment in rural India (see section on employment trends for women in India). The NSSO 70th Round survey on land and livestock holdings in India shows that rural landownership has declined by nearly 14.86 million hectares in absolute terms (Statement 3.1: Changes in household ownership of land in 2012-13 over 2002-03)[82]. Further, analysis of data on land owned, land possessed (=operational holding) and land cultivated (net sown area) by households in the NSSO surveys on consumer expenditure and employment and unemployment shows that landlessness is on the rise, and as per NSS 2011-12 data, 49 per cent of households did not cultivate any land (up from 35% in 1987-88)[83]. Amongst Dalits, this proportion of households that did not cultivate any land in rural India increased from 51 per cent to 62 per cent; from 28 per cent to 39 per cent amongst adivasis; from 40 per cent to 60 per cent amongst Muslims and from 31% to 43% amongst “Others”. Note that in 2011-12, dalit households accounted for 21% of rural households but cultivated only 9% of land; similarly, Muslims accounted for 11 per cent of rural households but cultivated only 6 per cent of land. Further, the NSS data shows that increase in landlessness has primarily happened within households that are mainly dependent on manual wage labour (the ones who used to combine manual wage labour with cultivation on very small holdings are now exclusively dependent on manual wage labour reflected as a rise in the proportion of non-cultivating households among manual workers).




5.1. In a situation where private ownership of land and other property is difficult to secure to this day for women, it is common property resources like forests and village commons that have been a great source of sustenance for women. Forests have been a source of food, fuel, fodder and medicines for women in forest-dependent communities in addition to also being sources of income. Raw as well as processed products have not only sustained communities but have also connected them with markets, albeit in an exploitative setting when outsiders have been involved. The intimate cultural linkages that women and entire communities have with forests is well-documented in addition to the fact that they hold enormous knowledge and skills related to forest resources for their sustainable management which are not recognized by the mainstream world. It is also seen that the traditional relationship between women and forests was regenerative and not extractive and exploitative. A symbiotic win-win relationship existed at one point of time. In this era of climate change, the significance of forests is greater than ever before for a variety of ecosystem functions that they perform.


5.2. It is estimated that around 275 million poor rural people in India depend on forest produce for at least part of their subsistence and cash livelihoods. This dependence is more intense in the case of 89 million tribal people. It is also estimated that NTFP sector creates about 10 million workdays annually in India – the 12th plan documents visualize a doubling of this. The business turnover of the so-called NTFP (Non Timber Forest Produce) or MFP (Minor Forest Produce) is estimated to be more than Rs. 6000 crores per annum[84]. Despite the misnomer of Minor Forest Produce, this is supposed to account for about 68% of the export in the forestry sector. MFP/NTFP is also supposed to contribute upto 40% of the annual income of forest dwellers, despite all the restrictions and constraints imposed on them. Further, anywhere upto 24% of the cooked food consumption of forest communities is from uncultivated forest foods[85], that too in critical hunger months.


5.3. The intimate connection between women’s lives and livelihoods and natural resources like forests is well established by now[86]. It is seen that women in forest based communities are economically more independent and have a higher status than their counter-parts in other communities in India because of their involvement and income from forest produce gathering[87]. There are studies that show that with newer kinds of markets, receding of forests (due to deforestation and thereby distance from the village increasing), (public and private) transport facilities providing an advantage to men and a greater role in marketing for them, changes have happened in tribal areas over the ability of women to sell directly and collect income[88].


5.4. Gathering of minor forest produce is an important economic activity for women in forest-dependent communities. It is seen that their status within the household is higher in well-forested villages rather than commercialized villages which lack forests[89]. Within their forest gathering activity, women collect food, fodder, medicine and fuelwood for the household. Food in a forest community context consists not just of cultivated foods but also of many edible wild foods, like uncultivated forest fruits, berries, leaves, tubers, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, greens, fish etc. Men are collectors of wild game, honey etc., while also occasionally partaking in gathering of other uncultivated foods. Apart from food, fuel and firewood for the house, forests are a source of many minor forest products (MFP) or Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) like bamboo, cane, grasses and leaves for artisanal and other products for sale (brooms, baskets, leaf plates etc.) in addition to supply of gums, waxes, dyes, resins, medicinal plants and herbs, some seeds etc., which are sold processed or raw to others for their enterprises. Women’s knowledge of these resources, their collection, processing and storage is impressive and is considered to be more than what men in these communities possess. What is worth noting with the forest produce is that women are documented to be more involved than men[90], when it comes to marketing of the produce (unlike in the case of agricultural produce). This also means greater economic independence[91].


5.5. Exploitation of forests for raw materials for industry, the moulding of forests in way that timber is given the greatest importance and the replacement of rich forests with commercial plantations contributed to several problems that women in these communities face. There is much evidence documented on the restrictions placed on communities by the forest department with regard to MFP cultivation as well as marketing in practice. Wherever there was threat of degradation of the resources or alienation of the same, women have been waging historical struggles to regain their rights. Mass movements to protect forests have succeeded better where women have been involved. Conversely, there is a realization that forest conservation and protection efforts can only partially succeed if they do not involve women. There is an important role that women have played in governance of forests in a variety of institutional shapes it has taken whether it is social forestry, or JFM or CFM. Research has found that groups with a high proportion of women in their executive committee show significantly greater improvements in forest condition, mainly due to women’s contributions to improved forest protection and rule compliance, in addition to women using their knowledge of plant species as well as greater cooperation amongst women[92]. It has been documented that groups with more women in executive committees in forest governance and especially all-women ECs tend to make stricter rules which is attributable to these groups receiving smaller and more degraded forests[93]. Research in this area has covered not just women’s relative exclusion but in the recent past, how their proportional strength being increased could make a difference. Here, research studies show that in community forestry institutions, the group’s gender composition affects women’s effective participation, with ‘critical mass effects’ seen with proportions of one quarter to one third. Apart from this, women’s economic class also mattered when it comes to participation in governance of local forests (‘women from disadvantaged households, especially if present in sufficient numbers or with prior exposure to women’s empowerment programs can be more outspoken in public forums than women from well off households’). Facilitation by a gender-sensitive NGO or by the forest department also mattered[94].


5.6. PESA (Panchayat [Extension to Scheduled Areas’]) Act in 1996 conferred the ownership of MFP on the Gram Sabha. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 reinforces this. However, other laws like the Indian Forest Act 1927 treats products like bamboo on par with Timber; similarly, the regime created under the Wildlife Protection Act does not treat local communities as owners of MFPs. As the recent report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Tribal Communities in India under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (May 2014) notes, access to and ownership of Minor Forest Produce is not PESA-compliant under various state rules. In several places, the ownership rights over MFP have been made ‘subject to the monopoly rights of GCCs (Girijan Cooperative Corporations)’. The HLC notes that this is an erosion of the autonomy of adivasis despite possible good intentions behind these rules. In the meantime, even under the FRA, operationalizing the rights over MFP, given as a community right under this Act appears to be a huge challenge. Institutional mechanisms are unclear for this. There are other issues too. There are many villages outside Schedule V areas however where MFP is an important source of livelihood to women; further, to this day, the forest department has not allowed any access to reserved forests. In FRA, it is seen that individual claims are being settled and not community forest resource claims.


5.7. The lackadaisical and tardy implementation of the FRA is a matter of concern. As Karat and Rawal note in their paper note, by September 2013, 60 per cent of the claims have been rejected when it comes to applications filed for claims. Out of 71000 community claims filed, only 18000 have been accepted. The high rates of rejections in states where there is a substantial adivasi population such as Gujarat and Maharashtra indicates that adivasi communities have been denied their rights under the FRA, they say[95].


5.8. Today, while regulation related to access and sale of MFP has been eased in favor of local communities at least on paper in at least some places, this does not readily translate itself into economic benefits for the forest gatherers. The state does not prioritise such livelihood enterprises of forest communities, while prioritizing the forest requirements of big industry and facilitates the supply of raw materials for them. In terms of forest models that are conserved, it is important to ensure that plantations do not replace the diverse, rich forests on which lakhs of livelihoods depend. For this, decentralized nursery raising with species diversity based on women’s preferences is needed. This also provides employment opportunities for women.


5.9. It is also very important to look at forests as habitats that produce food and a variety of other MFP beyond their market value too. A recent circular from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs notes that about 25% to 50% of forest dwellers depend on MFP for food requirements. This multi-functionality of forest produce has eased women’s gendered roles quite a bit wherever the forest has been kept rich and dense and has burdened women greatly where it has been left in a degraded state. Inappropriate block plantations have been documented to reduce employment opportunities for women.


5.10. MFP markets are highly diverse and volatile. Traditionally, they have run in an exploitative fashion with price often determined by the traders. Very often planning entrepreneurship on future markets is a big challenge here. Further, in the era of climate change, it is also being pointed out that the unpredictability around MFP harvesting is increasing. There are no insurance products as of now for MFP like they exist for crop insurance. There has been a long standing demand for a Minimum Support Price or MSP system to be created around MFP, like it exists however ineffectively for agricultural produce. Ministry of Panchayati Raj had constituted a Committee under the Chairpersonship of Dr T Haque to look into ownership, price fixing, value addition and marketing of MFP which submitted its report in May 2011. Additionally, at the same, another Committee (Sudha Pillai) also studied the issue of MFP trade and recommended strategic intervention in the form of Minimum Support Price (MSP). Accepting this, it is interesting to note that MoTA has initiated a new scheme in January 2014 (“Marketing of MFP through MSP and Development of Value Chain for MFP” alluding to a section under FRA for a ‘package of interventions viz., Minimum Support Price, Trade Information System, Supply Chain Infrastructure, Value Addition and Scientific Harvesting of MFP’ with an outlay of around 1400 crores for the 12th Plan, covering 12 select MFP items to be implemented in states with scheduled areas and STs. TRIFED is the nodal agency for implementation of the scheme[96]. However, this scheme has a major caveat that said that any MFP nationalized for procurement would stand deleted from coverage under the scheme for that state. This is a major deficiency in the scheme and preempts any potential benefits that could accrue. This also does not necessarily empower the grassroots collectives of forest gatherers, because expansion of storage and trading facilities or fund to cover losses are all given to the state marketing agencies but not the ground level collectives.




6.1. The Fisheries sector in India is characterized by its small scale nature and that it is mostly a traditional economic activity practiced by particular communities. Fishers are broadly classified as inland fishers, marine fishers and fish farmers (these terms are supposed to encompass both men and women). As per the Indian Livestock Census 2003, 14.49 million people were engaged in fisheries-related activities, with 75% in inland fisheries and 25% in marine fisheries. This sector has been showing an average growth of about 6% over the 5-year plan periods.


6.2. According to the CMFRI Census 2010, there are 3,288 marine fishing villages and 1,511 marine fish landing centres in 9 maritime states and 2 union territories. The total marine fisherfolk population was about 4 million (20.1% in Tamil nadu, 15.3% from Kerala and 15.1% from Odisha) comprising in 864,550 households, out of which 192697 were in Tamil Nadu, 163427 were in Andhra Pradesh and 118937 in Kerala. 91.3% of total households were traditional fisher families. Nearly 61% of the fishermen families were under BPL category. The average family size was 4.63 and the overall sex ratio was 928 females per 1000 males (and as low as 865 in West Bengal). Almost 58% of the fisherfolk were educated with different levels of education. About 38% marine fisherfolk were engaged in active fishing with 85% of them having full time engagement. About 63.6% of the fisherfolk were engaged in fishing and allied activities. Nearly 57% of the fisherfolk engaged in fish seed collection were females and 43% were males. Among the marine fisher households nearly 76% were Hindus, 15% were Christians and 9% were Muslims. The overall percentage of SC/ST among the marine fishermen households was 17%[97].


6.3. 37.8% of the marine fisherfolk were into active fishing, 2.4% in fish seed collection. Nearly 57.4% of the fisherfolk engaged in fish seed collection were females, and similarly out of 36.5% of total fisherfolk who are engaged in marketing of fish, 81.8% were women. Similarly 88.1% of fisherfolk engaged in curing and processing were women, similar to 89.6% engaged in peeling. This marketing activity was highest in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Unfortunately, while this Census captures some data on coverage in cooperatives, it does not capture asset ownership or coverage in fisher cooperatives in a gender-disaggregated fashion.


6.4. The number of fisher families wherein only women were involved in fishing and allied activities was 41,000 which was a 17% increase over corresponding 2005 figures. However, the percentage of such families to the total fishermen families remained the same at 5%. Maharashtra happened to be the state with maximum proportion (12.5%) of families with only women involved in fishing or allied activities.


6.5. It is seen that women are actively engaged in post-harvest practices in the fisheries sector which includes processing (peeling, curing, drying, sorting, value addition etc.) and marketing. In coastal aquaculture, they are involved in seed collection, segregation, stocking, feeding, harvesting and marketing. A study from Kerala shows that women earn the highest incomes in fish vending followed by curing. Women fish vendors buy fish from the fishermen at landing centres through auctions, or from traders through bargaining and further become the retail points for consumers[98]. A study from coastal Karnataka suggests that only 16% of the fisherwomen surveyed for the nature of their work, earnings and role in decision-making, are fully involved in decision-making although their contribution to family income and household work is substantial. Provision of modern marketing facilities was flagged as an important recommendation to improve the status of fisherwomen[99].


6.6. Like in the case of other farm women, fisherwomen’s lives and livelihoods are marked by invisibility, lower incomes, indebtedness with moneylenders and in the recent past, marginalization as traditional fisheries get replaced by commercial/mechanised fisheries. There is very little ‘occupational mobility’ and community level decision-making processes often are reported to exclude fisherwomen due to existing socio-cultural norms. It is seen that very little support is extended to enhance the livelihood roles of women in fishing, including fish vending. In Odisha for instance, women are reported to walk 8 to 12 kms a day with heavy loads of fish on their heads. In a study on the status of fisherwomen in India, the women listed lack of work in lean season, physical strain in carrying fish to the selling point, low income, lack of credit, exploitation by middlemen, lack of drying yards and wage discrimination as their major problems in that order[100]. In this case, landlessness means that the women cannot start other income generating enterprises such as agriculture, dairying and poultry.


6.7. Several field studies indicate that the SHG approach adopted towards collectivizing fisherwomen has been yielding results in terms of some socio-economic improvements. However, there are also studies which show that despite the incomes brought in by women, their subsidiary role to men in the family has not changed. “Divisions based on caste, the emulation of upper caste behaviour, the continued practice and inflation of dowry, and traditional perceptions of women’s responsibilities within the family combine to keep women in a secondary and subservient position relative to men”[101].




7.1. Livestock is an integral part of Indian farming and rural economy from ancient times, with a cyclical relationship between the animals and cultivation, with each mutually supporting the other. Livestock rearing also extended the village communities’ relationship to the commons including the forests and the grazing lands. Animals also feature in farm communities’ culture and rituals quite prominently with an express recognition according to their contribution to people’s livelihoods (including some special thanksgiving festivals etc.). Today, in a rapidly-mechanising farming era, the use of animal draught power might have come down but livestock’s contribution to food and income of households is quite high. India’s livestock is one of the largest in the world and livestock-generated outputs were valued at Rs. 2075 billion in 2010-11, which comprised 4% of the country’s GDP – this is higher than the value of food grains.


7.2. Livestock contributes 1/4th to the agricultural gross domestic product and engages about 9% of the agricultural labour force. Much of the demand is being pushed by income changes and resultant dietary changes in the country. It is a sector that has outpaced crop agriculture in its growth. However, the rate of growth is declining (an annual growth rate of 5.3% during the 1980s, 3.9% during the 1990s and 3.6% during 2000s)[102].


7.3. It is also seen that livestock ownership is a major asset that poor households have. The NSSO 70th Round (findings put out in December 2014) on Key Indicators of Land and Livestock Holdings in India shows that agricultural households which have livestock farming as their principal/major source of income numbered around 2.7 million households (3.7% of all agricultural households, but 23% of households that possess the smallest landholdings), with the lowest percentage of land owned by this category in a classification based on major source of income (translating into 1.75% of agricultural households having 1.47% of total land owned with the average area owned by per household being only around 0.489 hectares). The importance of livestock as an asset in rural India when land ownership is so low can be gauged from this fact. Within the negligible use of agricultural land put to use for animal farming (only 0.88%), the largest areas go for dairy farming, following by ‘farming of other animals’. In all, around 40% of households reported farming of animals in this 70th Round NSSO Survey. Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh etc., feature high on the list of animal farming. More than 9% of agricultural households in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana reported livestock as their principal source of income.


7.4. At the all-India level, while the average monthly income of agricultural households was calculated at Rs. 6426/-, it is estimated that 11.9% (Rs. 763/-) of this is from livestock. For households belonging to the lowest landholding size class, farming of animals fetched more income than cultivation (Rs. 1181/- per month from animal farming and only Rs. 30/- from cultivation, and around Rs. 2902/- from wages/salary). This once again reiterates the importance of livestock as a major livelihood source for the poorest, especially landless rural households, and the potential it holds for pro-poor inclusive growth. Scholars argue that the incidence of rural poverty in states like Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan is less, where livestock accounts for a sizeable share of agricultural income as well as employment.


7.5. In India, while the same cannot be said of land, livestock management is mostly in the hands of women (in a decision-making sense). It is seen that ownership of cattle increases the confidence and self worth of women[103]. It is seen that in decision-making related to milk sale, feed purchase, sale of animal and purchase of animal, women have a key role, and that they also have greater control over income[104]. Women are estimated to 71% of the labour force in livestock farming[105]. 75 million women are supposed to be engaged in dairying in India, as against 15 million men[106]. Dairying in particular has been seen to be an important source of livelihood for (landless and other) women, and as has been noted elsewhere, this is the largest sector in terms of women’s incomes. This is a sector that was always feminized and getting increasingly more feminized. While disproportionately high amounts of responsibilities related to most animal farming activities like fodder collection, feeding, watering, cleaning, milking, healthcare, household level processing and value addition as well as marketing are performed by women, studies also indicate that income from animal farming is mostly in the control of women.


7.6. It is however seen that formal support systems related to managing risks or purchase of good quality animals etc., are not always available to women. In fact, animal husbandry loans out of total term loans in agriculture is coming down as a percentage of total loans for agriculture (crop loans, investment credit or term loans together). From being around 15% in 2002-03, by 2009-10, it declined to 9.5%. It is also seen that the share of poultry and small ruminants has come down significantly. However, budgetary outlays of Government of India for animal husbandry have been increasing as a percentage of total outlays for agriculture with the tenth plan seeing a sudden spurt to 11.87% compared to 3.6% in the Ninth Plan. It has been seen that investments have not been commensurate to the benefits that this sector brings.


7.7. The dairy cooperative network in the country includes 177 milk unions covering 346 districts and over 1,33,000 village-level societies with a total membership of nearly 14 million farmers. Fifteen major State Cooperative Federations have some 173 dairy plants (of total 254 cooperative processing units) with a handling capacity of about 270 lakh liters of milk per day. It is seen that cooperatives market liquid milk while private sector which occupies the other equal half in the market is into processing and dairy products. Threat to the Indian dairy sector from liberalized trade is very high and this has been discussed elsewhere in this section.


7.8. Apart from liberalized trade which could threaten existing cooperatives and federations, it is often seen that access to remunerative markets is not always available for dairy farmers, who are mostly women. On the one hand, the modernization approach (in sub sectors like poultry, dairying etc.) seeks to look at yield-centric breeding, feed and fodder development, disease control and healthcare in a specialized fashion. This approach is geared towards maximizing production. On the other, for the poorest women for whom livestock is a major income-generating asset, the animal farming operation is usually at a subsistence level. There are newer threats in the form of grazing lands shrinking, cropping patterns shifting, risks increasing in the age of climate change etc. Conservation of locally adapted breeds has received a short-shrift and it is seen that in the absence of an effective and affordable insurance regime for livestock, infusion of exotic breeds has not been helpful. Further, critics point out that capacity building investments on women to manage their cooperatives have not always been made.


7.9. The famous Amul experience and the dairy cooperatives’ contribution to Operation Flood cannot be overstated in any discussion on animal farming in India. However, the membership in most of India’s dairy cooperatives is heavily dominated by men. Only about 18% are estimated to be women within these dairy cooperative societies. Importantly, their presence in leadership/governance roles is far lesser, and is estimated at just 3% in board membership[107].


7.10. Like in the case of women in cultivation, women in dairying are invisible and ignored. Since they are not in decision-making posts, they are not able to take up decisive measures in the new institutions/cooperatives in favour of women. It is seen that credit is not accessible to women for cattle feed, fodder, healthcare of animals etc. As mentioned earlier, credit for purchase of new animals is also very difficult to obtain. Organisations like SEWA in Gujarat are showing how special fodder security schemes and systems can support women in livestock management. This includes purchase as well as cultivation of fodder in government fodder farms.


7.11. Government of India has begun supporting All Women Dairy Cooperatives to enhance women’s participation in this activity – support is drawn from STEP project of MWCD. National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has started imparting special trainings to women.


7.12. As of 2011, more than 41 lakh women are reported to be members of dairy cooperative societies. 2.5 lakh women have become elected leaders in their village dairy cooperatives. 265 have been elected to the Boards of Milk Unions. There are 2 all-women milk unions run entirely by women as their own enterprise (Ichhamati Cooperative Milk Union in West Bengal and Mulkanoor Women’s Mutually Aided Milk Producers Cooperative Union in Telangana). Micro-studies point out to mixed results from women’s membership in dairy cooperatives. While there are economic benefits are there, empowerment benefits are ambiguous[108].




8.1. In India, the co-operative form of organisation saw light in the year 1904 post the enactment of the Co-operative Credit Societies Act. Subsequently, a more comprehensive Act – the Co-operative Societies Act, was drafted in 1912. After India attained Independence in 1947, co-operatives assumed greater significance as an instrument of socio-economic development and became an integral part of India‘s Five Year Plans. The cooperative movement has received significant administrative, technical and financial support over the years. As a result, India has the largest network of co-operatives in the world. It is estimated that there are over 3.5 lakhs of different kinds of co-operatives with a membership of 15.6 crores. At present, there are 7500 women co-operatives in the country across 22 states[109]. Such co-operatives occupy an important place in India‘s rural economy in terms of their coverage of rural population and their share in the total supply of agricultural inputs, dairy products, weaving textiles, provision stores including credit and contribute significantly to rural development.


8.2. With the formation of Women’s Industrial Co-operatives, Women’s Cooperative Banks and Women’s Multi-Purpose Societies also began to be formed. There are several classifications of cooperatives namely; Producer cooperative societies (Dairy, Sugar, and Weaving), Consumer cooperative societies, Marketing cooperative society, Insurance cooperative society, Housing cooperative society, Cooperative farming society and Credit cooperative society. The membership of a co-operative society is open to all those who have common interest. The primary objective of forming such cooperatives also by women was to eliminate the corresponding middlemen and capitalists and to increase the purchasing power of the members of the cooperatives. Moreover, this was seen to promote the welfare of the members by encouraging the habit of thrift, investment and commitment. Cooperatives not only assured high monetary returns but also proved beneficial for non-monetary reasons.


8.3. In India, the first dairy co-operative society was registered in 1913 at Allahabad in U.P. and was called “Katra Cooperative Dairy Society”. But the first producer-oriented union formed in 1946 was The Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union at Anand (AMUL) which constituted an important landmark in the development of the dairy co-operative movement. Amul is a brand managed by a cooperative body, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF), which today is jointly owned by 3 million milk producers in Gujarat. Recognizing the need for supportive services and social security, and to support women’s entrepreneurship including through credit, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Cooperative was established in Ahmedabad. SEWA has succeeded in the initiation of numerous initiatives and has offered countless services to its women members[110]. Ranging from credit and insurance to health care, child care, legal services, capacity building, and now housing facilities; these services have come a long way in emerging self-sufficient and financially viable. These services offered by women for women are no more dependent on subsidies and are positive business models that have further potential to spread their wings. Women members are ready to pay for the services, making the service provision viable. Initiated as a trade union, today, the “SEWA Movement” consists of around 10 lakh members (as of 2008), and spans rural producer groups, savings and credit associations, vegetable growers and sellers associations, women’s markets, cooperatives of craftswomen etc. Raising the socio-economic status of women engaged in the weaving industries, ‘Thangjam Leikai Women Weavers Cooperative Society Limited’, of Sogolband, Imphal was registered in 1967. 253 members have been instrumental in raising massive paid up share capital within three decades of its existence. With the objective to improve the economic condition of the weavers of the handloom and allied industries, the society is engaged in producing and selling of all kinds of traditional and modern textiles. Women members of of four large cooperatives in Anantapur district, supported by NGO Timbaktu Collective have now federated themselves through Mahasakthi, a federation of cooperatives. Apart from economic self reliance of members through increasing their asset base, improving their credit worthiness and generating further employment and income, this federation is also the basis of a vibrant movement for women’s empowerment and autonomy[111]. Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India with a membership record of 28 million[112] is responsible for marketing development of tribal produce and handicrafts. The main objective of TRIFED is to serve the interests of its members in more than one state for the social and economic betterment of its members by conducting its affairs in professional, democratic and autonomous manner through self-help and mutual cooperation for undertaking marketing development of the tribal products. Efforts such as the above are geared to make these co-operatives viable business prototypes that can support self-employed women to become a vital and observable part of the economic development in their own right.


8.4. While much of the existing study on rural co-operatives focuses on women producers, it is interesting to see how the value of thriving cooperatives could translate in to improved livelihood opportunities for women, collective strength, increased self-esteem and improved status-quo in the communities. A few co-operatives have also transformed themselves as solidarity groups when in need and have seen to strengthen women’s capacity to defend and secure their rights to decent living. An empirical study[113] in Karnataka throws light on how the co-operative movement can make a positive impact in empowering rural women socially, economically, personally, psychologically and financially. Awareness campaigns, as in the Women’s Dairy Cooperative leadership programme in India, have also helped double the participation rates of women.[114]


8.5. Despite the overwhelming importance gained by rural co-operatives in India’s rural economy, most of the co-operatives suffer from a variety of internal and external problems. The major constraints witnessed include the lack of professionalism in the functioning of the clusters; an archaic co-operative law, excessive control and interference by government in certain sectors; lack of good elected leadership; small size of business and hence inability to attain financial viability; lack of performance-based reward systems; and internal work culture and environment not entirely conducive to the growth and development of co-operatives as a business enterprise.


8.6. The amount of capital that a cooperative society can raise from its member is very limited because the membership is generally confined to a particular section of the society. Again due to low rate of return the members do not invest more capital. Government’s assistance is often inadequate for most of the co-operative societies, in spite of the many subsidies and aid offered. Ideally, there should be minimum provisions in laws to control the affairs of cooperatives. The Government should set up independent bodies for cooperative audit and holding elections. The Multi-state Cooperative Societies Act, 2002 is a good piece of legislation in this direction and may be made a model while revamping the cooperative laws of our country. Additionally, there is a need for uniformity in cooperative legislation, particularly in respect of aspects crucial for autonomous and democratic functioning of cooperatives. Besides the inadequate capital limitation, it is seen that co-operative societies do not function efficiently due to lack of managerial talent. The members or their elected representatives are not experienced enough to manage the society.


8.7. Converting all Cooperatives into Multi-Purpose Cooperatives is a much-needed move. It is especially important to emphasize this in strengthening the capacities of women cooperative members, in situations where women’s access to education and information may be limited. Fresh efforts are warranted to create a cadre of trained workers. The government either through its own institutions or through recognised agencies should play an important role in this regard. More specifically ensuring that women’s co-operatives have equal and adequate access to extension services and relevant productive and communication technologies is vital.


8.8. In Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies and other agri-cooperative societies, membership norms are often tied to land ownership, which keeps out women farmers from membership and leadership positions. There should also be norms laid down for minimum number of women at all levels, including from various socio-economic categories.


8.9. The National Cooperative Development Corporation in the Ministry of Agriculture implements cooperative development programmes with the help of a Central Sector Integrated Scheme on Agricultural Cooperation (CSISAC). NCDC provides assistance to cooperative marketing, processing, storage etc. NCDC encourages women cooperatives to avail assistance under its various schemes. These cooperatives deal with fruits and vegetables, sugarcane processing, handloom, power loom, spinning and services activities and so on. As on 31/3/2014, NCDC had sanctioned and released financial assistance of Rs. 189.67 crore and Rs. 89.88 crore respectively for the development of cooperative societies exclusively promoted by women. Out of the 1157 projects/units that got assistance sanctioned in 2013-14, it is estimated that 5.65 lakh women members are enrolled, out of which 4418 members are on the Board of Directors. It is estimated that these projects would in turn provide and sustain employment for 1.60 lakh women. It is also noted that in Cooperative Education efforts, trainings were provided to 16944 women in 2013-14, which is a very small outreach.




9.1. A few flagship centrally sponsored schemes have been initiated in the recent past in the Ministry of Agriculture to increase investments in this sector. This was mostly as a response to flagging agriculture growth in the country. The objectives are mostly around increasing overall agricultural productivity and production, reducing the ‘yield gaps’ and maximize returns to farmers. While the former is measured, there are no annual or biennial surveys in place to measure farm incomes in the country. Further, the Ministry has decided to mainstream gender concerns by mandating that a minimum of 30% of resources on all programmes and activities are utilized for women farmers; similarly, 30% of resources meant for extension workers are to be utilized for women extension functionaries. A National Gender Resource Centre in Agriculture (NGRCA) has been set up as a unit of Directorate of Extension in the Ministry. This Centre is expected to act as a focal point for the convergence of gender-related activities and issues in agriculture and allied sectors within and outside the DAC’ addressing gender dimension to agri-policies and programmes; rendering advocacy and advisory services to States/UTs to internalize gender specific interventions for bringing farm women into the mainstream of agriculture development. There is also a Directorate of Research for Women in Agriculture (DRWA) set up in Bhubaneswar. As part of agriculture extension outreach, one Gender Coordinator is appointed in every state as part of the team of “Support to State Extension Programme for Extension Reforms” scheme, in addition to representation of women farmers at all levels of advisory and decision-making bodies (this is a recent initiative and its impact is yet to be seen). In the modified ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency at the district level) scheme, it is reported that out of 3.3 crore farmers who participated in various farmer-oriented activities since the inception of the programme in 2005-06, 24.1% were women[115]. ATMA is also setting up Farm Women’s Food Security Groups (FSGs) with a support to the tune of Rs. 10,000/group. A total of 36700 FSGs have been targeted for the plan period. The Ministry, under certain schemes, also lays down either larger percentage of subsidy, or greater assistance when it comes to women farmers as an affirmative measure[116]. Some of the large flagship schemes in agriculture include:


9.2. Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana: This is a scheme launched in 2007 during the 11th Plan to provide an incentive to states to increase public investment in agriculture and allied sectors; bring about quantifiable changes in production and productivity and maximize returns to farmers. This scheme has around 20 sectors like crop development, animal husbandry, dairy development, extension, agriculture mechanization, fisheries, horticulture, integrated pest management, marketing and post-harvest management, micro/minor irrigation, natural resource management, seed etc. Here, Minor Irrigation, Animal Husbandry, Horticulture, Seed, Agriculture Mechanisation etc., get the largest outlays based on project proposals received at the state level. For the 12th Five Year Plan, around 63,250 crore rupees have been allocated for this. It is important to note that this flagship scheme for agricultural development has no specific sector for support to women farmers.


9.3. National Food Security Mission: Launched in 2007-08, with an outlay of Rs. 12,350 crores in the 12th Five Year Plan, this programme aims to increase food grains output in the country. Rice, Wheat, Pulses and Coarse Cereals are the main focus of this intervention. NFSM is supposed to adopt a cropping systems approach, and is supposed to invest on developing farmer producer organizations, creating value chains and market linkages. However, there is no evidence of any systematic work with women farmers as part of NFSM.


9.4. Similarly, there is the National Horticulture Mission to support the holistic growth of the horticulture sector through area-based regionally-differentiated strategies. It aims to enhance acreage, coverage and productivity. This scheme has components meant for women farmers’ groups to extend support for mechanization and post-harvest management including different kinds of processing units. It is noted by observers that there is considerable disconnect between the ambitious objectives set out by the central government for each of these schemes, when viewed against the actual programmes and components being delivered on the ground[117]. It is acknowledged that many of these schemes have considerable overlap in objectives and they also run mostly on a ‘first come first served’ principle rather than need and equity. Although on paper these schemes show one-third of the beneficiaries being women, the actual practice shows that these programmes rarely reach out to women.


9.5. On the other hand, it is the women’s self help groups created under various schemes by various departments (rural development etc.) that seem to be able to access some support for their member-farmers. This is borne out from the experiences of the large livelihoods interventions spearheaded by Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in the case of the undivided Andhra Pradesh, Kudumbashree in Kerala, Jeevika in Bihar etc. Here, the main difference in approach is that agriculture as a sector is not seen only as a matter of production and productivity, but as a matter of livelihoods for the poorest, including women.


9.6. There is now an exclusive scheme under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission which focuses on Women Farmers, called the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP). This scheme supports women as farmers in a range of situations (landless agricultural workers, cultivators, forest-gatherers, sharecroppers etc.). As per the official website of this scheme, there are 10 Project Implementation Agencies (PIAs) reaching out to 21.75 lakh women farmers in the states of Andhra Pradesh/Telangana, Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh with project outlays of Rs. 554 crore rupees[118]. A recent review of the scheme however reports that the present coverage is in 14 states, 117 districts, 983 blocks and 17000 villages, with 57 PIAs. MKSP’s investments are largely in the undivided Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (the former alone having about 40% investment)[119].


9.7. The core focus of MKSP under sustainable agriculture sector is to promote agriculture on a sustainable basis, where the inputs are localized, risks mitigated in various ways, productivity enhanced, food security ensured and net income of the family increased. The project aims to create sustainable agricultural livelihood opportunities for women in agriculture, ensure food and nutrition security at the household and community level, improve the skills and capabilities of women in agriculture with regard to farm-based activities and enhance the managerial capacities of women in agriculture. On the Forest Livelihoods front, this scheme aims to give poor women forest gatherers control over institutions pertaining to NTFP value chain; promote regeneration of NTFP species to improve biodiversity and enhance productivity; build the capacities of the community for modern harvesting and post-harvesting techniques for income enhancement; promote value addition of NTFP to ensure higher returns. The core focus therefore is on enhancing the livelihoods of women NTFP collectors by promoting the entire value chain, starting from regeneration to collection, processing and marketing.


9.8. It is to be noted that even in a programme like this, it is not clear if express objectives related to women’s land ownership rights, or getting women to access formal credit, insurance, marketing etc., are always being woven in. For instance, it is seen that mobilization into collectives in the MKSP does not always focus on women’s strategic needs. Women farmers need recognition and identity-building, starting with the self, but certainly from the state and the society. MKSP’s potential to establish such an identity successfully is enormous. On the practical front, drudgery-reducing tool banks can be set up which is not always happening in the programme even though it is one of the objectives, as a recent review of some projects discovered. Further, leaving convergence to be achieved by the PIA is a serious limitation of the scheme, it is observed. Heavy reliance on extension support, knowledge and capacity-building for risk- and cost-reduction in farming is not accompanied by any thought in the scheme design on how women would negotiate adoption of these technologies within the household. Concentration of the programme investments in a few states, and lack of exploration of projects related to forest produce, small ruminants, poultry and horticulture are noted as current implementation shortcomings. It is felt that MKSP should register women farmers/collectives with line departments like rural development/DRDA, agriculture etc., to leverage additional investments, access kisan credit cards, get membership in PACS and get marketing support.


9.9. Despite some gaps at present, it is commendable that there is a scheme like MKSP that weaves in an understanding of women’s collectivization around farm livelihoods, supports capacity building in various spheres related to farming, brings in elements of environment conservation especially biodiversity understanding the close linkages between rural women’s well being and the state of environmental resources and also presents alternative extension models centred around women and their knowledge and skills for the very first time. It is expected that such an approach will bring in good results in the lives of the women farmers being covered in this scheme.


The story of 62-year-old Chandramma of Bidakanne village in Zaheerabad region of Medak district is inspiring. Born in a dalit family, without much education, decades of her life were spent as an agricultural worker earning daily wages by working in other people’s lands. Time also went into taking care of the assigned land that her husband’s family got from the government. Such assigned lands in this semi-arid Deccan plateau of India are unproductive, far away from the village and hardly yielded anything for the family. For poor dalit families, it was less riskier to work in other people’s lands than depend on their own little plots. Chandramma became a widow when she was still young and started bringing up her two sons all by herself. When Deccan Development Society (DDS) – an NGO that chose the route of empowering dalit women farmers to take charge of their own lives, including respecting their own knowledge systems and resources – came into her village in the late 1980s and started organizing the women into Sangams, Chandramma was one of the first to opt to become one of the leaders of the Sangam. Tapping into her enormous knowledge of the local food and farming systems, DDS also built her capacities further in technical expertise related to permaculture and other agro-ecological approaches. Soon, ‘Permaculture Chandramma’ found herself teaching young boys and girls from her region sustainable agriculture, as one of the main teachers of Pachha Saale, the Green School. By opting for diversity-based cropping that also emphasizes seed sovereignty along with seed diversity revival, she found that her farming was more resilient, and less risky than others who were into a high-external-input intensive agriculture paradigm. Getting into collective land lease for organic, diversity-based farming with other women in her village brought in additional sources of food security as well as income. Meanwhile, while her seed-keeping work for the community earned her accolades from the administration and others, she found that it also started changing her social status enormously. “Today, upper caste men come into my house looking for good quality seed. They discuss various ecological farming practices with me, and ask me for tips. Where we were considered untouchable earlier, and seen inferior to men because I am born a woman, all of that has changed”, narrates Chandramma. While others are experiencing losses and crisis in their farming and are also selling away their plots of land, Chandramma proudly says that she has been able to purchase 4 more acres of land, piece by piece, with her hard-earned money and not run into debts like others. Here, she grows a wide variety of crops. She says that this is a fight against marginalization of women, of certain castes, of certain crops and lands, and of certain kinds of farming. Her knowledge, her seeds, her farming system and her women’s collective have been the rallying point to bring about unimaginable transformation, through interventions like grain banks, seed banks, collective cultivation of leased land by women farmers, land development efforts on own land and ‘Sangam Market’. The women’s collectives across 85 villages in this region have also created their own alternative marketing system called the “Sangam Market” or the ‘Market of the Walk-Outs’. Here, the women members try to trade in their surpluses with each other first, benefiting both as producers and consumers of a variety of food grains. Chandramma says that this programme also empowered them significantly.





  • Access and Control over Resources like Land, Seed and Forests


10.1.1. Securing Women’s Land Rights:


It is important to ensure that all women’s rights to land and other property be made gender-just, to meet the constitutional obligation of equality. This should be irrespective of religion, ethnicity etc.


10.1.1.i. Maintaining a new column in basic land records: In the very basic land records that are maintained in India, across states, it is seen that there is no column that indicates the sex of the land owner. This prevents any disaggregated information on women’s land ownership from emerging and that in turn, affects the ability of civil society or state to take up focused work on ensuring equal rights to land. An immediate change has to be brought about by the Centre and the States (land being a state subject) to include this column and present disaggregated data village-wise, all the way up to the state level, on all revenue department/land records authorities’ websites.


It is also recommended that women’s names be added at the time of marriage in the land records conferring clear succession rights. Similarly, maintaining inheritance charts/heir trees would help in ensuring inheritance rights and getting mutations done faster.


10.1.1.ii. Accountability of authorities: The fact that very little inheritance has actually accrued to women has to be taken seriously by the government; this is directly correlated to the authorities in charge of land records not recording and ensuring inheritance that is due to women as is. This once again shows up the deep gender bias that exists in various public institutions of the state too – revenue authorities starting from the Patwari and block level officials should be held accountable for not recording inheritance to women for every fragmentation of property that happens in all settlement records and mutations. Similarly, sub-registrars while recording land transactions in their office, should specifically ask if any female claimants are present or not, and every transaction should have these details recorded in writing. It has been found that more women inducted into the revenue department could help; incentivising officials who proactively ensure implementation of the inheritance entitlements would help. A restriction on the right to will to prohibit disinheritance of wives and daughters is necessary and should be brought in immediately; other measures related to elimination of forced coercion aimed at women relinquishing their shares and ensuring that HSAA overrides state laws related to agricultural land are needed. It has been recommended elsewhere that District Collectors should set monitorable targets for themselves. There has been a suggestion elsewhere in the 12th Plan documents that women’s land rights be made inalienable and non-transferable for the first twenty years or so.


10.1.1.iii. In Gujarat, the trainings given to revenue officials include a gender sensitization component, including specific orientation on women’s property rights, consequent to civil society lobbying work. The HLC welcomes the proposal to set up a special helpline at tehsil and district levels to which women can approach to resolve any issues related to their land rights. This would be a supportive and effective mechanism only if the personnel working at the helpline are sensitized and equipped, and mostly women themselves.


10.1.1.iv. Creation of women’s land pools in all villages might help, to deal with the practical problem of women’s parcels of inherited lands having to be managed by someone, especially in the absence of supportive natal families for women landowners. Such land pools can be managed by women’s SHGs with extra support from the state machinery.


10.1.1.v. Awareness and motivation: There needs to be large scale awareness and motivation campaigns on women’s rights to land – this should be taken up in such a way that parents willingly give the rightful share of land to daughters, even as daughters are able to know about their right and claim it. A recent study indicates that only 22% of respondents surveyed knew about the inheritance rights under Hindu Succession Act amendment; it has been seen in NGO-led campaigns which bestow public recognition and appreciation of parents who do this has helped. Land purchase schemes: While stricter implementation of women’s inheritance rights will go a long way in ensuring their control over productive resources like land, it is obvious that this will not suffice in the case of households which have no or negligible landholdings to begin with – a large number of dalit and other landless households might fall under this category. It is important that land purchase schemes are created and run for all such women. Such schemes should also incorporate land development fund and should encourage collective farming by the women at least in the initial years. This should be taken up particularly for dalit women, to ensure that good, cultivable lands are owned by them, with upto at least 2 acres per woman. This should also be accompanied by land development investments by dovetailing with other schemes wherever needed.


10.1.1,vii. Incentivising land title transfer through other means: It is being seen that when important schemes are made conditional to women’s land ownership and the stamp duties are also waived off or reduced drastically, there is voluntary transfer of land parcels from men to women as has been documented in the recent past. Therefore, various schemes should be changed to accommodate this emerging response from the public urgently.


10.1.1.viii. Ensuring de-facto land rights: De-facto land rights, through long term land lease by collectives of women should be facilitated by special laws and mechanisms, as has happened in the case of Andhra Pradesh, and now in Kerala. Such land lease projects, “accredited” with a block or district level body set up for the purpose, should receive special and priority support for extension, credit, insurance, marketing etc. Agro-ecological approaches should be promoted in these projects to minimize risk in farming and also to allow the women’s collective to exploit the potential of niche markets, in addition to consuming nutritious, safe food themselves.


Sangha krishi, or group farming holds immense potential for providing de-facto land rights to women. There are now over 200,000 women organized in such groups, farming nearly a hundred thousand acres of land. This began in 2007 as a means to boost local food production. Kerala’s women embraced this vision eagerly. There are now more than 47,000 collectives involving women farmers across the State. These collectives lease fallow land, rejuvenate it, and farm it. They then either sell the produce or use it for consumption, depending on the needs of members. There are inspiring examples. In Perambra, Kudumbashree women, working with the panchayat, have restored 140 acres that lay fallow for 26 years. They now grow rice, vegetables and tapioca on it. This is bringing about a palpable shift in the role of women in Kerala’s agriculture. Thousands of Kudumbashree women are shifting from underpaid wage work to being producers. With independent production, they gain greater control over their time and labor. As also over crops, production methods and, vitally, over the produce. Some 100,000 women now practice organic farming. More wish to. Kudumbashree farmers are passionate about fighting ecological devastation through alternative farming methods.


Of Millstones, Milestones & Millionaires: P Sainath and Ananya Mukherjee, 20/10/14–milestones—millionaires-060413077.html




10.1.1.ix. Land transfers/distribution/assignment by the State: The HLC welcomes the proposals in the draft National Land Reforms Policy (NLRP) to recognize women’s claims to land in all government land transfers and suggests that this should be taken up with retro-effect with a cut-off deadline. Government’s proposal that all new transfers by the government will only be in the name of women instead of joint titles is also welcome. Priority should be given to landless households from marginalized communities. It is time that the draft NLRP is converted into a proper policy and similar policies adopted at the state level.


10.1.1.x. Common property resources: It is very important to have a broad livelihoods perspective towards common property resources, especially when it comes to women’s livelihoods. The draft National Land Reforms Policy proposes committees comprising only of women to manage CPRs. This is welcome. The HLC proposes that there should be a conscious effort to include women in land use planning at all levels and not just make them beneficiaries of land distribution and re-distribution. Environmental referenda should be an integral part of decision-making on land use, as has been done in the case of Niyamgiri in Odisha. Such environmental referenda should also be in the specific context of women’s livelihood needs.


10.1.1.xi. The draft NLRP (National Land Reforms Policy, 2013) also proposes that states undertake an assessment of all uncultivated arable land and give women’s groups long term usufruct rights to it for group cultivation. This proposal needs to be implemented.


10.1.1.xii. It is important that the State makes investments on collectivization of women, for awareness creation, capacity building, for allotting land to or purchasing land for such collectives wherever possible, for investing on land development and supporting the agricultural operations (that too based on agro-ecological approaches) till the marketing end.


10.1.1.xiii. In all these efforts, it is important to weave in special focus towards landless and single women, as well as dalit and adivasi women.


10.1.1.xiv. The 12th Plan document exhorts states to consider the adoption of a ‘group approach’ in land cultivation and investment in productive assets. “Women will also be helped to purchase land in groups for group cultivation by a loan cum grant scheme with 50 percent of the loan as a low interest loan and the remaining 50 percent as a grant”. It also says that incentives will be provided to women farmers/SHGs, for group farming on leased or owned land through financial support for group formation, tying credit subsidy, technology access and so on for group farming. HLC welcomes this and urges the government to move rapidly in this direction.


10.1.1.xv. All the above efforts will bear fruit only if there is minimization of land grabbing, land alienation and land acquisition in the first instance.


10.1.2. Other productive resources like Seed, Forests, Fishery sources: It is widely acknowledged that multi-cropping is a good approach to take care of a diversity of livelihood needs of poor communities, especially women, in terms of food security, in addition to fuel, fibre and fodder needs too. Such diversity rests on seed resources and associated knowledge being readily available to communities; traditionally, this existed with women in farm communities. However, with increasing privatization of the seed sector, with newer seed technologies driving the market and monocultures replacing diversity, the role of seed diversity in securing livelihoods as well as that of women is diminishing rapidly. For women to have economic empowerment, that too with a mixture of cash and subsistence cropping, in an agro-ecological setting, it is important that seed diversity is revived, and put into the control of women again. Seeking active participation of women in varietal selection and development in crop breeding is very important since women and men have different preferences when it comes to seed varieties, depending on their particular roles and responsibilities. In fact, it is important to recognize women’s breeding skills and invest on the same, so that they can control Seed to suit their requirements and preferences. Community seed banks and taking up seed multiplication as part of existing government programs on seeds have been successfully established in numerous locations and need to be replicated. When it comes to forests, it is seen that community forest resource rights are not being claimed adequately or cleared, as part of the Forest Rights Act. Further, the picture about pattas being issued in the name of women is also not clear, though the Act has enabling provisions. Forest Management Committees are to be created and empowered for the protection, conservation and resource management of the Community Forest Resource (CFR) area. Women’s due space as per the FRA is not being created in various institutions under the statute and this needs to be addressed immediately. The draft national land reforms policy points out that patta distribution in the name of woman as specified under the FRA should be implemented with greater vigour and efficiency. It is also important that FRA be implemented in conjunction with PESA, upholding in letter and spirit the progressive provisions of both statutes. Women’s collectives should be given lease rights over ponds and other water bodies to take up inland fisheries. It is also important that the State actively ensures that land-grabbing, land alienation and land acquisition are minimized from farm communities since it is seen that increasing landlessness is a major cause for the contraction of overall women’s employment in India.




Apart from control over resources like Land, Seed and Forests, there are numerous interventions needed with regard to collectivizing women producers, research and extension, credit and insurance, marketing support including infrastructure needs and so on.


10.2.1. Support for rehabilitation of widows and daughters of farm suicide victims: Separate efforts are needed to ensure that women in farm suicide families are re-integrated into the economy. This includes securing their land rights, and giving them adequate support to continue with farming in a viable and sustainable manner. Loans should be waived and education support provided to their children.


10.2.2. Women’s collectivization: It is widely acknowledged now that collectivization of smallholders is the key to their livelihoods being improved. This applies more so in the case of women producers. Unfortunately, however, most organising of women is boiling down to a single strategy of micro-finance centred organizing. This has to change in terms of picking up issues and themes that the women themselves find pertinent in terms of collectivization. More enabling institutional mechanisms in the women’s collectives are found to be very important (meeting timings, soliciting more active participation, inclusion of single women and women who face difficult circumstances and most importantly, including agenda that incorporates women’s concerns and needs etc.). Such collectivization should focus on both practical and strategic gender needs.


10.2.3. Land development: Prioritisation of MGNREGS land development works in women-owned lands (including long term land lease instances) would be an incentive and valuable support. Single women already appear in the revised Schedule I and II notified in December 2013.


10.2.4. Crop Planning: Attempting market integration after first addressing food security seems to be the key here. Therefore, a well thought-out and planned combination of food and commercial crops is essential, including planning for such crop mixes in collective land lease efforts with adequate marketing support.


10.2.5. Low external input agro-ecological agriculture: Promotion of ecological farming, by building capacities for such an approach to agriculture is important. This is in the context of the need to develop resilient farming systems in the context of climate change, and to bring down riskiness in farming. Enterprises around such agro-ecological farming could include production and supply of bio-fertilisers and other inputs. In certain places, enterprises around bio-inputs, managed by single women or entire SHGs have been tried out successfully.


10.2.6. Water: When it comes to water use, it is important to ensure that water user associations have enough female representation and all their gendered concerns around water availability and use should be addressed equitably. Water supply to homestead/kitchen gardens might fetch additional income to women in addition to meeting household food and nutrition requirements.


10.2.7. Reducing drudgery in domestic activities will go a long way in freeing up women’s time for the economic enterprise, in addition to giving her some leisure time. It is very important to create public childcare services to reduce this burden on women.


10.2.8. Reducing drudgery should also include production and post-harvest technologies, and support to get them installed, if needed at a community level. It is seen that women adopted by benefiting NPM methods of crop cultivation thereby reducing negative health implications for themselves, even as net returns in farming improved, after input processors for neem and other such bio-products were installed in the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture project of Andhra Pradesh.


10.2.9. Engendering Extension: There should be a mandatory inclusion of women in extension departments, of at least 33% at all levels. Further, using women farmers as community resource persons as a frontline face of the extension department is useful. There could be separate women’s resource cells set up at least at the block level, which will act as a single window system for all issues pertaining to women farmers, including their land-related matters. Such bodies can also take up systematic documentation and research for more focused future interventions.


10.2.9.i. Farmer Field School model of extension is seen to have improved the productivity of female farmers compared to male farmers elsewhere and this needs to be scaled up in India. If required, exclusive women’s farmer field schools need to be set up. Using female extension agents has also been documented to be a factor improving productivity of women farmers. This has to be done by first understanding and addressing the constraints of female extension workers themselves for it to be effective. Using other women farmers for motivation has worked in various micro-experiences around India. Extension services that are particularly tailored around women’s roles in households seemed to have worked better. Utilisation of appropriate IEC material becomes important, given the literacy and education constraints that exist. Including female community resource persons (CRPs) in the grassroots extension cadre is one of the strategies adopted by CMSA (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) in Andhra Pradesh. Further, downward accountability to the women’s federation was built into a new innovative extension model here[120].


10.2.10. Engendering Agri Research: Micro-studies show that technology dissemination to suit women’s needs, preferences, capabilities, resources as well as limitations of different kinds, and that seeks to address their drudgery has been successful. For this to happen, research has to have the right agenda and a gender-differentiated analysis of the situation.


10.2.11. Engendering Agricultural Credit: There should be customized terms and conditions for agri-loans to women farmers, with a special focus on SC/ST/Single women farmers. This requires issuance of Kisan Credit Cards for women through SHG-Bank Linkage as well as for individual women farmers, without necessarily tying this to land ownership. The new RBI guidelines for extending credit to landless farmers should be implemented effectively. There should also be financial capital provided to women’s collectives, especially for production through ecological farming and marketing of the produce. Public investments to support women farmers especially in rainfed farming should be enhanced, for promotion of agro-ecological practices.


10.2.12. There is also a need to extend crop insurance coverage to women cultivators with effective implementation put into place.


A separate section is included in this chapter that assesses the availability (or lack of) a variety of financial services including savings products and insurance for women.


10.2.13. The one important point to note here is that while financial services do make a vital contribution to the economic productivity and social well-being of a woman, it does not automatically empower women as scholars have argued. It only provides possibilities rather than a predetermined set of outcomes[121]. Further, there is a concern expressed by women’s rights activists that a minimal, finance-based SHG model, which is now being replicated all over the country through the National Rural Livelihood Mission will miss out on numerous other appropriate forms of organizing women, for their practical and strategic empowerment.


10.2.14. Support to marketing of women producers’ products: It is clear that aggregation of produce will help in terms of marketing of agricultural produce including by acquiring scale. In the case of women’s collectives, government should ensure adequate infrastructure for storage and processing, in addition to professional services lent for setting up enterprises with all the associated institutional mechanisms put in place. There is also a need to infuse capital and the State should take upon itself to lend such support to all rural women’s collectives dealing with agricultural and forest produce. This applies to forest produce also, where minimum fair prices should be legally guaranteed. Additionally, this should apply to existing procurement of food grains and other products with MSP ensured, with women also availing of this opportunities equally.


10.2.14.i. All marketing infrastructure in the country should be made women-friendly and safe, in addition to making it accessible to women farmers including in terms of distance etc. (which would then require localized procurement centres to be operated at least seasonally). Market management committees and any other governance bodies should also have women farmers’ representatives.


10.2.14.ii. Produce from women’s collectives, especially of nutritious food grains like millets and pulses should be absorbed into various food schemes of the government on a priority basis, including ICDS and MDMS thereby providing ready markets for women farmers even as such food is fed to children for addressing nutrition security and food safety issues.


10.2.15. Engendering Forest Livelihoods: Studies show that women’s inclusion and participation in key roles in forest governance institutions is very important both for their livelihoods as well as forest conservation itself – this would be a win-win situation that the forest departments have to ensure.


10.2.15.i. MFP marketing issues have to be actualizing the MSP scheme for MFP that was initiated recently, unconditionally. Women’s collectives should be supported with processing and value addition facilities in addition to working capital infusion at reasonable terms. New insurance products around forest produce would also be needed, given recent experiences that women are sharing about failure of the forests to yield certain key products in certain season, which is probably linked to climate change.


10.2.15.ii. In the case of women’s livelihoods from forests, it is very important that rich, diverse forests should be protected with a livelihoods perspective driving conservation, rather than replace such forests with plantations as is continuing to happen in several parts of the country. The socio-cultural relationship that forest-based communities have with their forests can form the basis of a symbiotic relationship that ensures the survival of both the forests and the communities.


10.2.16. Enhancing fisheries based livelihoods of women: It is important that women’s customary rights to drying grounds in marine fisheries be respected. Further, they should have right to access fish in the harbours for sale, in addition to use of public transport facilities to reach markets. Marketing outlets, as well as storage facilities should be provided to women fishers collectives. Their membership in fisherfolk cooperatives should be enhanced equitably.


10.2.17. Enhancing livestock-based livelihoods: Women targeted in various livestock-based schemes should be given the choice of selecting breeds suitable to their resources, climate and management capabilities. Necessary budgets should be earmarked for backyard poultry and women livestock rearers’ cooperatives. Grazing lands should be secured by Panchayats and women’s SHGs along with livestock rearing communities can manage the same. Extension and marketing mechanisms set up in this sector should be women-friendly and outreach targets for benefiting women should be set and achieved.


10.2.18. Engendering all institutions: It is important to make space for women in all departments as well as farmers’ institutions being created like cooperatives, PACS, LAMPS etc. Such membership should be at the governance bodies’ level too. New cadres of women called “Eco-Workers” should be recruited for ensuring women’s identity as farmers.




A subsequent section discusses women’s non-farm livelihoods in Rural India. MGNREGS has the potential to combine these somewhat seamlessly, ensuring that there is a basket of livelihood sources strengthened for each woman in rural India.


10.3.1. It is important that NREGS focuses on not just increasing women’s participation, but aims also at empowerment of women, by using the institutions and resources that are part of NREGS to create assets and services that focus on women and girls. The following measures would be important for the same[122]:


  1. A more comprehensive study on the constraints to greater participation of women in MGNREGS, for different categories of women and different regions/states, might be needed, though micro-studies and experience from the ground point to the broad constraints to be addressed.
  2. Increasing awareness about MGNREGS, especially through the medium of women’s self help groups, whereby women are encouraged to participate more in Gram Sabhas and in selecting works to be implemented to meet both their practical and strategic needs.
  3. Providing greater role to women’s SHGs, like in the case of Andhra Pradesh, in the implementation of NREGS so that women benefit directly from the scheme, starting from demand for work. Women’s participation will understandably be low if work selection happens in a top-down fashion, with their priorities not addressed.
  4. Revision of Schedule of Rates wherever it has not happened yet so that at least minimum wages are earned by women. This has been incorporated into the revised Schedule I and II notified in December 2013 and awaits implementation.
  5. Improving work site facilities is an urgent requirement – state governments should be encouraged to ensure this.
  6. The role of mates is important here and increasing the number of female-mates is essential. This then will have to be preceded by identification and capacity building of such mates.
  7. NREGS resources should be utilized for meeting the practical and strategic needs of women – this includes Shelters/Homes for women in distress, as well as capacity building of women on various fronts, including in terms of legal literacy, planning for local development etc. Even as this report was being drafted, revised Schedule I and II of MGNREGS were notified – here, apart from NREGS funds being utilized for common infrastructure for NRLM-compliant groups including worksheds for livelihoods activities of SHGs, construction of buildings for women’s SHG federations has been included.
  8. Special focus should be created on female elected leaders in PRIs so that women-centric works can be taken up in NREGS and their participation improved. This requires coordinated work with Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
  9. Job cards issued in the name of the man, as the “head of the household” might be a constraint in truly empowering women in this Scheme. Further, it has also been found that women have been left out of being registered on some job cards. Both these issues need to be addressed.
  10. Improving the system of Vigilance and Monitoring Committees with effective participation of women would help.
  11. Adequate representation of women within the MGNREGA staff is a must – it is unclear at this point of time how many women are represented in this structure.
  12. Studies indicate that when limited work is ‘supplied’ under NREGS, women are expected to make way for men. It is therefore important that employment opportunities should be enhanced as per full demand and demand itself should be created by facilitated processes through women’s groups and gram sabhas with priority given to women’s preferences and needs.
  13. It is found that removal of contractors might be important wherever it is still continuing, since this situation lends itself to exploitation and harassment, particularly of women.
  14. Works that could inadvertently keep out women (like well-digging in private lands, which are seen to keep out women after a certain depth of digging, as illustrated by Khera and Nayak) should be avoided or de-prioritised.
  15. Delayed wage payments are a major deterrent to women’s participation, especially in the case of women-headed households and single women. It is seen on the ground that delays in wage payments run not just into weeks but months and in some cases, years.
  16. Special works should definitely be planned for women in special/difficult circumstances and implemented. This should take their special needs and vulnerabilities on board in planning the works (single women, elderly widows, pregnant women etc.).


10.3.2. There appears to be an immense potential in engendering NREGS to extend universal childcare services, so that women could be freed up from this gendered role and utilize opportunities for livelihoods enhancement for themselves even as the child care support also addresses health and nutritional issues. For this, it is recommended that childcare services be definitely set up at all worksites as mandated by the statute; further, these may be set up in the habitations where there is a high concentration of women workers. The support may be extended to cater to special demand of collectives of single women, caregivers to other needy persons etc., in their choice of location in the village. This can be done in convergence with ICDS, with the responsibility of ensuring the effective functioning lying with the NREGA implementation agency and district program coordinator. This convergence (wherein NREGA already includes anganwadi construction in its schedule of permissible works; construction of childcare centres should be added) should allow for flexible location as well as extended timings. Payment of wages for childcare service provider must come from NREGS budget.


10.3.3. The HLC also welcomes the 12th Five Year Plan’s declarations on engendering MGREGS, with the following proposals articulated therein:

  • A day per month will be allocated as sensitisation day, devoted to sessions on raising awareness about the various components and rights under MGNREGS and on socially relevant legislations like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, PC-PNDT Act, and Dowry Prohibition Act. Wages will be paid as on normal work days to those present in order to encourage attendance.
  • The list of permissible work under MGNREGA will be expanded to allow for greater diversity of activities.
  • Women’s Groups will be included as implementing agencies of MGNREGS works.
  • The existing provision for crèches at the work site will be implemented on a priority basis. The possibility of setting up crèches in collaboration with ICDS Anganwadis will be explored.
  • The wages under MGNREGS will not be calculated on a piece-rate basis which often works to the detriment of women.


10.3.4. The above measures are not however reflected in implementation yet and the HLC recommends that these be taken up on a priority basis immediately. In fact, it is a matter of concern that there are reports of cutting back on NREGS support in the country.


10.3.5. The Committee would also like to highlight the intimate link between women’s political representation, and their overall labour force participation, as captured (yet again) in a recent study which uses NREGS as the setting to test this hypothesis[123]. The following are the main findings:

  • First, longer exposure to female political representation (PR) increases women’s overall labor force participation – both from having women as members at all levels of local government as well as leaders of district councils.
  • Second, greater exposure to women PRs raises the share of public employment opportunities allocated to women under the MGNREGS.
  • Third, the study finds evidence that increasing access to public goods that women care about (e.g., roads, health) encourages greater female LFP in the presence of women leaders.


10.3.5.i. These findings highlight important complementarities between political and economic policy tools to increase women’s labor force participation. Needless to say, for women’s empowerment through NREGS and for their greater participation, political participation of women is extremely important, and therefore, there is a need for the Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Panchayati Raj to work together on this.


10.4. Other interventions related to Comprehensive Social Protection


10.4.1. Universalisation of social security benefits for all women farmers (as broadly defined in the NPF) is essential and an urgent imperative. This includes pension, maternity entitlements, insurance etc. For all such schemes, each individual should be a unit and not a household.


10.4.2. Rural women suffer from time poverty as has been documented in various studies. It is also well-documented that much of women’s work here is unpaid. Added to this is the fact that such work is laden with drudgery. It is important that Time Use Surveys are taken up regularly at all levels so that recognition, reduction and redistribution of such unpaid work can be taken up as state-led intervention. This means better public services in various areas of a woman’s life. It is apparent that unless this is done, the productive potential cannot be unleashed. This is an imperative also because studies indicate that women’s work burden is actually increasing in many areas.


10.4.3. It is also important to recognize the potential agency of rural women, especially marginalized rural women (dalit and adivasi women, for instance). In this context, the “SHG movement” should stop looking at them as instrumentalities for other objectives, but ensure that aware and informed collectivisation becomes a central strategy for empowerment.


  1. TO SUM UP:


11.1. Investing on collectivizing women in various forms and with various organizing strategies, with ownership and control over resources assured in the hands of women and express support provided for marketing, seem to be the key to women’s empowerment in the sphere of agricultural, livestock-based- and forest livelihoods. One key asset is land and various means should be adopted for ensuring land ownership by women, including on implementation of existing property rights laws. The potential for women’s empowerment that the above holds, has to be supplemented with child care services provided by the State to cover all women, so that women might be freed up to run agricultural enterprises. Mobility, which is a function of both social norms as well as provision of safe transport facilities, also seems to have hold the key to opening up more opportunities in addition to skill-building. The enactment of a women farmers’ entitlements statute is an imperative in this context, as envisaged by a Private Member’s Bill in the recent past. This will ensure that a variety of agricultural services are provided to women producers by making it their right.


11.2. It is seen that the State itself is one of the biggest players in the market in terms of purchase of products and services for a variety of schemes and programmes it runs. Each such opportunity should be harnessed in a localized fashion, by prioritizing the produce and services of women’s collectives to ensure ready markets for their skills and enterprises whenever the State procures products and services as part of its plethora of schemes/programmes and other requirements. This is for both farm and forest produce. This could be in the context of large scale food schemes, for instance.


11.3. Further, the potential of NREGS to create assets and services for meeting women’s practical and strategic needs cannot be over-emphasised. There is a need to urgently engender this programme so that it may leave rich dividends for women in this country.


11.4. The machinery for rural livelihoods’ improvement also needs to be engendered. There is a need for more women personnel in research, extension and cooperation wings in the agricultural establishment for instance. There is a need for more women, starting from the frontline employees, in the revenue departments too. There is also a need to sensitise and orient them to various aspects related to women farmers’ lives and livelihoods including their basic rights and entitlements.


11.5. Agricultural interventions from the state including in the flagship programmes have to adopt a livelihoods approach that too with an express recognition of women as farmers, and not just a yield-centric focus.




12.1. The scenario with regard to agriculture being the primary employer in rural India is changing slowly. Some scholars have been referring to this as structural transformation underway in the economy. It is seen that rural population and labour force continue to raise, without corresponding rural-urban migration. In this scenario, rural non farm sector is considered an important arena generating the largest number of jobs.[124] It is also apparent that growth of farm and non-farm sector together in rural areas could stem migration into cities and unsustainable urbanization. It is also argued that the socio-economic disparities between urban and rural can be narrowed with the growth of rural non farm sector. In reality, non-farm sector grew and expanded not so much in rural areas, especially when it comes to manufacturing.


12.2. It is often argued that growth of farm and non-farm sector are closely linked as each drive the demand of the other. At the household level, a combination of farm and non-farm income provides greater resilience. Infrastructure development is seen as a major determinant of growth in both sectors. While there is one school of thinking around the complementarity of agriculture and the non-farm sector in the rural growth process, there are other scholars who question this complementarity theory, who argue that only the non-traded segment of the rural non-farm sector is positively affected by agricultural growth. According to them, the rural factory sector (‘traded non-farm sector’) looking for cheaper labour goes to regions with low agricultural productivity – empirical evidence is proffered to show that growth of rural non-farm sector in the 1980s and 90s was due to rural factory/traded non-farm sector mainly[125].


12.3. Rural non-farm in India, though began expanding in the 1990s, mainly started growing in the 2000s.  RNFS is however largely associated with education levels and social status that are not available to the poor[126]. The non-farm sector is also characterized by sub-sectors which are either low employment, high income generating services or high employment, low income services. It is seen that non-farm sector jobs have largely favored men and that too in the younger age groups. Further, it is also seen that agriculture uses more female labour to fill the jobs vacated by male labour moving into non-farm sector (and these are the indirect gains for women from a growing non-farm sector; in the case of fisheries and plantation, men have taken over more operations while in the case of animal husbandry and forestry also, like in the case of other agricultural operations, men’s labour input relative to female labour has declined by 1999, compared to 1983)[127].


12.4. Diversification of households into rural non-farm will however mean that agriculture will continue its trend of feminization and part-time farming will become the dominant model, according to predictions.


12.5. Meanwhile, various studies have shown ‘though slow, but accelerating growth of the rural non-farm sector’[128]. It can be seen that the proportion of rural workers engaged in Rural Non-Farm Sector (RNFS) has been showing unsteady trends for all rural workers, though on a steady increase for rural female workers.


12.6. It is also noted that in India it is distress in the farm sector that is pushing rural workers into the non-farm sector contrary to the ideal situation where growth in agriculture leads to diversification into non-farm employment. Feminisation of casual employment in the non-farm sector, inverse relationship with landholding size and employment in RNFS and larger presence of STs in the sector corroborates the above argument, as per some scholars[129].


Percentage of Rural Workers Usually Employed in Non-Farm Activities
Male Female Persons
Number Percentage Increase Number Percentage Increase Number Percentage Increase
 1983-84 22.2 12.2 18.4
 1993-94 25.9 3.7 13.8 1.6 21.6 3.2
 2004-05 33.4 7.5 16.7 2.9 27.3 5.7
 2009-10 37.2 3.8 20.6 3.9 32.1 4.8
Source: Manoj Jatav & Sucharita Sen (2014)[130]


12.7. The above table can be understood from different perspectives of growth of RNFS in India. As has been indicated in some studies, growth of non-farm employment between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 was driven by distress in the agriculture sector. After 2004-05, due to resumption of growth in agriculture, this distress-induced shift to NFS got scaled back, according to this analysis[131].  However, more men went back to agriculture than women. It is also evident that the increase of female employment in RNFS has been steady.


12.8. The slow growth of jobs in RNFS has also contributed significantly in women withdrawing from work-force participation (discussed in a later part of this section). Though it has been observed that women’s participation in the labor force follows a U-shaped curve[132], in the Indian context however, as the growth was primarily driven by service sector, the manufacturing activities in rural or urban areas did not create adequate number of opportunities[133].


12.9. This was further enhanced by large programs such as MGNREGA, which was found to be more attractive for women than men, as it made work available locally, with a regular gender-equal wage rate, free from caste-related discriminatory practices. It was also perceived as relatively ‘easy’ work[134]. As a result, a larger number of women got engaged in RNFS work generated from MGNREGA.


12.10. Increased efforts of financial inclusion, especially growth of the Self-Help Group (SHG) movement also stepped up many non-farm activities among women. Though exact statistics of what women have done with the borrowed fund is available, it has been observed by many development practitioners that many women have started engaging in activities which are non-farm, in their usual place of residence or elsewhere[135]. There is evidence that a larger number of women are getting engaged into tobacco rolling activities, work on wood products (other than furniture), construction activities, and garment manufacturing activities in fairly large numbers.


12.11. It has been observed that with stagnation in agriculture, agricultural output per worker is coming down, whereas productivity per worker in RNFS has been going up. It can be seen that there is a wide diversity between various rural non-farm sector activities and while productivity could have gone up substantially in some areas like financial services and information technology among others, the number of opportunities in these sub-sectors are limited and therefore, highly competitive.

What are women and men engaged in?


All-India Shares of Some Sectors in Rural Employment for Male and Female Workers (%)
(1993–94, 1999–2000, 2004–05 and 2009–10)
MALES 1993–94 1999–00 2004–05 2009–10
Share of agriculture in rural employment 74.1 71.4 66.5 62.8
Share of manufacturing in rural employment 7.0 7.3 7.9 7.0
Share of construction in rural employment 3.2 4.5 6.8 11.3
Share of trade, hotel & restaurant in rural employment 5.5 6.8 8.3 8.2
Share of transport etc. in rural employment 2.2 3.2 3.8 4.1
Share of other services in rural employment 7.0 6.1 5.9 5.5
Share of mining & quarrying in rural employment 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.8
Share of electricity etc. in rural employment 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2
Total 100 100 100 100
FEMALES 1993–94 1999–00 2004–05 2009–10
Share of agriculture in rural employment 86.2 85.4 83.3 79.4
Share of manufacturing in rural employment 7.0 7.6 8.4 7.5
Share of construction in rural employment 0.9 1.1 1.5 5.2
Share of trade, hotel & restaurant in rural employment 2.1 2.0 2.5 2.8
Share of transport, etc. in rural employment 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2
Share of other services in rural employment 3.4 3.7 3.9 4.6
Share of mining & quarrying in rural employment 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3
Share of electricity, etc. in rural employment 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 100 100 100 100
Note: All data pertain to usually working persons in the Principal Status (PS) and Subsidiary Status (SS) taken together
Sources: NSS: Employment and Unemployment Situation in India, Reports No. 409 (50th Round, 1993–94), 458 (55th Round, 1999–2000), 515 (61st Round, 2004–05) and 537 (66th Round, 2009–10).


12.12. The above table above gives a fair sense of the various sectors where women are engaged in, in rural areas and trends over the years. From this table we can see that the percentage of rural workforce engaged in agriculture has been coming down steadily. Large number of these people, both men and women have got absorbed in the construction industry, which has started growing again. But within this as well, we see the participation of men has gone up from 3.2% to 11.3% (about 3.5 times) whereas participation of women has gone up from 0.9% to 5.2% (which is about 5.8 times). Much larger number of women, relative to the earlier years, got absorbed in the growing construction sector.


12.13. Though manufacturing sector also had started absorbing some people, that too more women than men till 2004-05, presently it is at the level as it was two decades back. It is also seen that women are getting engaged in a variety of service sector activities. While the men’s engagement in other services has dropped from 7.0% to 5.5%, the engagement of women in services have gone up from 3.4% to 4.6%.


12.14. A closer look at this table, further detailed in the table below, also reveals that while in 1993-94 half the women engaged in RNFS were involved in manufacturing today they are more fairly distributed between Manufacturing, Construction and Other Services. This also means that the kind of support that was extended to women engaged in manufacturing activities also needs to be extended to those engaged in Construction and Other Services.


Proportion of Rural Workers within Non-Farm, across different sub-sectors
RNF Activity 


Male Female Persons
1993-94 2009-10 1993-94 2009-10 1993-94 2009-10
Manufacturing 27% 19% 50% 36% 32% 22%
Construction 12% 30% 6% 25% 11% 29%
Trade, Hotel, Restaurant 21% 22% 15% 14% 20% 20%
Transport 8% 11% 1% 1% 6% 9%
Other Services 27% 15% 24% 22% 26% 17%
Mining & Quarrying 3% 2% 3% 1% 3% 2%
Electricity & Water Supply 1% 1% 1% 0% 1% 1%


12.15. However, it needs to be recognized that RNFS is highly diverse not only across sectors but also across geography. While there is very high level of engagement of women in non-farm activities in a state like Kerala, for instance, many states in the Indo-Gangetic plains have far lower engagement of women in non-farm activities. It has been seen that in these highly patriarchal societies, working in the non-farm activities ‘where contacts with the males outside the household was considered ‘polluting’ influence’, was to be avoided[136]. This attitude has often laid various restrictions on women engaging in rural non-farm activities. It is also seen that there is segmentation of women workers into certain types of activities which largely determines the gender gap (sex typing of occupations has been well documented in industries such as knitwear and garments, for instance) – these jobs provided limited opportunity for upward mobility. Segregation has been documented in the services sector also (health and education sectors, for instance). Scholars have argued that the low wages of female workers are principally due to the undervaluation of work and skills in activities in which women predominate as low-skilled work, even if it involves exceptional talent and years of informal training[137].


12.15. Is All Well With India’s Rural Non Farm Sector and Women’s Participation?


12.15.1. Analysts looking into RNFS closely have observed that ‘mere positive growth of rural non-farm employment is not associated with distribution effect[138]. It has been shown that women are engaged in low-productivity and low-return activities[139].


12.15.2. In the Construction sector, for instance, it is seen that work conditions are very poor (without safe drinking water, toilets, creches etc.), and women discriminated against (in wages, as well as restricted to unskilled headloading and menial jobs). Women are denied any opportunities at promotion whereas men progress to various other roles[140]. In the beedi-making industry, the exploitative work conditions including low wage payments have been well documented (in addition to high prevalence of girl child labour)[141].

12.15.3. Another feature of the present state of RNFS that needs attention is the casualization of the Non-Farm work space. Larger number of jobs have been created with little stability of employment, or regularity of payments, with no social security or non-pecuniary benefits attached[142]. Benefits such as paid leave are virtually absent.


12.15.4. It has been shown that the opportunities that are accessible to people closer to their place of residence are mostly casual. For women this is a very important consideration for choice of work. Further, the margin of wages between casual and regular jobs is reducing over time,[143] with higher rate of growth on real wages in casual RNFS work.


12.15.5. Another aspect of most non-farm enterprises in India, especially those set up and managed by women, is that these tend to be very small (tiny in fact), reliant primarily on family labour and operate with very little capital investment. While there appears to be a growth of self-employed over casual wage labor, it has to be remembered that much of the self-employed category is also unpaid (sometimes underpaid) family labour. This is usually accompanied by seclusion and limited opportunities in addition to lower earnings. Home workers were more than own account enterprises.


12.15.6. Studies have also shown that most non-farm employment tends to be regressively distributed across the rural population – that is, richer a person is, higher are the chances that one gets an employment with benefits of job security, status, leave provisions, maternity benefit etc. However, at the margins, an increasing number of new workers entering the non-farm sector are from the SC/ST Category. It is also likely that SC/ST, especially women, are more amenable to casual nature of the work that is coming up.


12.15.7. Studies also have shown that higher levels of education, employable skills and women’s autonomy (measured in terms of access to land and control over its operation, mobility and willingness to join self help groups) affect women’s ability to move into non-agricultural vocations[144]. Interventions therefore should be along these lines.





13.1. It is important to ensure that the opportunities in RNFS do not bypass women. For this, appropriate kind of skill-building amongst rural women is important. For this, the large scale presence of women’s SHGs can be effectively deployed especially if such skill building has stipend support, and employability. Opportunities to be apprentices have to be enhanced for such training wherever feasible. Further, for setting up of enterprises on their own in RNFS, more credit at easy terms is to be made available for individual as well as collectives of women.


13.2. NREGS appears to be driving the RNFS after its initial growth in the 1990s was led by the manufacturing sector. For both men and women, construction is the activity in which the largest absorption and growth is seen. However, given that there is a talk about rollback plans with regard to NREGS it becomes pertinent to point out that such a rollback should not take place. (It is noted that no such decrease in outlays actually took place in 2015-16 budget.) In fact, NREGS should be deployed, as suggested in the Twelfth Plan document too, for skill-building activities (stipends can be paid as daily wages under NREGS), as well as for creating infrastructure for further expansion of RNFS.


13.3. In the face of evidence that RNFS is further expanding casual unorganized labour with unregulated work conditions as well as lack of job security, it is important that employment in RNFS be regulated to provide benefits of job security, with maternity benefits, leave provisions etc., incorporated.


13.4. It is important to ensure that RNFS driven by nano scale women’s enterprises does not end up having women working as underpaid or unpaid labour. For the scale to be optimal, support to women’s collectives and their federations could be critical.




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[59] Preet Rustagi (2008): Rural Child Labour Markets in India: Nature of Child Work Participation and Role of the Family. Working Paper No. 45, Institute for Human Development, New Delhi


[61] “A land of my own: Facts about property rights of women in India”, Fact Sheet, Oxfam India, 2013


[63] Klaus Deininger, Aparajita Goyal and Hari Nagarajan (2012): Women’s inheritance rights and inter-generational transmission of resources in India. The Journal of Human Resources. 48.1.

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[66] ibid

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[68] A study on Kerala’s land reforms shows that on the flip side, one fourth of those who lost land were widows in Palghat. It is also seen that much of the land transferred in Palghat district due to absentee landlordism and ceiling surplus was that of women. Ref.: Praveena Kodoth, 2001: Gender, family and property rights: Questions from Kerala’s land reforms. Indian Journal of Gender Studies. 8(2).

[69] As cited in “Impact of WTO on Women in Agriculture”, by RFSTE in a study commissioned by National Commission for Women, 2005

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[71] “Gender Equality and Food Security: Women’s empowerment as a tool against hunger”, Asian Development Bank, 2013

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[75] Bhattacharyya, M., A. S. Bedi, and A. Chhachhi. 2011. “Marital Violence and Women’s Employment and Property Status: Evidence from North Indian Villages.” World Development 39(9): 1676–1689. Also, Panda, P., and B. Agarwal. 2005. “Marital Violence, Human Development, and Women’s Property Status in India.” World Development 33(5): 823–850.

[76] Hema Swaminathan, Rahul Lahoti and Suchitra J Y (2012): Women’s property, mobility, and decision-making-Evidence from Rural Karnataka, India. IFPRI Discussion Paper 01188

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[78] Suchitra JY and Hema Swaminathan (2010): Asset acquisition among matrilineal and patrilineal communities: a case study of Coastal Karnataka. Paper prepared for the International Association For Feminist Economics International Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 22-24, 2010

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[80] Bina Agarwal (1989): Rural Women, Poverty and Natural Resources – Sustenance, Sustainability and Struggle for Change. Economic & Political Weekly. October 28, 1989

[81] Overview of Socio-Economic Situation of the Tribal Communities and Livelihoods in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, FAO.


[83] Vikas Rawal (2013): Operational Holdings of Land in India. Review of Agrarian Studies. 3 (2). Pp73-104

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[87] Govind Kelkar and Dev Nathan (2005): Gender, Livelihoods and Resources in South Asia. Paper for 5th South Asia Regional Ministerial Conference “Celebrating Beijing Plus Ten”, Islamabad, Pakistan May 3-5, 2005 quoting Bosu Mullick, Samar (2002) ‘Gender Relations and Witches among the Indigenous Communities of Jharkhand, India’, Gender, Technology and Development, Vol.4.No.3, Sage Publicatons, New Delhi, pp. 333-358

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[97] Marine Fisheries Census 2010 India, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India

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[102] Data from Planning Commission’s Working Group on Animal Husbandry & Dairying, 12th Five Year Plan.

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(India’s Rural Cooperatives by Gursharan Singh Kainth)




[113] The Role Of Women’s Co-Operative Societies In Empowering Rural Women In India: An Empirical Study With Reference To Karnataka State Of India, Tumkur University


[115] Annual Report 2014-15 of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.

[116] ibid

[117] NC Saxena (2012): Women, Land and Agriculture in Rural India Pp30, UN Women

[118], accessed on October 24th 2014

[119] Empowering Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap through Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana. Policy Paper. Access and United Nations Development Programme. (2014)

[120] Brief Note About Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture.

[121] Kabeer, Naila (2005). ‘Is microfinance a magic bullet for women’s empowerment? Analysis of findings from South Asia’. Economic and Political Weekly, 29, 2005.

[122] Some of the recommendations have been articulated by the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women (2011-12) in their 14th report focusing on “Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Empowerment of Women in Rural Areas”, May 2012 as well as Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, August 2013

[123] Ejaz Ghani, Anandi Mani and Stephen D. O’Connell (2013): Can political empowerment help economic empowerment? Women leaders and female labor force participation in India. The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 6675

[124] Binswanger-Mkize, H P (2013); ‘The Stunted Structure of Transformation of the India Economy: agriculture, manufacturing and rural non-farm sectors’; EPW: XLVIII:26-27,

[125] Andrew Foster and Mark R Rozenzweig (2003): Agricultural Development, Industrialisation and Rural Inequality. Working Paper. The London School of Economics and Political Science

[126] Lanjouw, P. and Murgai, R. (2009), Poverty decline, agricultural wages, and nonfarm employment in rural India: 1983–2004. Agricultural Economics, 40: 243–263.

[127] Mukesh Eswaran, Ashok Kotwal, Bharat Ramaswami and Wilima Wadhwa (2005): The impact of the non-farm sector on earnings and gender disparities in India: 1983-1999. Paper for World Bank Workshop on Equity and Development, December 7-8, 2004.

[128] Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw, Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay and Rinku Murgai (2011); ‘Non-farm Diversification and Rural Poverty Decline: A perspective from Indian sample survey and village study data’; LSE Asia Research Center Working Paper 44

[129] S K Sasikumar and Rakkee Thimothy (2013): Surmounting India’s Employment Challenge: Evidence from NSSO Data (2004-05 to 2011-12). Labour & Development. Vol. 20. No.1. pp1-18

[130] Jatav M and Sen S (2013): ‘Drivers of Non-farm Employment in Rural India: Evidence from the 2009-2010 NSSO Round’; EPW, XLVII

[131] Himanshu (2011); Employment Trends in India: A Re-examination, EPW, Vol – XLVI No. 37, September 10, 2011

[132] As working woman signals economic hardship, with increasing household income there is a tendency for women to withdraw from the workforce, Claudia Goldin (1995) The U-Shaped Female Labor force Function in Economic Development and Economic History, in Investments in Women’s Human Capital Development, Chicago University Press

[133] Lahoti, Rahul and Hema Swaminathan (2013): Economic growth and female labor force participation – Working Paper 414, IIM-Bangalore

[134] Grace Carswell, Geert De Neve (2013); Women at the Crossroads: Implementation of Employment Guarantee Scheme in Rural Tamil Nadu; EPW Review of Rural Affairs, December 28, 2013, Vol XLVIII No 52

[135] Mazumdar, Indrani, Neetha N and Indu Agnihotri; (2013); ‘Migration and Gender in India’ EPW, XLVIII: 10:54-64

[136] Mukesh Eswaran, Bharat Ramaswami, and Wilima Wadhwa (2011) ;Status Caste and Time Allocation of Rural Women

[137] Nisha Srivastava and Ravi Srivastava (2010): Women, Work and Employment Outcomes in Rural India. Economic & Political Weekly. Vol. XLV No. 28. July 10, 2010

[138] Jatav and Sen Op.Cit.

[139] Jayati Ghosh (n.d.); Women’s work in the India in the early 21st century; available at

[140] Annette Barnabas, Joseph Anbarasu and Clifford Paul (2011): Prospects of women construction workers in Tamil Nadu, South India. Indian Journal of Gender Studies. 18 (2). Pp217-235

[141] Dharmendra Kumar Mishra (2014): Nimble fingers on beedis: Problems of girl child labour in Sambalpur and Jharsuguda. Indian Journal of Gender Studies. 21 (1). 135-144

[142] This has been extensively discussed by Jatav and Sen (2013) Op.Cit.

[143] Himanshu (2011); Op.Cit.

[144] Nisha Srivastava and Ravi Srivastava (2010): Women, Work and Employment Outcomes in Rural India. Economic & Political Weekly. Vol. XLV No. 28. July 10, 2010

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