Agriculture World

Women empowerment to be increased by farming and agriculture

Aiswarya R Nair
Aiswarya R Nair

Women around South East Asia are over-represented in unpaid work, and under-represented in the labor force, even in countries like Sri Lanka, which has invested heavily in girls’ schooling. Yet there is one sector where women are taking over is agriculture. This is an opportunity for women’s economic empowerment that should not be missed.

In Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, the share of economically active women working in farming now ranges from 60-98%. In each of these countries’ agricultural sectors, women outnumber men.

A comparable shift occurred in some high-income countries during World War II. As men left for the battlefield, women filled the vacant civilian jobs – including farming. In the United States, for example, the share of female agricultural workers jumped from 8% in 1940 to 22.4% in 1945.

When the war ended, women were not simply going to return to the pre-war status quo. In some sectors – especially higher-skill positions – the WWII labor shock seems to have directly and permanently altered women’s paid employment. More generally, however, women had sampled the economic and personal freedom that employment provides, gained marketable skills, and proved their capabilities. Women’s wartime experience thus gave powerful impetus to the movement for gender equality.

Approaches that can be taken

  • Focus on income earned outside the home- Data from rural Bangladesh indicate that it is not paid employment per se that increases women farmers’ autonomy, but rather employment outside of their husbands’ farms. Formalizing the production process could encourage the monetization of female labor and improve working conditions, as export-oriented manufacturing of readymade garments, textiles, and footwear has done in many emerging Asian economies.
  • Digital Technology- In many places, women are excluded from markets, and a male family member must be present for the sale of crops; that would not be the case online. Governments should support the development and dissemination of such technologies, which could also enable women to assert more purchasing power, such as over agricultural inputs.
  • Reduction of unpaid labour- Pursuing this objective is tricky, given that in patriarchal societies, interventions that empower women at the expense of male family members are sure to provoke formidable resistance. But productivity-enhancing schemes, such as Biotech-KISAN, can help to pave the way for the more equitable distribution of domestic duties.

With the right policies and effective use of technology, we can tip the scale in the right direction.

The anthropologist Penny van Esterik once wrote, “Women are both vulnerable and powerful – victimized and empowered – through food.”

 Source: World Economic Forum

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