The 'Feminisation' Quotient in the Indian Agri-space

85% of rural women are employed in the agriculture sector in India, but only 13% of them have operational landholdings. The Economic Survey of 2017-2018 found that increasing numbers of men were migrating to urban spaces, causing what the survey calls “feminisation” of agriculture. Arable lands were becoming increasingly dependent on women. Women were now not only involved in sowing, irrigation, harvesting, post-harvest storage, but they were stepping up in entrepreneurial roles as well.

Statistically, women worldwide have always been heavily involved in agri and allied sectors. But there has always been a stark disparity between women working in fields and women actually owning the fields they work on. Their access to resources, credit, and training is much lesser than men making it harder for agri industry to make a lucrative career choice for women.

The agriculture (and allied) sector can be considered as one of the largest Indian enterprises and while rural women form a formidable number in the system, the participation from urban women is extremely low. One of the reasons for this disparity is systemic gender inequality. As mentioned earlier, even though there is a large number of women working in the agri sector, most of them do not get access to resources the way men do. There are institutional speed-breakers in place in the form of outdated policies and cultural sexism that hinder women farmers and agri-entrepreneurs from rising to the fore. Even though urban women have more access to resources than rural women, there are logistical issues that often become barriers for them, such as:

• Safety- One of the major reasons urban women often hesitate to choose agriculture as a suitable career option is safety. Working in the agrispace often means travelling to remote areas and getting down to grassroots level. While safety is a factor for women of all strata and in all sectors, the vulnerability is higher in this sector.

• Outdated/Rigid Systems- As discussed above, agriculture is still a male dominated sector despite the high number of women involved in it. Women, especially urban women, find it hard to crack that glass ceiling because they are at once aware of systemic gender inequality but struggle to dismantle the rigid systems in place.

• Lack of Infrastructure- Another factor is the lack of infrastructure in certain remote farmlands. Lack of proper sanitation systems and hygiene services make urban women apprehensive of approaching these areas, therefore, limiting the scope of their careers.

Considering these factors, the “feminisation” of agri-space can only be true in terms of quantity, not quality. When women, both rural and urban, involved in the sector get access to resources, safety measures, infrastructural support, only then can we progress towards a true transformation in the current agri landscape.

However, all of this should not discount the steps that are being taken towards a more gender equal sector. Initiatives like Economic Empowerment of Women Farmers (by Oxfam and SEWA Bharat) and The Mahila Kisan Shashaktikaran Pariyojana have been launched to provide knowledge building and capacity building programmes to even out the knowledge asymmetry and the institutional gender disparities. Speaking of initiatives closer to home, my agritech company is mindful of encouraging women to pursue a career in this field. In fact, we have a gender ratio of 1:2 (men against women) which includes young women with an educational qualification in agriculture. With concentrated efforts at both infrastructural and policy levels, women can truly be a crucial part of this sector and go on to curate successful careers.