Women in Indian Agriculture

When we think about a farmer, we only think of a man. While writing this blog post, we did a simple exercise and asked people - “What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer?”. I got the usual replies - poor, uneducated, exploited, selfish because they put too many pesticides in our food. But whatever the description was, the gender was always male. 

Women in agriculture

Some stats: Globally more than 400 million women are engaged in farm work. They do everything from sowing to winnowing to harvesting to various other forms of labour-intensive processes such as rice transplantation. Not to mention, they dominate tea plantations. According to Oxfam (2013), around 80% of farm work in India is undertaken by women. Statistics released by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER, 2018) state that women constitute over 42% of the agricultural labour force in India. Women are everywhere, they are labourers, farmers, farm widows and yet, the average urban Indian (unintentionally?) refuses to acknowledge them. In fact, many women who are actively involved in farming, refuse to acknowledge themselves as farmers and regard themselves as “helpers”. This is an important topic to discuss because agriculture is directly tied to issues such as economic independence, decision-making abilities, agency, access to education and health services. 

Lack of equal rights

There are several reasons why women in agriculture are affected by issues of recognition. Women lack equal rights in land ownership, and despite constituting over 42% of the workforce, they own less than 2% of farmland in India (NCAER,2018). They are excluded from rights and entitlements such as irrigation sources, pension, institutional credit etc. because most of the agricultural land is inherited by male members of the family. A survey conducted by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (2018) found that 40% of women farmers whose husbands committed suicide due to the farm crisis in Marathwada and Vidarbha (Maharashtra) between 2012 and 2018, were yet to obtain rights to the farmland they cultivated. Only some of them had secured the rights to their family house and most had no idea that they were entitled to a pension. Most of the lands had been transferred to other male members of the family and the women continued to be exploited. The biggest reason why women are affected by issues of recognition, according to us, is the lack of awareness regarding their rights to land. Also, women are reluctant to get into any conflict with the male members of the family and extended relatives due to fear of being shamed in society. Other factors include traditionally institutionalised gender roles, low female literacy, opposition to mobility from men and village exogamy. All of this leads to women working as unpaid subsistence labour.

There are several laws in our constitution which are aimed at preventing this exploitation. For example, The Hindu Succession Amendment Act (2005) grants coparcenary rights and equal inheritance rights to daughters. The draft of the National Women’s Policy (2016) recognises the importance of land rights for women. But in reality, they seldom work. For example, remember amazon prime web series “Panchayat”? While Neena Gupta was the elected sarpanch, it was her husband – the “Sarpanchpati” who was the decision-maker. Such proxies are not uncommon and thus such laws are only partially effective at best. They are paper tigers. There is male dominance in administrative, judicial, and other public decision-making bodies at all levels, making the system rigged against women.

Role of society

So what can we do about it? We can start by recognizing women as farmers too. Not as helpers or occasional labourers, but as independent farmers. Those of us in agriculture management domain can emphasise on and implement fair work practices, those of us in media can make sure that women are fairly represented in narratives; public policymakers amongst us can come up with policies with an understanding of the cultural nuances and try to avoid the Sarpanchpati situation; the justice system can make stricter laws. Basically, everybody has a role to play to make the system better. Do you think so too? Let us know in the comments…   


  1. In every field the contribution of women has been underplayed. Agriculture is no exception

  2. Women are equally contributing in all the fields but still men are unable to recognize and digest their role in society, agriculture and in job too


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