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Why women farmers are paid less than men?

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

Women provide crucial support in Indian agriculture and household livelihood; however, they remain confined as workers. Designed farm tools available are mainly used by male farmers, and rural women are left to use traditional tools and procedures resulting in low efficiency, drudgery, occupational health risks, and low income. Their contributions fall under indirect material income and go unacknowledged even in decision making. Illiteracy, lack of knowledge among rural women, improper training, and less opportunity for skill development worsen their subdued existence.

Formal education, availability of economically viable agricultural machinery for women, training, extension services, social engineering, and gender budgeting is need of the hour. Gender budgeting would assess the quantity and adequacy of allocation of resources for women and establish the extent to which gender commitments are translated into budgetary commitments. Active participation of rural women would boost their socioeconomic recognition, confidence in economic competence, and promulgate sustainable societal growth. 

As farmers and agricultural laborers, women contribute very much to food security of the country, but still they are paid 22% less than their male counterparts, as per a report on agricultural figures released by the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare. While earnings of both men and women farmers were increased in the last decade i.e. from 2006 to 2017, the wage inequality continues and the women farmers still earn less.

It is important to mention that the wage gap was highest in 2012 to 2014 period when women farmers received 27 % less than the men.

Although there was just a marginal reduction in wage gap (by 4.43%) between 2012 to 2013 and 2014 to 2015, nothing much seems to have changed, proves the data on All India Annual Average Daily wage rate that includes 20 major states. In actual fact, the wage difference once again figured significantly during 2015 to 2016 when our women farmers got 25.37% less than the male farmers.


All India Annual Average Daily wage rate (In Rs) 


































Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics 
Note 1. All India annual average is calculated for 20 major states. 
        2. Average agricultural wage is taken as average of five operations: i) Ploughing (ii) Showing (iii) Weeding (iv) Reaping & Harvesting (v) Transplanting  

Additionally, in 2011, women formed 75% of the agricultural sector labor force. In rural India, about 80 % of women depended on farming for living. They also formed about 33% of cultivators and 47% of agricultural laborers. 

Agriculture is seasonal and has been often unprofitable, forcing a majority of male members of households to migrate to cities to find an alternative source of livelihood. While men migrate, the responsibility of taking care of the family lies on women’s shoulders. They prefer to stay and complement family’s income by working on the fields. Migration, hence, has been one of the major reasons for women getting involved in this sector, even though it pays them less. Further, women cultivators are at loss without land titles. They participate in agricultural work as unpaid subsistence labour and are not recognized as farmers. Hence, they are unable to access credits and government benefits.  Recognizing this, the government appointed dalwai committee called for enlisting women as “cultivator” in revenue records, making them eligible for all privileges received by farmers. 

According to a statement by the Union Agriculture Minister in the monsoon session of the parliament, women's contribution to Indian agriculture is about 32 percent, while in some regions—hill  states, northeast and Kerala—their contribution is more than men. Women are involved in 48 percent of agriculture-related employment; about 7.5 crore women are playing a significant role in milk production and livestock management. Recognizing women’s multi-dimensional roles in agriculture, he said that women's contribution towards reversing  climate change and managing natural resources cannot be denied. Besides contributing to every aspect of agriculture—sowing, irrigation, plant protection, harvesting, weeding, and storage—women are also engaged in cattle management, fodder collection and other allied activities like beekeeping, mushroom production, suction farming, and goat and poultry rearing. 

According to FAO, if women farmers had equal access to land ownership, credit, farming equipment and new technologies, yields can increase by 30 percent per household and countries can experience an increase in agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent. Women also reinvest up to 90 percent of their earnings back into their households—that's the money spent on nutrition, food, health care, school, and income-generating activities that help in breakingthe cycle of intergenerational poverty. The National sample survey has shown that the percentage contribution of women in agriculture is higher than men, where they do most of the key operations at farm. However, the female agricultural laborers happen to be the most backward, exploited and also the most neglected of the rural economy.

To conclude we can say that investing on women in agriculture makes good economic sense and also contributes to strengthening the food security.  Government has also understood the need to empower women farmers in India and hence celebrates Women Farmer's Day on October 15 – a day dedicated to the women on farm - for their huge contributions in the field. 

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