(The Gist of Kurukshetra) Role of women in agriculture and rural prosperity [MAY-2020]

(The Gist of Kurukshetra) Role of women in agriculture and rural prosperity

INDIA [MAY-2020]

Role of women in agriculture and rural prosperity


  • Agriculture in India, contributing about 15.5 percent of GDP, is female intensive activity. In a typical rural-agri household, women pursue multiple livelihood strategies often managing complex issues. Her activities vary from performing multiple farm operations for producing the agricultural crops, rearing animals, and preparing food to working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes.

Agriculture Census data: 

  • The Agriculture Census, 2015–16 has revealed a very promising trend. The census established that the share of female operational holders has increased from 12.79 per cent in 2010–11 to 13.87 per cent in 2015–16. 
  • In terms of operated area, the share of women increased from 10.36 per cent to 11.57 per cent. This signifies that more and more females are participating in the management and operation of agricultural lands.

Agriculture and Female Employment:

  • The central role in all operations of agriculture and even rural household management is played by women. They are involved in all aspects of agriculture, from crop and seed selection to harvest and post-harvest management, marketing, and processing. 
  • According to estimates, the agricultural sector employs about 4/5th of all economically active women. Women have a clear edge in dairying and animal husbandry also.
  • Close to 75 million women are engaged in dairying and 20 million in animal husbandry against 15 million men in dairying and 1.5 million in animal husbandry.
  • Women have been instrumental in agricultural development and rural prosperity. Rural women play a vital role not only in crop planning and cultivation but also in high value activities like horticulture, primary food processing, livestock rearing, fisheries and cottage industries.
  • Although women have been contributing dominantly in the rural labour force, they are marginalised and disadvantaged in wages, land rights and representation in group activities. Women have very limited access to productive resources which consequently limits their productivity. Somehow, the needs and aspirations of the women labour force could not get true focus in the rural development initiatives in the past.

Financial Inclusion and Rural Women:

  • India continues to enjoy the status of being an agrarian economy despite the various efforts being made to develop urban clusters and also in creating urban amenities in rural (rurban) India. NABARD’s All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey, 2016–17 indicated that the structure of rural income has been changing rapidly. 
  • Agriculture which happened to be a major source of income for the rural households a few years earlier has been transformed and the wages including labour wages has taken a front seat both in agri and non-agri households in terms of earnings to households. However, agriculture is still an engine of growth and poverty reduction in rural areas being the main occupation for the poor.
  • According to NABARD’s estimates, close to 60 percent of women members participating in the survey were attending domestic duties and not engaged in any economic activity. Women’s participation in wages/salaried activities was dismally low. The level of participation in major economic activities was dominated by men as evident from the very high ratio in favour of men for major income generating activities in rural India.
  • The NABARD’s survey indicated huge gender differences in the engagement and activities for employment in rural areas. While over one-fourth of the males were either self-employed including farmers only one twentieth (4.8 percent) of women respondents were self-employed. Casual labour in public works emerged as the second most prominent activity with 21 percent of male and5.7 percent female members reporting to be engaged in the same.

Financial Knowledge and Discipline in Rural Women:

  • It is not that everything is negative. The All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016–17 indicated that women have equal and very strong financial knowledge and have better positive financial attitude than their male counterparts. 
  • Over 53.5 percent female respondents in the survey have sound financial behaviour which was comparable to males at 57.7 percent. While agri and non-agri households were comparable for financial knowledge and financial literacy, wide differences appeared in positive attitude and sound financial behaviour.
  • The agri-households were comparatively low in positive financial attitude but sound on financial behaviour against non-agri-households. These figures imply that given the opportunity the women can be equally productive financially as their male partners.

Learnings from the States:

  • The estimates and projections for women participation in urban and rural workforce emphasised that it must be driven holistically on the front of education, skilling, connectivity, safety and social developments. There are positive signs emerging from different sectors which need scaling out with proper management of logistics and technology. Today the primary and secondary level schooling is mostly driven by young women who are staying in school for longer. 
  • India needs to evolve a social revolution to realise the development potential of the women workforce. The trend of women attending only domestic works will have to be reversed to embark on the new success. 
  • Globally the societies developed and became prosperous by valuing contributions of girls and women in making societies. Women's economic empowerment is closely connected with poverty reduction as women also tend to invest more of their earnings in their children and communities.
  • Several states in India with the support of the World Bank and other financial institutions have started progressive work for empowering women in economic activities. An investment of over $ 3 billion has been made by the World Bank during last 15 years through state governments to empower women and Self-Help Groups in rural areas. 
  • It provided an opportunity to over 45 million poor rural women to have access to skills, markets and business development services including some turning to be successful entrepreneurs and source of inspiration to others. Increase in the incomes of women members in the family has increased the access to food and finance, and benefited their families as well as communities.

Skill Development:

  • One of the very critical gap that often lowers the employability of women and their efficient and quality output at work place is low skilling commensurate with the job profiles of a particular company or agency. 
  • The Skill India Mission needs to map such requirements and design tailor made hands-on training modules for imparting skills to the willing women workers relevant to the prospective employers. Additionally, these training programs need to be calibrated in such a way that they are sensitive to the needs of women workforce such as providing safe transport, flexible schedules as well as childcare support. 
  • The various models like women mesons in Jharkhand, Krishi Sakhiand Pasu Sakhi under NRLM and World Bank model for supporting adolescent girls in Jharkhand Government for the completion of secondary education and providing mentoring services to succeed in the job market should be suitably up scaled. 
  • Similar examples of providing dedicated hostels to girl students in Rajasthan and elsewhere should also be augmented.

Social and Behavioural Change:

  • The developmental projects and interventions fall short unless the social and behavioural changes are not affected in the other 50 percent partners of the society. The social researches have established that the women tend to drop out in response to family pressures even after completing the skill programs and consequently getting jobs. Hence, the developmental efforts need to be suitably complemented by changing the social norms around marriages, work and household duties. The society should own its responsibility to raise males to respect girls and women. Hence, we as a family need to see that our girls are as capable as future professionals.
  • The comfort in commuting and safety while travelling will go a long way for empowering the women workforce in rural areas. The Government needs to work to provide better connectivity between stations and their often-distant homes. In Tamil Nadu, a safe working environment has been able to encourage women to work in garment manufacturing, far from their village and homes. 
  • The girls have become the breadwinners for their impoverished families by supporting economically the fellow family members in education, etc. The availability of safe hostel facilities for their stay have encouraged their parents to allow them to work and stay away from home.


  • Finally, the several social, cultural and institutional impediments have to be overhauled and removed, if needed, to empower the half of the population and ensure their participation in rural and agricultural prosperity.
  • It is an opportune time to revisit and reform outdated legislation and policies that act as deterrents to women entering or staying in the labour market.


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Courtesy: Kurukshetra