‘Land rights critical to women farmers’ rights’



By Sonali Mohapatra

International Women’s Day celebrations saw huge response from all sector of the society. While educational institutions celebrated with gender sensitisation events, government and social sector organisations felicitated many women achievers. All these ceremonies however, bring meagre change for the women in rural India without recognition as ‘Farmers’.

“In order to bring attention to the issue that majority of women in this country depend on land as their only source of livelihoods, we work with women farmers. Women contribute their labour at all important stages of agriculture from sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, to processing the harvest. But majority of them lack access to hoards of government services schemes and services. To meet Sustainable Development Goals, government has to ensure that women farmer’s rights are ensured”, said Pramila Swain, Convener, National Alliance of Women Organisation (NAWO), Odisha Chapter.

“I come from a farmer’s family and am married in a farmer’s family. All my life I have worked in the fields to support my family,” expressed 46-year-old, Sindhulata Sahu of  Padampur Block in Bargarh district.

Even though worldwide women have been working in agriculture in their own fields or as labourers in others field they are seldom considered as farmers. In India, 64.1% of all rural workers are engaged in agriculture and allied work of which 75% are women workers, as per NSSO 68th round (2011-2011).

What is interesting is even though Sindhu is a farmer and is the convenor of what she calls women’s farmers’ association with over 800 members from three blocks of Bargarh, she lamented that the government programmes and schemes for farmers fail to reach women engaged in agricultural activities.

Worth mentioning, there is an underrepresentation of women’s contribution to labour and economy in government data. “Government undertakes census, agriculture census etc, but the manner in which responses are collected, these exercises fails to capture the real picture. Hence we do not see tangible inclusive action in government programmes and its implementation,” said Laita Missal, core committee member, NAWO, Odisha.

The State agriculture department schemes and programmes cover all farmers, yet women get excluded as they are not considered as a farmer. “It is so because the definition of a farmer as per law is a person who tills his own land,” said former District Judge, Subhendhra Mohanty.

The issue is further grim as women traditionally do not own land and statistics says less than 3 % of women own agriculture land as compared to about 10 % owning homestead land. “Land can be owned through three sources – inheritance, purchase or government land allocation through programmes like Vasundhara that gives land to the poor and landless families as laid down under government criteria. A vast majority of land under possession of tribals who get recognition under Forest Rights Act, 2005 also doesn’t ensure access to all government programmes as it is not ownership rights,” said Sanjoy Patnaik, land tenure expert and practitioner.

Practitioners who work on the issue like women farmer organisations, movements etc in the state and at the national level opine that this issue is most pertinent for women’s rights now. With the Central Government’s announcement to revamp the agriculture sector to improve production and productivity, double farm income and so on, the sector has to ensure gender inclusive approach.

Quoting research studies and field experience, various issues are being discussed and organisations advocating for rights of women farmers are submitting charter of demands to the Union as well as the state government. Women in agriculture are facing challenges in accessing their rights, besides being subjected to a host of other issues. The memorandums identify four major issues a) underrepresented data on women in agriculture which results in lack of focused interventions b) legal definition of ‘farmers’ that by default is masculine c) lack of gender sensitisation/ patriarchal mind-set of the field implementation officials and d) absence of women’s title in land documents and their land ownership.

Among the ten women who were felicitated by NAWO on Women’s Day this year, Sindhulata Sahu, is the woman farmer who received the award for the leadership she provided for Women Farmers rights. As a woman and a farmer she said that land and agriculture are linked in a vital manner and recommended that along with other provisions, government has to ensure women’s land rights, which is the most important factor and can bring in agriculture reforms in the country. Hundreds of women farmers like Sindhu are demanding that the government needs to take notice and work on a focused manner on ensuring women’s land ownership by creating an enabling environment for women to exercise their land rights. The government needs to create a secure atmosphere for women through social movements. The process of women farmers collectivising and demanding their rights is on-going for decades. The Government needs to immediate steps to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aims to transform women’s lives all over.