‘Indian farm women work more but earn less’

June 1st, 2008 - 10:31 am ICT by admin  

By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, June 1 (IANS) Indian women work more but earn less than men, says an eminent agricultural economist. In his latest book he shows how women continue to get a raw deal despite putting in longer hours and work that is critically more important for the farm sector and the family. “Women have to be good workers in the field, good marriage partners, bring up the family, look after the cattle, graze, feed, milk and clean them, remove cow dung, sell milk, carry fodder, make ghee or butter, engage in off-farm work like basket making, weaving or earthen pot making. So much of work and so little returns,” says Bibhuti Bhushan Barik.

He is the former director of the Pune-based Baikunth Mehta National Institute of Cooperative Management and is currently principal of the Balwant Rural Vidhyapeeth in Agra.

Women constitute about 48.60 percent of the rural population and “they are the vital labour force of the country”, he told IANS. His book, released in May, is called “Invisible Work and Income of Indian Farm Women”.

“It is amazing to catalogue their activities in the farm sector from raising saplings to transplanting, sowing, spraying, hoeing, de-weeding, followed by half a dozen allied post-harvest activities,” says Barik.

The useful contribution of farm women is generally considered unproductive in terms of monetary economics and therefore “it does not figure in official statistics”.

“But the services offered by women for household chores are indispensable and crucial for the survival of the family. A significantly large percentage of women in rural areas has been categorised as non-workers as they are engaged in domestic work and counted outside the labour force,” says Barik, outlining the contours of his latest study, which NGOs and women’s groups will find as a useful weapon in their armoury.

Barik’s micro-level study revolves around Mathura district, which is agriculturally less prosperous compared to other districts of western Uttar Pradesh. He surveyed around 100 villages in the district, which has a population of around 100,000.

According to the last census, Mathura’s ratio is 890 females for every 1,000 males. Barik in the course of his study compared the activities of the two segments according to gender, farm size, variety of crops and off-season activities. These were then tabulated and monetised to get a fair indication of the contribution of both the segments to farm production and to the agrarian economy.

The findings established that the contribution of women in every sector was far more than men but the recognition of their role and distinct identity as economic contributor was lacking.

“On an average, a farm female labour spends 575 person days annually and her engagement per day is around 13 person hours,” says Barik.

Indeed, rural women in India constitute the huge invisible work force that sustains not just the family but the entire agrarian economy. Working endlessly for long hours, their work goes un-rewarded or under-rewarded - that is the message of Barik’s book.

Recent rural development programmes, however, do take the gender bias into consideration and have suitably refashioned some of the older schemes, incorporating skill enhancement and training programmes along with literacy campaigns for women.

Barik says one reason for the continuing socio-economic imbalance is the low level of education and skills other than family duties. This restricts occupational mobility, affecting women’s earnings.

“The employment potential of farm women can be utilised in non-farm sectors by skill formation and upgradation through training and informal education. It will also reduce the undue pressure of the productive population on agricultural land and in poverty alleviation,” Barik adds.

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