Women woesEven as the importance of women in agriculture in Nepal has increased, they continue to be undervalued
If asked, can anyone live without food, the answer simply will be in the negative. Civilization began with agriculture. When our nomadic ancestors began to settle and grow their own food, human society changed. Not only did villages, towns and cities begin to flourish, but knowledge, arts and the technological sciences also turned out to be new. No matter how sophisticated human civilization becomes, one cannot ignore the importance of agriculture. In the late 1980s, it was the livelihood for more than 90 percent of the population, although only 20 percent of the total land area was cultivable, which accounted about 60 percent of the GDP.
Agriculture, which is the basis of life, seems to be more dependent on the female population of the world. In recent times, more and more women have been incolved in agriculture—they comprise 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labour force, which rises up to 70 percent in some countries.
In Nepal, women involvement had increased from 36 percent in 1981 to 45 percent in 1991 and by 2017 it had reached over 50 percent. In Africa, 80 percent of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women. This shows that, women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, but do not have access and control over land and productive resources adding to the drudgery of women in agriculture.
Credit not given
Women are the backbone for development of rural and national economies. Especially rural women are the major contributor behind this. They play a vital role in advancing agricultural development, food security and nutritional outcomes. Yet, despite their important role in all sectors of development, they suffer from highest illiteracy rates and are the most visible face of poverty.
Rural women have to walk long distances to carry water and fetch firewood, which is harmful to their health, causing high rates of infant and maternal mortality and reversing progress in education, endangering food sovereignty, as well as food security and nutrition. They participate in all aspects of rural life, including paid employment, trade, marketing as well as caring for family members. Consequently, they face multiple constraints in many of the activities they pursue, which limit their productivity.
Compared to men, women tend to own less land, have limited ability to hire labour, and have impeded access to credit, extension and other training services. One of the major reasons behind drudgery for women is the mass exodus of young, energetic men to foreign countries which forced the women in the family to shoulder all responsibilities of the household.
However, on the brighter side, studies show that women are more likely than men to reinvest back into their household to support the family’s nutritional needs, healthcare and school fees and become self-dependent. Despite this fact, work is created to burden women, which disturbs them mentally, physically as well as spiritually.
Women face barriers that significantly constrain their production and entangle them in a low productivity trap. These barriers encompass societal norms, the gender division of labour, resource constraints (access to and use of land), no or low use of inputs (e.g. new agricultural machinery), and limited access to climate services and agro-advisories.
The way forward
As climate change is becoming a reality, these barriers will further constrain women’s ability to adapt, and the gender gap in agriculture will continue to widen. So, Gender responsive climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices and technologies should be provided to close the gender gap as well as bring women into the forefront in the fight against climate change.
Women should be trained and should be allowed to share their difficulties and ideas. Change of work/ promotions in work-stages must be allowed that avoids gender-bias fear among women and they should be assured that they are par with men in work and payment. Gender friendly farm equipment are most important in reducing drudgery for farm women, particularly the hand held small equipment and tools must be developed, popularized and made available at reasonable cost to the women so that it can help reduce their drudgery.
The cultural background of most of our fisher folk, farmers and pastoralists have prohibited women from doing certain activities or playing different roles. Some of these roles need to change. Drudgery which means hard work, monotony, time consuming, use of traditional tools with inappropriate working posture in field, might be supressed to some extent through use of technology. But changing the mind-set is imperative to reduce drudgery for women.
Thapa is the Regional Exchange Coordinator at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science