International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) is observed on 15th October. It is a UN observance, which recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” Government of India (GoI) has also declared 15th October as Mahila Kisan Diwas.

The Union Agriculture Ministry celebrated, ‘Mahila Kisan Diwas’ or the Day of Women Agriculturists on October 15 for the first time in India. It is being organized in association with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.This was being done to recognize the contribution of women in agriculture as 80% independent women in India were associated with the farm sector, while women lead 18% of all agricultural households. The tagline for the commemoration has been decided as - ‘Sashakt Mahila, Sashakt Bharat’ (empowered women, empowered India).

Significance: The primary objective of  “Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP)” implemented by  Ministry of Rural Development is to empower women in agriculture by making systematic investments to enhance their participation and productivity, as also create and sustain agriculture based livelihoods of rural women. Under the Pariyojana, projects are conceived in such a manner that the skill base of the women in agriculture is enhanced to enable them to pursue their livelihoods on a sustainable basis.
Committee on CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination), to which India also is a signatory, in its General Recommendations (GR) called upon all States parties to ‘facilitate and support alternative and gender-responsive agricultural development programmes which enable small-scale women producers to participate in and benefit from agriculture and rural development’. In addition, ‘to address the unequal power relations between women and men, including in decision-making and political processes at the community level, and remove barriers to rural women’s participation in community life through the establishment of effective and gender-responsive rural decision-making structures’.The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development recognises that rural women are key agents for achieving transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. Goal no. 5 have special significance for the advancement of rural women as it emphasizes on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women, creating opportunities for effective participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making, undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources.
To close the gender gap, it is crucial that women’s role and contribution be recognised, and efforts must be made to address the gender specific needs and barriers. Rural women have a right to equal opportunities and benefits from various policies and programmes. The State must ensure that rural women’s rights are protected and promoted.The participation of women in agriculture is well-known. A decline in both male and female labour force in agriculture has been observed in the last three decades. The number of men in agriculture has decreased from 81 per cent to 63 per cent, and women from 88 per cent to 79 per cent. Deterioration in the number of women is significantly lower than the men, and this can be easily called the feminisation of agriculture.The ministry was trying to ensure that women become part of mainstream agriculture, reap the benefit of every penny spent on agriculture and contribute to agricultural productivity as well as double the income of their families. Female labourers faced several inequalities. They work much longer hours and are paid lesser than their counterparts. Also, ignorance about their rights, opportunities and facilities make their participation in agriculture all the more tough.The ministry has already earmarked at least 30% of budget allocation for women beneficiaries in all ongoing schemes and development activities.

Contribution of Women in Farming : Women play a crucial role in sustaining rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing. They significantly contribute to agrobiodiversity conservation and agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, building climate resilience, family incomes, health and education leading to improved quality of life.Women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force. Census 2011 data shows that 65.1 percent of female workers depend on agriculture, either as labourers or cultivators as opposed to 49.8 percent of male workers. In Nagaland, 65.2 percent of female workers are cultivators and 7.3 percent are agricultural labourers, in comparison to 47.4 percent male cultivators and 5.8 percent agricultural labourers.The significant presence of women in agriculture, women’s role and contribution remain unrecognised. Non recognition meant that women largely remain invisible in agricultural policies, schemes, programmes and budgets. As compared to their male counterparts, they lack equal access over land tenure, agricultural inputs, credit, markets, appropriate technologies and infrastructure.
Women continue to suffer disproportionately due to poverty, structural barriers and discriminatory social norms. Women remain largely excluded from decision making and political processes in rural households and communities; does not enjoy equal rights over productive resources and assets such as land; wage disparity between men and women farmers persist; unpaid care work and domestic burden remains unaddressed.

Government Initiatives
The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare implements various programmes of farmers including women in agriculture sector. As per directives for the Women Component Plan, the State Governments have been asked to ensure flow of funds to the tune of 30% for the benefit of women farmers.
The guidelines of Centrally Sponsored Scheme/Missions such as Support to State Extension Programmes for Extension Reforms under Sub-Mission on  Agricultural Extension(SMAE), National Food Security Mission, National Mission on Oil Seed and Oil Palm and National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, Sub-Mission for Seed & Planting Material, Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization and Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) stipulate that States and other Implementing Agencies are required to earmark at least 30 % expenditure on Women Farmers.


 

The measures taken by the Government for upliftment of women in the agriculture include:
 
1.    Under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme Support to States Extension Programme for Extension Reforms, mainstreaming gender concerns in agriculture is being addressed by ensuring utilization of minimum 30% of resources on programmes and activities for women farmers and women extension functionaries. In order to encourage women farmers’ participation in planning and decision making process, their representation in Farmers’ Advisory Committee at Block, District and State level has been provided under the Scheme’s guidelines.
2.    Under Sub Mission on Seed and Planting Material (SMSP), the training is provided under the components of the Scheme Seed Village Programme and Quality Control Arrangement of Seeds in which women farmers are equally benefitted. State Governments are also advised to allocate adequate funds to women farmers.
3.    Under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) implemented in 28 states, 30% of allocation of fund is being earmark for women farmer. There is also an intervention under NFSM providing cropping system based training to farmers including SC, ST and women farmers to create awareness on improved technology for increasing production and productivity of crops. State governments are implementing the NFSM as per the provisions of the guideline.
4.    Under the National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP), 30% of budgetary allocation is being  earmarked for women beneficiaries/farmers. Concerned implementing agencies will be responsible for monitoring implementation of these components i.e. allocation of resources for SC/ST/Women beneficiaries and maintenance of database for the same.
5.    Under the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM), 31 drudgery reducing technologies for women in agriculture developed by ICAR are promoted through training, demonstration and financial assistance. Women beneficiaries are also provided 10% additional financial assistance for purchase of various agricultural machines and equipments. Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institutes conducts training on Agricultural Mechanization for women farmers on regular basis and in the year, 2014-15, 936 women farmers were trained.
6.    Under the National Horticulture Mission, women are organized into Self Help Groups and farm inputs and technological & extension supports are provided to make women self-reliant.


7.    The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has established a network of 645 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) in the country aiming at assessment and demonstration of technologies/products and its dissemination through number of extension programmes including training of farmers to update their knowledge and skill. These training programmes are conducted by KVKs on improved technologies related to agriculture and allied fields and have benefited the farmers in terms of increased crop production and improved farm income. During 2015-16,  as many as 205 women specific income generation technologies related to technological empowerment of rural women were assessed in 394 locations covering 2917 trials under the thematic areas, namely Drudgery  Reduction, Farm  Mechanization, Health   and Nutrition, Processing and Value Addition, Production and Management, Energy Conservation, Small Scale Income Generation, and Storage Techniques.  The major enterprises included mushroom, sericulture, vermicompost production, nutritional gardens etc.  339681 Farm women were trained in the crop production training programmes.
8.    ICAR- Central Institute for Women in Agriculture (ICAR-CIWA) has been in the forefront undertaking research on issues affecting women in agriculture. It has focused on participatory action research in different technology based theme areas involving rural women to test suitability of technologies for women and suggest their refinement. The Institute is also working to catalyse and facilitate R & D institutions to bring in farm women perspectives in their programmes. For gender mainstreaming and empowering women in agriculture, various projects are being implemented to address issues related to women in agriculture in the areas of integrated farming system, IPM, drudgery, livestock and fisheries, extension methodologies and gender indices etc. Drudgery faced by farm women in various agricultural operations including household are being addressed with quantifiable data on the required parameters and designing/ refining women friendly farm tools & equipment.


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