Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to the denial of resources aside from the physical or emotional abuse, according to the UN. Women in agriculture face GBV with regards to both disproportionate workload and limited access to land and resources compared to their male counterparts. It is therefore essential to recognize the contribution of female farmers, and to end the unequal access to resources.
Imagine waking up before dawn to prepare breakfast for the family, working in and out between the farmland and the kitchen throughout the day, and only getting rest after attending to every family member’s needs – it is the daily routine typically seen among women in rural agricultural areas. As approximately 80 percent of food produced globally is sourced from family farming, women play a critical role in agricultural production. On average, women constitute 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing regions, yet they make up less than 13 percent of the landholders. Their restricted access to land rights further leads to economic insecurity, lack of decision making, and limited access to subsidies or credits for agricultural productivity improvement.
This hardship for women is especially evident in India. After thousands of farmers in India committed suicide due to loss of produce and unpredictable harvest in association with climate change, their wives are left behind as widows. Due to the lack of access to land, they become very vulnerable and are left at others’ disposal. The adversity not only comes from private lenders and banks, but also their in-laws and the broader society. Farmer widows are often labelled as inauspicious with additional stigma for their husbands’ death and debt. Therefore, it is not uncommon that women are expelled by their in-laws, whom they usually live with, after their spouse’s death. In some cases, the authorities even disapprove the compensation for such suicides to the widows, for they are only seen as cultivators not farmers.
Confined access to land rights, as well as technical and financial support, are important not only for farmer widows, but also for a growing number of female farmers after the male migration from villages to cities. If women were given equal access to agricultural resources and services as their male counterparts worldwide, the yields could be increased by as much as 30 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In India, there is an emerging formation of self-help groups to support female farmers through knowledge sharing and monetary aid. The gender inequity in access to resources, opportunities and services is also addressed by FAO under the scope of gender-based violence, for such vulnerabilities exacerbates food insecurity. At a global scale, education on gender equality, in addition to practical training, are provided for capacity building at the Junior/Farmer Field and Life Schools. Furthermore, the engagement of women in the decision making process is encouraged through Dimitra Clubs in local communities worldwide.
As agrarian women are both the caregivers and food-providers in the majority of rural contexts, it is vital to safeguard their rights. By closing the gender gap in agriculture, it opens up new opportunities to women and allow them to reach their full potentials. Such empowerment in female farmers further contributes to sustainable community development by ensuring agricultural productivity and food security.
”The empowerment of rural women and girls is essential to building a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for all on a healthy planet.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres