Give credit facilities, MGNREGA job cards to women: NCW advisory to states
The National Commission for Women (NCW) is preparing an advisory for all the states prescribing drastic policy changes that will aid women farmers, who are grappling with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
The decision was taken following a day-long virtual consultation that was held on Friday.
NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma told HT that policy rethinks were the need of the hour after a vast section of women also went back to their respective native places during the lockdown restrictions, which the government imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 outbreak.
One of the key takeaways of the discussion was that though a significant section of Indian farmers are women, access to credit facilities, subsidies and even agricultural tools for women are few and far between.
“Most of the land is registered in the name of male farmers, which make women ineligible for credit facilities and state subsidies. Besides, farming tools are designed only for men,” Sharma said.
The skewed gender policy makes procuring of both seeds and loans difficult for women farmers, she added.
The stakeholders urged the NCW to issue an advisory to all the states to ensure women get access to credit without any interest or collateral, as many don’t hold land titles and some are sharecroppers.
Another suggestion was made to provide women with job cards under a scheme such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
The stakeholders advocated that women must get these opportunities amid a competitive labour market because many male migrant workers have headed home due to the loss of their livelihood triggered by the Covid-19 induced lockdown restrictions and a battered economy.
It was also suggested a universal public distribution scheme (PDS) could be implemented coupled with bridging the gender wage gap in the farm sector.
The percentage of women farmers and farm labourers is open to debate.
An Oxfam report has cited that 70% of Indian cultivators and agriculture labourers are women, while a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) had pegged the figure at 30%.
The 2017-18 Economic Survey pointed at the “feminisation” of the agriculture sector, as more women took up farm jobs.
Seema Kulkarni of Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAAKAM), who took part in the virtual discussions on Friday, said that widows of farmers, who committed suicides, are the most vulnerable amid the pandemic during this kharif season.
“These widows haven’t sold their harvests. They have neither seed availability nor access to any resource. Loan waivers, too, haven’t been sanctioned, as most of them receive loans through self-help groups and microfinance that charge exorbitant rates of interest. The process of sanctioning loans needs to be institutionalised. Besides, a list of vulnerable women needs to be compiled on a priority basis,” she said.
In January, MAKAAM had written to the Centre to write off farm loan debts and provide a monthly pension of Rs 5,000. It had also batted for MGNREGA job cards for women affected by farm loan suicides.
The officials from the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, department of agriculture, National Rural Livelihood Mission, National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, PM Kisan, and National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj and also representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Oxfam, and MAAKAM.