Women farm workers need workplace safety - Hindustan Times
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Women farm workers need workplace safety

Oct 07, 2023 10:00 PM IST

Measures such as collecting data, raising awareness, and creating safe spaces are needed to combat violence against women in agriculture.

When the great agronomist MS Swaminathan passed away recently, his daughter Soumya Swaminathan spoke movingly about how empowering women in agriculture was one of his great passions. Indeed, he believed that empowering women with knowledge of agriculture would ensure that they would care for crops without any damage to the environment. But for India’s largely invisible women farmers and labourers, it has been a rough ride.

Indian women farmers place paddy saplings at one place before replanting in a field at Tiuri village, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Saturday, July 10, 2021. Agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 50 percent of India's population. Daily laborer who works in the fields earns approximately USD $1.8 a day. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)(AP) PREMIUM
Indian women farmers place paddy saplings at one place before replanting in a field at Tiuri village, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Saturday, July 10, 2021. Agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 50 percent of India's population. Daily laborer who works in the fields earns approximately USD $1.8 a day. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)(AP)

A study conducted by the Feminist Policy Collective (FPC) and Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) highlights how women in agriculture face violence almost on a daily basis. The study covers seven districts across Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana. There is no official data in the public domain on women and land ownership though the 2016 agriculture census showed only 14% of women are operational landholders. They face discrimination in terms of unequal wages, access to land, water, credit, markets, extension services, and information on new technology and practices. Harassment and violence are deployed to maintain structural hierarchies. Women, especially from marginalised sections, continue to be dominated and controlled by men in positions of power.

Growing disparities along with ecological degradation have adversely impacted women’s access to livelihood resources. Violence against women (VAW) in agriculture is closely related to their access to food security, nutrition, and agricultural development. Due to workplace violence, women reported a spectrum of feelings such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, helplessness, guilt, and even confusion. Most of the survivors reported continued feelings of humiliation, vulnerability, and violation. But the good news is that village leaders, local women’s organisations, collectives, farmworker women themselves, mahila mandals, self-help groups, and academic institutions are trying to work out ways to address and combat VAW. In Gujarat, the women’s sanghatans (organisations) have set up nyay samitis that actively support women victims of violence. Seema Kulkarni, a senior fellow at SOPPECOM and a national facilitation team member of MAKAAM says, “Our understanding of violence also needs to include the everyday forms of harassment at home and outside, the lack of recognition and voice for women farmers, the denial of work and rights over resources.”

So, what more can be done? Agriculture sites need to be recognised as workplaces, and women need to feel safe reporting everyday harassment against them. The first and most important step is to collect data on VAW in agriculture. This includes details about their caste, migration, widowhood, age, and male to female ratio of supervisors and workers. The ministry of rural development must create awareness among women in agriculture of their rights. Many women who experience workplace violence lack access to information on safe reporting procedures. The ministry of women and child development should take up extensive proactive awareness programmes in all gram panchayats so that the information about redressal mechanisms and the persons to be contacted can reach women in villages. Gram panchayats should be made responsible for the prevention and reporting of cases of VAW.

Sensitisation training should be conducted with the police and women must be encouraged to organise themselves into groups for issuing demands and to potentially create a safe space for discussing issues related to VAW. These are just some of the measures that could be taken to truly empower women so that they can play a foundational role in agriculture as advocated by MS Swaminathan. Much more needs to be done.

The views expressed are personal

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