Google ‘Indian Farmer’ and the first 10-15 images that appear are men drenched in sweat over a large field driving their cattle. After visiting, observing, and interacting with many villages in the Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh however, it becomes apparent that women are in fact at the forefront of farming activity.
After witnessing the invisibility of the female farmer, we organized a day-long meeting in an attempt to assist women farmers in the Chittoor District to better understand their rights, utilize the resources available to them, and at the same time increase gender sensitivity. 42 women eagerly gathered together and through sincerity, wit, and humor, provided invaluable insight into their lives and what changes they wanted to witness for future generations.
As the meeting began, the simple question of “how many of you own land” sparked a heated conversation. Only a few women raised their hands, but when the question was rephrased to “how many of you have land in your name,” many more hands shot up. One woman sarcastically proclaimed “We can never own anything!” Though initially this statement was met with with many angry counter arguments, as the conversation progressed, they all sadly came to the consensus that at the end of the day, they really had no choice but to surrender all power and wealth to the man of the house. As the anger slowly died down, each woman looked at each other with a sheepish grin and a quiet swept over the room. It was in this moment that the gravity of the situation was felt with the realization of exactly how much work needed to be done.
The most illuminating aspect of the day was dividing these women into groups for them to present a schedule of what a typical day looked like. Beginning between 4:30 AM – 5:00 AM, and concluding around 11:30 PM, their chores were never ending. Their 18 hour work days involved looking after, feeding, and cleaning their cattle, feeding, bathing, and caring for their children, going to the field, and of course, cooking and cleaning. These days often included trips to water the field at odd hours of the night when power was provided. Sundays were the only day they spared time to gossip with neighbors or watch their favorite show. In spite of starting their days a few hours earlier and ending later, they were often chided for not doing enough and when in the field, were forced to undertake only a few set tasks. Though they were capable, they were not allowed to handle the spraying of chemicals, driving the tractor, or using the power tools.
We also gleaned as to how gender roles worked against them. Despite contributing equally, if not more to the production process, men still controlled the market functions such as price, location, time, etc. This led to them also controlling the income from the sale of their crops. When discussing this issue at length, it became clear that this was not an issue that could be solved by acquiring numeracy and other skills, but rather that it was a larger social issue. Many men refused to reveal how much profit they made and instead spent their earnings on alcohol, only to come home inebriated leaving their wives to clean up and tend to them-yet another task the women felt obligated to handle. They most notably remarked that it was not their own safety and well-being they worried about, but of their children.
Another theme woven throughout the conversation were the woes expressed by women about the decrease in crop growth during harvest season despite the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. As community physicians are starting to realize and understand the link between infant abnormalities and pesticide usage, many women are also beginning to connect the dots. There was a growing propensity to learn new ways of farming and become ‘organic’ both to protect the future generation and save on input costs.
As we have now been enlightened with insight from these courageous and engaging women, we are working on the development of training/workshop modules for sensitizing extension officers on rights of women farmers, producing a handbook for women farmers, and setting up gender responsive cells at the Panchayat level in the hopes of bringing the female farmer to the spotlight.