The feminization of agriculture or the feminization of agrarian distress? Tracking the trajectory of women in agriculture in India

21 August 2019

The rising share of farm work in India undertaken by women – a phenomenon commonly referred to as the feminization of agriculture – raises questions about the changing character of rural India, particularly with regards to women’s social and economic roles. Based on an analysis of four sets of occupational data drawn from the Indian Census (1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011), this paper demonstrates that, as a process driven largely by the outmigration of men from rural areas, the feminization of agriculture has no necessary relationship with wider INDICATORS of women’s social or economic empowerment. Instead, women’s growing participation in agriculture appears to be strongly related to several indicators of poverty. This paper concludes that women’s growing contribution of labour in agriculture adds to the already heavy work burdens of most rural women, thereby further undermining their well-being, and suggests that the feminization of agriculture may better be described as the feminization of agrarian distress.