By Kinjal  Doshi

Edited by Shambhavi Singh,Senior editor,The Indian Economist

Agriculture in most developing economies is the core sector providing livelihood to a significant proportion of the population, especially in the rural areas.  India has been a predominantly agrarian economy since time immemorial.  It has been noticed that as a country develops, the weight of the agricultural sector to its GDP reduces and so does the employment proportion. Thus, being such a crucial sector, it faces certain issues in terms of increasing productivity, wage differences between men and women, production techniques and the like. In the 1980s, a period of deregulation in India and elsewhere, helped in the process of feminisation of labour activity. Over the past four decades, women have made a notable shift in the labour force activities. Economists have been arguing that the growth of the modern sector in certain developing countries contribute largely to marginalisation of women workers.

As a result of rapid industrialisation, urbanization took place, and a migratory change began to take shape following the gender lines. Men migrated first, for long durations and far – off destinations as the social structure of India permits them to seek off-farm employment opportunities. This results in what is called the ‘feminisation of agriculture“. This is basically a socio-economic structural change found in rural households and farming patterns with respect to the role of women.  As the pressure on the poor households to contribute to the commercial economy increases, men start migrating to cities, wherein they get a higher pay. The bias towards male migration has its roots in patriarchal expectations. Women are thus seen as assuming a larger responsibility to meet the family needs back in the rural pockets. About 33.7% of rural males and 44.6% of the urban males migrate for reasons of employment and better economic opportunities. However, in the case of females, it is as low as 3.6% for rural females and around 3.7% for urban migrants. Their upward mobility for employment is restricted.

The women labour force constitutes a significant portion of the Indian labour force. As per the Census 2001, female workers constituted up to 25.63% of the total working population.  (Labour Bureau ). From the moment of sowing all the way to carrying crops back home, women must engage themselves in these activities for a livelihood. It has been a serious concern of the decade regarding the increasing contribution of women to agriculture along side the declining economic stake of women. Marking aside women engaged in crop production, there have been other activities like poultry, fisheries, water conservation, livestock, work related to the common property resources. In fact, In South East Asia, women play a major role in rice production, particularly in sowing, transplanting, harvesting and processing. (Karl, 1996). Women employed as wage labourers receive lower wage than men do. Their control over resources, access to education, credit, and market information is limited. The women headed households in rural areas have been reported as the lowest income classes. A major inference from feminisation of agriculture is the increasing burden on women with lower or even no compensation.

In the agriculturally prosperous areas, wages are high and thus the vacant position is filled by the men. Women are left to work on the lower income land. This has increased the number of female agricultural labourers.

Total Workers Number Rate %
Persons 402,234,724 39.1
Male 275,014,476 51.7
Female 127,220,248 25.6

Census India, 2011

The wage differentials in the agricultural labour are dramatic. Rural agricultural wages vary from Rs.70 in males to Rs. 50 in females and as low as Rs.40 in children. Feminisation of agriculture has been evenly reflected in the proportion of girl children working in the agricultural process due to low educational qualifications (literacy rate of girls is lower than that of boys). Moreover, patriarchy rules set girls to be working in the farms, barring them from the world experience.

All India average daily wage rates in agricultural occupations (Harvesting) (Rs) – 2007-08

Only the wage data for the activity of harvesting has been chosen to keep the data short. It is to show how the wage rates differ among males-females and children.  Women are paid low wages in compared to men, even though almost 70% of the work is carried out by them. This brings us to the hard fact of our long term objectives of ensuring “equity and efficiency” among all.

Male Female Children
Jul-07 73.27 60.62 38.44
Aug-07 73.66 61.83 39.60
Sept-07 75.08 61.98 40.18
Oct-07 74.45 61.12 41.48
Nov-07 73.37 60.83 41.40
Dec-07    74.21    60.73   43.14
Jan-08 74.48 61.87 44.02
Feb-08 74.19 61.36 44.10
Mar-08 75.13 62.94 45.11
Apr-08 76.95 63.82 44.54
May-08 78.23 64.50 43.83
June-08 79.58 66.11 44.68

Source: Wage Rates in Rural India 2007-08, Ministry of Labour, Government of India

Being identified as the sole caretakers, women often face a heavy burden of non-remunerated household chores like collecting water, cleaning, nurturing their young ones, firewood, and taking care of the elderly. These non-remunerated activities would add up to around 60% to the GDP. The mere fact of not taking into account the work women do in the nation’s GDP, indirectly gives them a backward status. Engaged in some of the most grass root level (marginal) activities, as well as certain mainstream activities, female workers find their identities showcased under “unproductive” or “unorganised” labour.

As per Census 2011, the workforce participation rate for females is at 25.51% compared to the 53.03% for the males. 41.1% of the female main and marginal workers are agricultural labourers, 24.0% of them are cultivators, 5.7% are household industry workers and around 29% are employed in other works. (MOSPI, 2013).  Feminisation is seen not only in the agricultural activities but in certain non agricultural activities as well. India takes the second last position after Male(89%)  in the share of informal employment in total non-agricultural employment with the females share being around 86.6%   in comparison with Serbia, having only 4.3% of female employed and nations like Costa Rica with around 46% female employers.

As measure by the proportion of women whose main employment is agriculture, South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan) has illustrated significant trends in the feminisation of agriculture.

Source: International Labour Organization, Sixth Edition.

The role of women can be traced from agricultural production to even food security. Women are active in both the cash and subsistence agricultural sectors. Their work in household activities and most importantly in food security is not accounted for in the country statistics (Food and Agricultural Organisation). The changing trend of feminisation of agriculture has helped enhance women’s role in this field. However, it has been noted that in the Asia and the Pacific region, as compared to Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the East, it has been harder to trace the proportion of women dominance in agricultural activities. Excluding India and China, Asia has a relatively low percentage of female- headed households. Reports say it is around 9% overall in the mid 1980s, and 14% later on. Though looking at it sociologically, apart from working for the commercial economy, women play multiple roles. They work on family farms as well as paid agricultural labourers. They also lease in land for cultivation. The majority of labourers involved in collection of non timber forest produce are particularly tribal women. Women also supplement family resources through collection of fodder and fuel and water for family and domestic animals (Planning Commission, 2007).

Empowerment of women is now an increasing concern for the economy. Even the new government’s manifesto and the Annual Budget- 2014-15 allocate significant importance and financial resources to the women in India. Importantly it involves at the psychological level, women’s ability to assert them and this is constructed by gender roles assigned to her in the Indian culture that resists change.  A new matrix was created for measuring the human development, drawing from Amartya Sen’s highlights on ‘human capabilities’. The emphasis was put on the fact of enhancing the human well-being and not just focuses on an increasing national income. There is something to do things in a human way, not in a mere animal way.

“When women move forward, the family moves, the village moves, and the nation moves.”


Dashora, K. Women Farmers: From seed to kitchen. Infochange India. Retrieved from

 Department of Statistics. (2012). Statistical Update on employment in the informal economy . In laborsta.ilo. Retrieved from

Economic and Social Development Department. (n.d.). Women’s contribution to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives . In fao. Retrieved from

Facts & Figures: Rural Women and the Millenium development goals. (2012). In Women Watch . Retrieved from

Hardikar, J. (2004, May 1). Migration, agriculture and women. India Together. Retrieved from

International Food Policy Research Institute. (2012). Women in Agriculture. In . (Ed.). N.p.: Global Food Policy Report. Retrieved from

National Statistical Organisation. (2013, October). Women and Men in India 2013. In mospi. Retrieved from

NSSO. (2011, December). Prices and Wages in Rural India . In mospi. Retrieved from

Saxena, N. C. (2012). Women, Land and Agriculture in Rural India. In unwomansouthasia. Retrieved from

Schutter, O. D. (2013, September). Food Sovereignty . In yale. Retrieved from

Schutter, O. D. (2013, March 3). The Feminisation of Farming. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Statistical Profile on Women Labour. (2009). In labourbureau. Retrieved from

Work Participation Rate. (2001). In censusindia. Retrieved from


Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind