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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Transforming gender relations in agriculture through women’s empowerment: benefits, challenges and trade-offs for improving nutrition outcomes

Nitya Rao
Nitya RaoSchool of International Development and LANSAIndia

Thanks Joan very much for your comments and queries. I have followed your work in south India for several decades, and your 1988 paper in the collection edited by Dwyer and Bruce, A Home Divided, remains one of my favourites. The insights from that paper are still relevant today and pertinent to this discussion. While women contribute most of their income to household needs, including nutrition, why do gender wage gaps persist in agriculture? Secondly, as you rightly point out below, agricultural work remains more compatible with child care and domestic work than factory work. In recent research in Coimbatore district, I found that younger women did prefer working in factories for a few years, but had no choice but to give this up, at least temporarily, following the birth of a child. In the absence of reliable and good quality child care, reproductive work gets prioritised.

I am really struck by your comments on animal power and small implements, and how these lead to a displacement of women's labour. I would really appreciate if you could share any insights/research/papers on this theme, including on SRI. There have been few recent studies on gender divisions of labour in agriculture and how these are changing, except for the reporting of a general feminisation in the context of male migration.  I would have thought that in the absence of men, investments in tools and technologies would increase, but from your comments it sounds as if when technologies are introduced, particular activities may be commoditised and performed by men for a wage, rather than by women farmers, who in India are still recorded as 'unpaid household workers'.

Your work on control of decision-making also sounds very interesting. I too found that women want to control decisions in relation to farming and have developed their own ways of resistance if they are forced into something they don't want to do. The forms of influence vary with context - in North India I found women doing the work and making the decisions, yet attributing these to men, in order to maintain a facade of male control in a patriarchal context. Please do share some of your recent work on control over decisions as well as the role of implements and animal power in shifting divisions of work in agriculture.

A final point in response to your comment on managing agriculture and childcare. While clearly agriculture is more flexible than other forms of paid work, it was interesting to find during a recent study of Kudumbashree groups in Kerala, that women with young children were largely excluded from these groups. Perhaps they are not able to fulfil the labour commitments at the allocated times by the group, though they do manage their own farms.