In a country where 60% of the population is involved in agriculture, and 70 – 80% of agricultural work is done by women, within the legal system women farmers are still almost invisible.
Though 18% of family farms in India are headed by women, only 2% of land is owned by them. According to a study carried out by Oxfam India in Uttar Pradesh, just 6% of women own land, less than 1% have participated in government training programs, 4% have access to institutional credit and only 8% have control over agricultural income. This lack of recognition of their rights seriously hampers Indian women’s possibilities – not only to become more successful and productive farmers, but more importantly to gain self-sufficiency and decision-making powers that can improve the livelihoods of their families and the whole community.
Especially access to patta – title to land – is key in the equation, since this is linked to getting the rights to water, seed rights, and also access to credit. Yet in the past, in many instances the male heads of household migrated, leaving the women as the de facto heads of the farm, but without any transfer of legal titles. Thus, they remained excluded from many opportunities – government-led or otherwise – to change or improve their farming systems, and were legally vulnerable with regard to land claims.
This catch-22 might however change soon according to a draft bill introduced in the Indian parliament. The “Women Farmers Entitlement Bill” is championed by the 87-year-old MP MS Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist best-known for spearheading the Green Revolution and who is now an advocate for moving India towards environmentally sustainable agriculture and food security.
The Bill is supposed to guarantee women farmers the transfer of land titles to their names, access to water, to insurance, credit and markets. It would create ‘Certificates of Women Farmers’ which then give them legally the same entitlements as male farmers, including to the Kisan Credit Card, a program providing affordable credit for farmers without complicated screening processes.
For now, the Bill is stuck in Parliament and hasn’t been passed yet, but MP Swaminathan hopes that “in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17), this will be implemented throughout the country.” Let’s cross our fingers!
Bonus: Check out Oxfam India’s inspiring community mobilization campaign that is working from the grassroots up to raise awareness about women farmers’ rights and empower them here (the article starts on page 3).