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Background and History  
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Current Debates


Women's role in agriculture received attention in Indian policy circles during the Seventh Five Year Plan. Since then, several programmes for women in agriculture were implemented in India. Some of them are listed below:

  • Special donor assisted programmes on women in agriculture in select states
  • The central sector women in agriculture programmes
  • Women component plan
  • Initiatives for gender mainstreaming

Besides, the government and NGOs supported rural women in organising themselves and accessing capital and other resources through the following programmes:

  • Rural livelihood programmes of the central and state rural development departments
  • The micro-finance initiatives through women self-help groups (SHGs).

These initiatives increased the awareness of the role of women in the economy; and improved their access to information, inputs and technologies. In addition, the programmes highlighted the constraints the women face in accessing assets, inputs, credit, knowledge, markets and services. However, the initiatives have several limitations.

The following reports of the Planning Commission at the time of finalising the Eleventh Plan discuss the status and the limitations of these interventions in detail:

  • The Approach Paper of V Sub Group on Gender Concerns in Agricultural Extension
  • The Report of Sub-Group on Gender and Agriculture.

Some of the details are discussed here:

  • Despite considerable focus on women in agriculture from 7th to 10th Five Year Plans, the approach mainly remained as that of considering the farmwomen as a uniform category.

  • Although, the SHGs created space for women to come together, network and access small informal loans, a great majority of the micro-enterprises initiated by the SHGs lack sustainability.

  • Most of the SHGs are severely affected by marketing problems and lack of technical and managerial skills. SHGs continue to engage in traditional stereotyped and low return activities. The fundamental livelihood concerns of the rural poor woman remain largely un-addressed.

  • Although the Women Component Plan (WCP), implemented from 8th to 10th Five Year Plans, quantified and earmarked funds for women programmes, most of the concerned ministries and departments did not achieve their obligations fully and did not provide the women component in their programmes.

  • The Mid-Term Appraisal 2005 of the Planning Commission indicated that the women remain largely untouched by the gender-just and gender-sensitive budgets, and by the mechanisms of the WCP.

  • The compartmentalisation of schemes and activities for women addresses various facets of women?s empowerment in a fragmented manner. In the absence of convergence among various schemes (even within the Ministry of Agriculture), the impact on women?s economic empowerment in agriculture, at best, might remain scattered and isolated, hence not substantial.

The three major concerns regarding the implementation of government programmes are

  • lower than the stipulated allocation and gap between targets and achievements;

  • limited coverage especially, in terms of direct  beneficiaries, despite large coverage of states and districts; and

  • seemingly low impact in terms of economic and overall empowerment.

Some of the suggestions to improve performance include:

  • adopt a more holistic and comprehensive approach to impact multiple activities and requirements of individual farm women;

  • generate national level gender disaggregated data through gender role analysis of farming systems in various states;

  • continue women specific schemes with modifications and special programmes for women-headed households;

  • provide comprehensive training on agri-business technologies and enterprises and market networking through apex bodies of women SHGs;

  • mobilise Panchayat Raj institutions as basic platforms where various women oriented programmes (funds, agencies, institutions) should be integrated and implemented; and

  • implement programmes in partnership with NGOs.







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