Protecting rights of women agricultural workers
Md. Sazedul Islam, Author & Journalist
Women are making essential contributions to our agriculture and rural economy. Rural women often manage complex households. Their activities typically include producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food. Many of these activities are not defined as “economically active employment” in national accounts but they are essential to the wellbeing of rural households.
According to labour force survey of ILO, 2013, there are 1.20 crore women workers in Bangladesh. Of them, 92 lakh women are engaged in agriculture sector like fish cultivation, rearing of poultry birds, cattle head and social afforestation.
Agriculture is women-centric since the ancient time. Males are now leaving agriculture profession and joining other profession finding it more profitable. Hence, women are taking agriculture management ahead.
According to Labour Force Survey (LFS), participation of female labour in agriculture compared to male also increased over time. For agriculture, there had been absolute decrease in male labour force.
Agricultural male labour force decreased from 16.2 million to 15.1 million during the period from 1999-2000 to 2005-2006, a decrease by about 7%. On the other hand, during the same period, female labour force in agriculture has increased from 3.8 million to 7.7 million, an increase by about 103%.
Though playing an important in agriculture, women are victims of discrimination.
A number of studies conducted during 1980s found that women’s contribution to socio-economic development were not visible, perhaps due to a set of social norms that enabled men to dominate women (Bose, et. al., 2009).
Women face severe discrimination such as appointment without due process, long working hours, less wage, wage discrimination and various type of repressions.
According to Agriculture Information Service, women agriculture workers do not get any wage for their 45.6% services in agriculture while they get wage less than the market rate for 54.4% services.
A woman agriculture worker gets 43% less wage than a male counterpart in the rural area because of only gender discrimination. Women are more involved in 13 agri-related important works than male, while the number is 11 for male.
Money earned through rearing of domestic animals and works in other side of agriculture, is not given to the women. Hence, contribution of women in agriculture sector is not included in the national income.
In most Asian countries the number of women employed in agriculture as a percentage of the economically active population is higher than that of men. However, women’s contribution to agriculture, which is considered as unpaid family labour, is grossly underestimated. In fact, if unpaid work were included, the figures for female employment in agriculture would be even higher (FAO, 2003).
The agricultural sector in many developing countries, including Bangladesh, is underperforming, in part because women, who represent a crucial resource in agriculture and the rural economy through their roles as farmers, labourers and entrepreneurs, almost everywhere face more severe constraints than men in access to productive resources.
Sources said, women are engaged in 17 out of 21 types of work in agriculture, but they have no recognition because of basically having no ownership over land. Hence, they are being deprived of getting facilities offered by the government for the farmers. If the women famers have received such facilities, their contribution to agriculture would have increased more.
There is no organization working for female agriculture workers. Steps should be taken for recognizing them as powerful working force.
As women in Bangladesh find more comfortable engaging in agricultural activities within the boundary of household rather than in the field for crop production activities, home-based agricultural activities like livestock and poultry production as well as homestead gardening should be encouraged through providing more credit and training facilities to women.
Women’s participation in agricultural production should be facilitated through access to agricultural technologies and loans given for agro-processing, homestead gardens, nurseries, bee-keeping and other activities.
Article 345 of Labour Law, 2006 asked for providing same wage for male and female for the same works. Our National Women Development Policy 2011 also called for the equal rights of men and women and proper evaluation of women workers.
If women workers get recognition to their works in agriculture and get fair wages, they would be interested in agriculture. As a result, production in agriculture sector would increase and agriculture’s contribution to GDP would also increase. Hence, all concerned must come forward to properly evaluate the contribution of women engaged in agriculture.
Women empowerment is the reflection of gender equality, which is precursor to moving the country forward towards inclusive and sustainable development.
If we want to speed up the forward march of development, it is necessary to evaluate works of women economically and give proper recognition. If they get the recognition, their economic empowerment will increase, which help reduce discrimination and violence in the society.
The rights activists said several steps need to be taken for making women’s works visible regarding distribution of agriculture materials, seed, fertilizer, farmers’ card, and loan.
These are: certain quota must be reserved for women in the projects taken up for agriculture; separate project for women should be taken regarding distribution of agriculture materials, seed, fertilizer, farmers’ card, and loan; there should be separate budgetary allocation for women for providing agriculture loan; steps should be taken for selling goods, produced by women farmers and women agriculture workers, at fair price.
If those steps are implemented, productivity of women in agriculture will increase several times. At the same time, women’s contribution to agriculture will also increase. If works of women agriculture workers are recognized nationally, their innovative power will be developed, which would certainly play a revolutionary role in our agriculture turning Bangladesh into a higher income country soon.
Stressing on importance of women in agriculture, National Agriculture Policy (NAP) 2013 called for taking necessary steps for their empowerment, including increasing their skill and ensuring their participation in decision making in agriculture management. The NAP mentioned about ensuring equal rights of women agriculture workers, including removing wage discrimination, and arranging credit and other necessary supports, including technology, for them.
The government should encourage participation of poor rural women in agriculture related business so that they can improve their condition, said the NAP.
Bangladesh government ratified several international policies and charters for giving proper dignity and recognition for women in national life. One of them is Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) declared by UN in 1981.
In 1995, the UN held the 4th World Women Conference in Chinese capital Beijing where delegates from 189 countries pledged to formulate policy and plan of action for development of women by ensuring participation of women in all spheres of life.
Our Constitution also grants equal rights to women and men in all spheres of public life [Article 28 (1) and 28 (3)].
National and international documents all are in favour of establishing the rights of women by ending all forms of discrimination. All concerned should come forward for implementing those in order to build a rights-based society.
The mass media should play its due role so that awareness can be raised, drawing policymakers’ attention to the issue.
As the half of our total population is women, it is not possible to disregard them. It would be easier to achieve the goals for agricultural development, economic growth and food security if women get necessary supports in the agriculture sector.