The Working Group for Women and Landownership (WGWLO), a network of 37 NGOs and CBOs in Gujarat, working on the issue of agriculture land ownership and access to productive resources, livelihood, security, rights and empowerment of women, has prepared a detailed discussion note on the tangled issue of women’s right to agricultural landownership. Spread over 15 districts among more than 32000 rural women, WGWLO has formed several Swa Bhoomi Kendras to in order to guide rural women farmers about their right to land. Involved in training paralegals as also local rural revenue officials, the Swa Bhoomi Kendras has so far been instrumental in getting land rights to 3,200 women. Excerpts from the note:
Though legally granted, women do not have rights socio-culturally. The existing problems they face are as follows:
- Women are not oriented to demand immovable property (land, house, well etc.) as their rightful entitlement for they are so socialized and do not visualize themselves are owners of such property.
- Women as daughters, wives, sisters and daughters-in-law are emotionally coaxed by the family, caste and community elders to give up their rights to patrilineal or conjugal property. In a study done by WGWLO in February 2014, it came across that: while 23.2% daughter and 17.1% widows had released their title deeds even when they were alive. On the other hand, as high as 20%, i.e., in one fifth of the entries, daughters’ names did not figure in the land records at all.
- Women are not involved in the decision making process during division or transfer of property and it comes upon them to suddenly decide to give up their entitlements. Thus they are not given time or opportunity to assess the implication of such decisions, which they realize much later- if they do. In such situations the single widowed, deserted or married women are the worst affected.
- The land administering machinery is complex and at times gender biased. Sometimes intentionally or unintentionally they end up keeping women away from realizing her land rights.
- Socially, it is not even considered correct for the woman to go out of the household to directly interact in the matters of securing her entitlements in land or other immovable property, and she remains at the mercy of others.
- In times of land acquisition, compensation is given to the land owner, who is largely a male. Livelihood of families which was dependent on the land so far, goes in cash only to the male, which affects women adversely.
Women and agriculture: status and problem
Data compiled from Census 2011 on Cultivators and Agricultural Labourers for Gujarat reflects that 64.9% of female workers depend on agriculture, either as cultivators or agricultural labourers, while only 35.1% of male workers do the same. In terms of absolute numbers, 43.92 lakh female workers are in agriculture (cultivators: 12.03 lakhs and agricultural labourers: 30.69 lakhs).
Other empirical evidence shows that women carry out 60-75% of all farming related work across most regions of India and across most crops grown. More women-days go into farming than men-days in a variety of agricultural operations, which are divided and performed based on gender. Women and girls engage in a number of agro-oriented activities ranging from seedbed preparation, weeding, horticulture and fruit cultivation to a series of post-harvest crop processing activities like cleaning and drying vegetables, fruits and nuts for domestic use and for market. Female-headed households range from 20% to 35% of rural households (widows, deserted women as well as women who manage farming when their men migrate). Gender wage gaps are widely prevalent when it comes to differential wage rates for men and women in rural India, however.
As per the Agriculture Census 2010-11, the percentage share of female operational holdings in total operational land holdings is only 12.79% and the share in operated area is only 10.36%. Meanwhile, coming to landownership, according to the study done by WGWLO in 2003-04, only 11.8% of women in Gujarat owned agriculture land. Recent reports indicate that only 6% of rural Indian households have at least one woman owning land. Out of all the rural households which own some land, 11% are households where at least one woman owns some land. 89% of rural households having some land keep out women from accessing any rights to such property despite agriculture and land being such an important part of an overwhelming majority of Indian rural women’s existence.
The term “farmer” evokes only the image of a male farmer, and women farmers remain largely invisible as far as the State and society are concerned.
In 2007, based on the Kisan Ayog recommendations, the National Policy for Farmers was adopted and it defined a farmer as ‘a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry.
The term will also include tribals engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce’. Such a definition adopted in the official agricultural policy of India should have conferred the rightful recognition to, and supported women cultivators and agricultural workers, the ones who are visibly working in agricultural production but also those who declare themselves to be ‘principally engaged in housework’.
It is worth noting that 61.6% of rural women aged 15 to 59 years report household work as their principal usual activity status, with 45% engaged in various activities for obtaining food for the household: working on kitchen gardens, maintaining household animal resources, collection of food and food processing activities. Even this so-called household work is therefore farming, technically speaking, as per the National Policy for Farmers, apart from the involvement of women reported as self-employed workers or casual labour in agriculture in a more overt and direct sense! However, this policy definition of farmers, and therefore women farmers, has not been actualized in practice. Women farmers continue to be invisible, neglected and discriminated against.
Meanwhile, there is also evidence that shows that women, if provided the same support systems that are extended to male farmers and same access to resources, will produce 20-30% more in terms of productivity. There is also enormous evidence to show that recognizing women farmers is critical to addressing food security issues at all levels, in addition to meeting various development goals. Most importantly, women’s empowerment and equality with men as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, requires that all their rights are upheld and protected.
While women work the hardest in this arena, lack of recognition as farmers – primarily because of land ownership resting in the hands of men in our patriarchal society – means that they are being denied the very basic livelihood rights. The agricultural research system, training and extension systems, marketing systems, risk insurance systems, credit and other support systems systematically ignore women.
Rural women are mostly dependent on the natural environment for their livelihood. Maintenance of households and women’s livelihoods are, therefore, directly impacted by climate-related damage to or scarcity of natural resources. Limited rights or access to arable land further limits livelihood options and exacerbates financial strain on women, especially in women-headed households. Poor women are less able to purchase technology to adapt to climate change due to limited access to credit and agricultural services (for example, watering technology, farm implements, climate-appropriate seed varieties and fertilisers).
Damage to infrastructure that limits clean water, hygienic care, and health services can be especially detrimental to pregnant or nursing women (10-15% of all women, at any given point) as they have unique nutritional and health needs. Public and familial distribution of food may be influenced by gender and make women and girls more susceptible to poor nutrition, disease and famine, especially when communities are under environmental stress. Increased time to collect water (due to drought, desertification or increased salinity) and fuel (due to deforestation or extensive forest kill from disease infestations) decreases the time that women are able to spend on education or other economic and political enterprises, and increases their risk of gender-based violence.
We believe that state should have policies which recognize women as farmers and also reframe agricultural programs to enable the poor including women across different social groups to get ownership to livelihood resources and rightful access to government support and services. Our demands below are based on this belief and our experiences of last 12 years, along with the experience of Swa Bhoomi Kendras of the last two years.
Policy suggestions based on WGWLO’s experiences
- Develop and maintain MIS of revenue department with gender segregated data. Review of this data must be done at regular intervals to track the progress towards women’s landownership.
- Ensure greater developmental incentives (loan/ subsidy, inputs, market support) or differential incentives favoring exclusive women landowners or joint landowners.
- Waive stamp duty for transfer of property, exclusively in the name of women to motivate men to transfer/purchase land in the name of women to encourage men to transfer land in the name of women.
- Automatically include names of married woman in the land title of husband with clear title, as joint partners so that they do not have to face problem after death of the husband as also their idenitity is established as a ‘farmer’.
- Make procedural Changes and Guidelines must be enforced so that daughters/ sisters/ widows do not give away their rights to the fathers/brothers due to social pressure.
- Conduct mass media based campaigns to create awareness among women about their legal and social rights within their family.
- Publicize procedures for varsais on a large scale, including details of expenses which are to be incurred, in order to create awareness among women of the procedures and break their illusion about the high expenses.
- Ensure that the Talatis read out gender-desegregated data of deaths registered in the village vis-à-vis varsai entries done in the village every quarter.
- Have at least one-third women signing as panchs as references /co-witnesses, required to completing the land documents. They could be heads of SHGs, formally elected women representatives or any woman representing committees promoted by Government at the village level.
- Felicitate Talatis and Mamlatdars who complete highest nos./ 100% varsai entries in a year in a village and those Talatis who ensure women’s land ownership as also take innovative steps to retain their land rights.
- Develop and maintain data on all agriculture schemes, groups of ATMA and farmer friends in a gender segregated manner and review it on periodic basis to track the progress.
- Develop a system to certify women who cultivate but who do not have land in their name, in Panchayat records, by having Panchnama that ‘the women is a wife of ‘X’ land owner’- to facilitate their access to entitlement as a farmer.
- Initiate a “Centre for women’s land legal literacy and support for access to livelihood entitlements” at all Block revenue officials’ premises which can be of support to women to assert their land rights and enhance land based livelihoods, which is the main source of livelihood for women farmers. The centre needs to be run by trained Mahila Sangathan representatives and be managed by Mahila Sangathans.
- Introduce the topic of “Significance of landownership for women” in training and orientation of Revenue as well as agriculture officials of all levels.
- Allocate targets and budget for women farmers for existing all mainstream agriculture schemes, where if not achieved, budget cannot be reallocated for other purposes or target group.
- Include single women’s category in the priority list for distribution of government land, especially widows, during land allotment campaigns.
- Include allotment of land for non agriculture purposes for ‘women’s registered collectives’ in the related GR.
- Distribute compensation from land acquisition jointly to both husband-wife or ideally, half in their accounts, irrespective of their land ownership; based on other proofs.
- Small and marginal women farmers and single women farmers who are vulnerable, should be recognized and support to develop their lands should become part of the works under MGNREGS.
- All CRPs under SRLM be trained for the issue of Women’s agriculture land ownership and land based entitlements.