Men from Sadakwadi hamlet in Mokhada taluka of tribal-dominated Palghar district in Maharashtra migrate to Shahapur, Thane, and Mumbai once sowing operations in monsoon are completed. Women in the village who take care of pre- and post-harvest processing and bring the product into the marketing chain. This tiny village with about 500 women shoulder the responsibility of agriculture while men migrate to work as labourers at construction sites in cities.

But this is not the story of just Sadakwadi village. The percentage distribution of agricultural workers (principal and subsidiary status workers) for the period 1987-88 to 2019-2020 show that the share of the workforce of men and women in agriculture has declined in both the rural and urban areas during the period. But the decline of the male workforce is much more compared to the women's workforce.

In rural areas, in 1987-88, about 74.5 per cent of the workforce was male-dominated while the women workforce constituted 84.7 per cent. There was a drastic decline in the male workforce in rural agriculture in 2004-05 with only 66.5 per cent male workforce reported in agriculture. But at the same time, 83.3 per cent of women continued in agriculture. As per the data presented by the Ministry of Agriculture to Lok Sabha last month, there is 55.4 per cent men and 75.7 per cent women workforce in agriculture in rural areas in 2019-20.

In urban areas, the male workforce in agriculture was never above 9.1 per cent ( from 1987-88 to 2019-20). Here, the women workforce declined from 29.4 per cent in 1987-88 to 8.2 per cent in 2019-20.


Low wages for women

Despite playing a significant role in agriculture, wages for women continue to remain low. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO)’s 2017 data show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural men and women labourers are ₹264.05 and ₹205.32, respectively. This means women workers get 22.24 per cent lower wages. For non-agricultural labourers, the average daily wage rate was ₹271.17 for men and ₹205.90 for women.

Men get higher wages as agricultural labourers as well as a non-agricultural labourers. The non-agricultural women labourer gets slightly better wages compared to agricultural labourer women.

Referring to the report on ‘Women and Men in India, 2020’ by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), the Ministry of Agriculture told Lok Sabha “ The country has witnessed relatively much faster rate of growth in sectors other than agriculture on account of structural changes due to a shift from a traditional agrarian economy to industry and service dominated one. This phenomenon is generally expected in the normal development process of developing economies including India” the Ministry added.

As per the Census 2011 conducted by the Registrar General of India, the extent of women participation in agriculture as cultivators (main and marginal) is to the tune of 3.60 crore (30.33per cent) and as female agricultural labour (main and marginal) to the tune of 6.15 crore (42.67 per cent). As per Agriculture Census (2015-16), the total number of operational holdings of women is estimated as 20.44 million in the country. But the specific data on the number of women engaged in sowing, hoeing, weeding, and harvesting in agriculture is not maintained in the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.