Women twice as active as men in farm activities

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New study portrays women’s disadvantageous position due to deprivation in land ownership, wage discrimination and non-recognition of unpaid works

Women constitute nearly 65% of farm labour force in Bangladesh, yet they have very limited land ownership, making them mostly work under the supervisions of their male counterparts.

Most of the tasks they deliver in agriculture production value chain are unpaid work, and when it comes to earning wages for farm labour, women receive far less compared to what men earn for the same jobs.

A new study on women’s role in Bangladesh agriculture just revealed that 47.6% of the country’s nearly 57 million-strong workforce is involved in farm work, and 64.8% of them are women.

It is found that though the women’s number in farm sector is almost twice the size of men involved in the sector, in most of the cases women don’t own the lands they work in, and men have greater command over them because of property ownerships.

Commissioned by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), three professors of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Mymensingh – Dr Ismat Ara Begum, Dr Mohammad Jahangir Alam and Dr Mahbub Hossain – conducted the study titled “Recognition of Women’s Role in Agriculture,” which began last year, and presented the outcome at a webinar on Thursday.

While male labourers’ wage ranges between Tk285 and Tk352 on average, female labourers’ wage varies between Tk182 and Tk214 for the same tasks. This is indeed a sharp discrimination against women, the webinar noted.

Researchers say: “Traditionally, rural women in Bangladesh have been playing a crucial role in a wide range of income-generating activities, post-harvest activities, cow fattening, milking, goat farming, poultry rearing, (and) homestead vegetable gardening. Rural women are silent workers and fundamental contributors to rural economy.

“Additionally, women also provide care for all household members, especially for children. Thus, women’s role is vital for not only household food security, but also for the well-being of a household.”

They note: “Invariably, rural women face tremendous workload – the double burden of caregiver and labour market work. Nonetheless, women’s role and contribution to the national economy is generally not accounted for. In view of this, it appears important to assess the burden of rural women’s work in agriculture, and how rural women may get due recognition.”

The key concern is the share of women engaged in salaried jobs; only close to 15% of rural women are engaged in waged or salaried employment. The rest of the works – both in terms of household chores and on-farm activities – by women largely remain unaccounted for.

Internationally agreed method known as System of National Accounts (SNA) does not take into account women’s unpaid activities. The main reason behind this is that the SNA does not recognize work that does not go to the market.

Since women’s household work is not traded in markets, it does not have any exchange value.

Women’s work at home are both reproductive and productive in nature, which do not have monetary values.

In a concept note, MJF says: “A sharp gender division of household role compels women to do household activities, including childcare and old age care. In addition to all of these responsibilities, most rural women in Bangladesh are performing an active role in ensuring household food security for their families. Farm activities in the homesteads, ranging from selection of seed to harvesting and storing of crops, are predominantly managed by women in Bangladesh.

“A large majority of households in Bangladesh depend upon agriculture, and women are now becoming a vital part of these agricultural activities. Therefore, the role of women in agriculture should be recognized appropriately in the GDP for enhancing women’s status both at family and society levels,” reads the concept note.

The National Women Development Policy (NWDP) 2011 has made provisions to ensure women’s rights in farming, food security, and agricultural economy. NWDP states that women labourers as farming hands contributing in the national economy need recognition.

NWDP commits to extend support and assistance to ensure equal wages for the same job and to remove wage discrimination for women in agriculture, and to take steps to ensure that women farmers have equal opportunity and access to resources and assets.


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