As Men Migrate To Cities, Women Farmers Seek Land Rights

Women own just 13 per cent of land in India although they do two-thirds of all farm work, with ownership largely passing from fathers to sons.

Mumbai: Female farmers urged the government to protect their land rights and keep them safe from abuse as women increasingly run farms abandoned by men for jobs in the city.

Women own just 13 per cent of land in India although they do two-thirds of all farm work, with ownership largely passing from fathers to sons.

“At a time when there is rapid feminisation of Indian agriculture, the data needs to reflect women farmers’ work,” Soma Parthasarathy of a women farmers’ rights, Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Women have the greater work load, yet their rights are more insecure.”

Ms Parthasarathy is among a delegation of women in New Delhi to issue the government with a charter of demands aimed at winning women equal status when it comes to land rights.

“Their names must appear in the land and cultivation records so they can finally gain a legitimate identity as farmers.”

As women’s names are seldom on title deeds, the government labels them “cultivators” rather than farmers, which means they are denied loans, insurance and other state benefits.

“Our main demand is delinking land ownership from the definition of who a farmer is, as women are not recognised as farmers,” said the prominent campaigner, who is leading the delegation at the New Delhi meeting.

The constitution gives women equal rights but custom dictates that land is inherited by male sons. Women also seldom have claim over their husband’s land.

About 60 per cent of the country’s population depends on the land, mostly farming and raising livestock and poultry on marginal plots of less than 2 hectares (4.9 acres).

The burden of caring for livestock and harvesting forest produce such as honey to supplement incomes also falls on women, Ms Parthasarathy said.

“It is important that women get not just individual rights over land but also access to common lands, forest land and grazing grounds to secure their livelihoods,” she said.

Legislators failed to pass a bill granting women equal rights to land, drafted in 2011 by the father of India’s ‘Green Revolution’ MS Swaminathan to boost farm production.

Some states have programmes to give land to the landless poor. But not all ensure women’s names are on the titles, which means widows risk losing their farms when their husbands die.

“The system itself is not geared to protect a woman farmer’s rights,” Ms Parthasarathy said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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