Understanding the role of women in agriculture across the EGP

Research led by Professor Sucharita Sen and her team at SaciWATERs has uncovered a mismatch between macro and micro level research findings

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Across the Eastern Gangetic Plains (EGP), poverty is widespread and the daily challenges facing farming communities are vast. To identify pathways out of poverty it is crucial to understand the changing roles of women in agriculture and across the region.

Macro-level studies in the EGP clearly indicate that feminization of agriculture is taking place in Nepal, primarily as a response to male out-migration, and in Bangladesh due to increasing engagement of women in different types of allied agricultural activities.  In India, however, macro-level data highlights defeminisation, or the withdrawal of women from the agricultural labour force, and there is some evidence that women from poorer households are withdrawing from agriculture at a higher rate than those from wealthier households. 

These results are important, because micro-level studies often begin with an assumption of feminization of agriculture and proceed to investigate the impacts. This mismatch between macro and micro level research findings suggest that the diverse context of the EGP hasn’t always been well understood.  One reason for this could be due to existing heterogeneities that can in turn hide potential homogeneities, and vice versa, while the nature of migration and the patterns of gender interactions across and within parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh should also be considered. Therefore, it’s crucial to critically revisit the role of women in agriculture in the EGP.

Professor Sucharita Sen is a Gender Specialist from Jawarlahal Nehru University in Delhi. She completed this study with a team at SaciWATERs, the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies. SaciWATERs is a policy research institute based in Hyderabad, India. It focuses on critical issues related to water resources management in South Asia using a pro-poor human development approach.

Watch an an interview with Professor Sucharita Sen from the 2019 Seeds of Change Conference here.