Rural Women, Food Security and Agricultural Cooperatives

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RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND MANAGEMENT CENTRE ‘The Saryu’, J-102 Kalkaji, New Delhi 110019. India February 2003. Director: Dr Daman Prakash

RURAL WOMEN, FOOD SECURITY AND AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES
----------------------------------------------------------------Daman Prakash, Director ICA-Japan Agricoops Management Training Project for Asia

Regardless of the level of development achieved by the respective economies, women play a pivotal role in agriculture and in rural development in most countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Evidently there are serious constraints which militate against the promotion of an effective role for women in development in those societies which were bound by age-old traditions and beliefs. Patriarchal modes and practices motivated by cultures and/or interpretations of religious sanctions and illiteracy hinder women’s freedom to opt for various choices to assert greater mobility in social interactions. Resulting from these situations, women’s contribution to agriculture and other sectors in the economy remain concealed and unaccounted for in monitoring economic performance measurement. Consequently, they are generally invisible in plans and programmes. They were, in fact, discriminated against by stereotypes which restrict them to a reproductive role, and denied access to resources which could eventually enhance their social and economic contribution to the society. In terms of the ratio of membership of women in agricultural cooperatives, the percentage is rather low, but they have a strong influence on them – through the heads of the households. Certain obvious barriers restrict their direct and formal entry in agricultural cooperatives. Even in countries like Japan, the ratio of women membership in agricultural cooperative is extremely low. Only very few women serve on the Boards of Directors. Their simple and clear perception is that the administrative and decision-making domain rests with the men and women do not wish to overburden themselves with financial responsibilities in case something goes wrong with the cooperative. They, of course contribute significantly in farm operations. However, the women are very active in Women’s Associations of Agricultural Cooperatives which organise their activities around the life and style of farm household members.

Introduction

Regardless of the level of development achieved by the respective economies, women play a pivotal role in agriculture and in rural development in most countries of the Asia-Pacific Region. Evidently there are serious constraints which militate against the promotion of an effective role for women in development in those societies which were bound by age-old traditions and beliefs. Patriarchal modes and practices motivated by cultures and/or interpretations of religious sanctions and illiteracy hinder women’s freedom to opt for various choices to assert greater mobility in social interactions. Resulting from these situations, women’s contribution to agriculture and other sectors in the economy remain concealed and unaccounted for in monitoring economic performance measurement. Consequently, they are generally invisible in plans and programmes. They were, in fact, discriminated against by stereotypes which restrict them to a reproductive role, and denied access

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to resources which could eventually enhance their social and economic contribution to the society. In developing countries, among the poor, rural women are the poorest and more vulnerable. Empirical evidences suggest that women in rural areas are more adversely affected by poverty than men. The incidence of poverty among rural women is on the rise in most of the developing countries. The issues of gender bias and equity point to the double burden women have to bear - that on being poor and being a woman. Further strategies and programmes for development had largely overlooked the question of gender equity. Projects aiming to reduce poverty view the poor rural...
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