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Female farmers put demands in spotlight

China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-18 07:26

CHENNAI, India-As protests against agricultural reforms catch global attention, India's neglected women farmers are seizing the moment to dust off their own long-standing demands-from land rights and farm credit to grain subsidies.

Hundreds of miles from the sit-in demonstrations near the capital, Ponnuthai said the protests were helping her and other women farmers gain recognition-spurring her local collective to draft new petitions for demands first made decades ago.

"The protests in Delhi have given us our identity as women farmers," Ponnuthai, who goes by one name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from her home in the southern Tamil Nadu State.

"Now they see us and our contribution on the fields, we are voicing our demands even louder, hoping they will hear us too."

About 75 percent of rural women in India who work full-time are farmers, the charity Oxfam says, with numbers rising as men migrate from the countryside to work in factories and construction sites in the cities.

But farming is still widely seen as men's work and only 13 percent of women own the land they cultivate, making it more difficult for them to access government grants, bank loans and take part in collective negotiations, women farmers' leaders said.

The protests in Delhi provided a forum for women growers to press their particular demands, and many traveled to join the angry farmers camping out on main highways near the capital for more than two months.

They want the withdrawal of farm laws passed in September, which they say benefit private buyers at their expense. The government says the reforms will make the sector more efficient.

Overlooked efforts

Hira Rautela, a farmer from northern Uttarakhand State, said she had spent as much time as possible talking to the farmers about what their overlooked female counterparts wanted.

"The farm laws are one issue but we also tell the protesters that while men may drive tractors, it is women who sow the seeds," she said.

Women farmers have long complained about their particular difficulties in accessing wholesale markets, securing credit aimed at agriculture and gaining inclusion in government subsidy and aid programs.

Buoyed by the protests in Delhi, members of another group representing women growers, MAKAAM or Forum For Women Farmers' Rights, have adopted the slogan "This time, our rights" as they campaign and lobby officials.

"We hope the ongoing protests give an impetus to women who besides recognition are also pushing for sustainable farming," said Sheela Kulkarni, a member of the forum.

"The women have been persistent in their demands," she said. "It is a question of striking when the iron is hot and now is that time."


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