The role of women in land and agriculture in Bangladesh

Shanjida Khan Ripa
Viernes, Octubre 25, 2019

This is an opinion piece written by Shanjida Khan Ripa, ILC Asia's focal point for the Ensure Gender Justice Commitment-Based Initiative (CBI 4) platform. It is originally published on the Daily Asian Age.

A blood shedding war occurred in Bangladesh over an independent piece of land. We got a sovereign land of 147,570 square kilometers as consequence of 30 lac martyrs in the battle of 1971. But another war on equality remains unresolved in an independent country because of gaps in the legal instruments and lack of willingness for the implementation of such laws which results unequal distribution of land.

It is crucial to recognize the significance of equitable land rights for women play in their socio-economic empowerment which reduces the power gap between men and women in a society and leads towards gender equality and human justice.

Every year on 15 October, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Rural Women, closely followed by World Food Day in 16 October and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in 17 October. Rural women have a long association with the task of eliminating poverty and meeting the nutritional needs of the family through food production in courtyards and rearing animals. They have a close connection with agriculture and land. Even the rural women takes care of lands like their child.

Land, in the world, considered as not only a source of economic empowerment but also a symbol of social prestige and power. History shows how powerful rulers have conquered kingdoms from one state to another. Even, land doesn't determine the condition but also the position of men and women within a particular class and society. So there has been a growing demand for enabling access to and effective control over land by the rural women and their institutional recognition as farmer which is central to eradicate extreme hunger and reducing poverty significantly.

In the last four decades after the independence of Bangladesh, many changes have taken place in men-women relationships. Population has increased, and so has landlessness. This change expanded beyond the rural areas especially since 1990s during the era of expanding garments industry the number of female workers increased giving less wages than the men. Their earning capability was enhanced.

Many women are now self-reliant with reduced dependency. Some women are even providing living and maintenance costs of unemployed men. Women expatriate workers are sending remittances to the country. Socio-economic status of their families has been improved.

In the 1970s and 1980s, very few women used to go out of home to participate in agricultural work. Their agricultural work was limited to growing vegetables in their homesteads, rearing domestic animals, and after harvesting activities of crops. But since the 90s the women started to prepare the soil, row and harvest paddy in addition to their usual activities.

Silent increase of rural women participation and contribution in agriculture sector in Bangladesh is ignored by the state though they are changing their lives along with thousands other people by keeping traditional farming alive.72.6 percent women (Labour Force Survey of Bangladesh - 2016-17) are engaged in agricultural activities but they are deprived of recognition as farmers, let alone in own farmlands, and still they have no access in the land.

Women farmers from rural Bangladesh play the principal roles in preparing the soil, producing crops, harvesting, crashing, preserving seed and crop, preservation of ecosystem, supplying drinking water, preparing and managing organic fertilizer, and last but not the least ensuring food and nutrition to the families. Even though women remained upfront in the progress of agriculture economy, their contribution to farming has not evaluated properly.

They do not even have access in marketing, decision making process, government subsidy, technical information, credit, extension services, critical inputs such as fertilizers and water etc. So far in many cases we observed the financial institutions are reluctant to provide loans for women farmers because of gender disparity and patriarchal environment of the society.

It has often been said that there are never enough hours in a day for a woman to finish her work, while women bear the burden not just of caring for their children, but of making sure there is food on the table. Land reform laws in South Asia have exacerbated the problem by issuing titles only to male household cells, except where the husbands are deceased. This policy ignores the fact that more and more farming families are being run by women, because the husband or male companion has had to look for better paying work in cash money in the cities.

According to the priority list of Khas Land Management and Distribution Policy 1987, men and women can get access to public land (Khas land) jointly. But in the case of a widow, there is a condition for having an able son to get access into Khas land. But the situation is more vulnerable to that landless widows who have daughters instead of sons. Nothing is written about allocating khas land to landless single woman in this government policy.

As agriculture gets increasingly feminized, increasingly larger numbers of rural women and female-headed households will be left with the prime responsibility for farming and household incomes but without titles to the lands they cultivate. Thus, ensuring women's access to land will be increasingly crucial, not just for welfare, but also to improve the overall efficiency of farming.

Land rights would further empower women by improving the treatment they receive from other villagers, and by increasing their access to rural decision-making bodies as well as to farmers' institutions.

Inclusion of the poor and marginalized women in the mainstream development is very important to reach the targets of sustainable development. Access to resources including land and agriculture for improving their lives by creating opportunities to generate income, free movement, education and health care, production and marketing, etc. are essential for sustainable development.