Do changes in land use patterns affect gender roles and relations?

By Shreya Banerjee & Anuradha Phadtare

Over the last couple of decades, there has been a rapid and large scale shift in rural land use patterns in many parts of the world. For instance, uncultivable or cultivable waste land has been brought under cultivation, and agriculture land is gradually getting urbanized with an increasing amount of settlements (Curry et al., 2001; Petit, 2009). India is no exception to such changes.

A study conducted by the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) in Maharashtra using RS-GIS data between 1982 and 2015 found changes in land use patterns, and identified 3 hotspots, in the Mula-Pravara basin in Maharashtra which has shown a significant changes in land use land cover patterns (Duraisamy et al., 2018). As part of this conducted study, it was found that in areas near Sangamner- a city in Ahmednagar district- 195% of the agricultural land was converted to built-up area owing to the spread of urbanization. Simultaneously, in areas that were further away from Sangamner town, a large amount of fallow land had also been converted to cultivable land. Our study went a step further and found that this land use change had been accompanied by an increase in the uptake of commercial crops like sugarcane and pomegranate, prior to which mainly food crops like pearl millet and wheat were grown.

With all the changes and developments in the area owing to the Land Use Land Cover (LULC) changes, which include improved literacy levels and income levels, the inclusion of women in the service sector, introduction of new crops and new agricultural equipment, increased industrialization and urbanization, one would expect changes in the traditional roles and responsibilities of men and women. Traditionally, within agricultural and livestock production, certain activities or tasks like cleaning and feeding of animals, winnowing, weeding, threshing, manually handling loads, etc.  were associated with women, whereas men were involved in the more ‘economically productive’ tasks like herding of grazing animals, marketing of products, constructing housing, apart from farming operations (Gasson, R. 1980). It is also a predominant misconception that women’s roles are only restricted to the domestic sphere and involve cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and caring for children and the elderly etc. Our study tries to look into whether these traditional gender roles and responsibilities have also changed in the area, alongside the LULC changes.

Apart from this, we also explore how these changes in land use land cover (LULC) impact the gender dynamics as a whole in the area in terms of the level of drudgery and decision making power of both men and women. We used 3 hotspots as our study area which were identified using RS-GIS as mentioned above (Duraisamy et al., 2018). Hotspot 1 was an area where fallow land was converted into cultivable agricultural land, Hotspot 2 was where there was an increase in the area under horticulture plantations, and Hotspot 3 was an area where a considerable agricultural land area was converted into built-up area.

Gender roles 

As part of the study, we tried to see whether there were any changes in the roles and responsibilities of men and women over the years, and whether as a consequence of these changes, there was any change in the drudgery levels of men and women and the level of involvement of women in decision making. This was done through household interviews and key informant interviews with ASHA and Aanganwadi workers in two villages each from each of the 3 hotspots.

From the data, it is evident that women are also largely involved in the agricultural sector in all the three hotspots, although their involvement is marginally less than men in terms of time according to their activity profile. However, women are involved in the most labour intensive activities, which include helping in land preparation, sowing, weeding, harvesting and post harvesting tasks such as cleaning and storage of produce, or seed conservation. In Hotspot 3, unlike the other two hotspots, women are also involved in marketing of agricultural produce. This may be because of the proximity of the marketplace.

Wider Image: Water Wives Of Maharashtra

Women carrying pitchers of water in rural Maharashtra.  (Photo: Reuters)

Drudgery

In Hotspot 1 and 2, it was seen that there has been a marginal increase in the time spent by men on agriculture, and a marginal decrease in the time spent by women on agriculture in the last 20 years. This may be because of the mechanization of certain activities that were earlier performed by women, based on the crop changes that have occurred in the last 20 years. In the third hotspot, where there has been an increase in industrialization, the time spent by both men and women on agriculture has decreased considerably.

From the data, it was clear that women were largely involved in most agricultural activities in all the three hotspots, although their involvement was marginally less than men in terms of time spent. Even though women spent less time than men in farming, it was seen that they are involved in the more labour intensive activities in farming, including helping in land preparation, sowing, weeding, pest control, harvesting and post harvesting tasks such as cleaning and storage of produce, seed conservation etc. (Ghosh et al., 2014). Hence, it was evident that despite a decrease in the time spent on agriculture, women still continue to perform most labour intensive activities. Their involvement in livestock care is also usually higher than men.

Leisure time

In the study, an increase in leisure time, along with a decrease in time spent on activities like fetching water or fuelwood, etc., were used as an indicator for a decrease in drudgery levels. Drudgery is generally conceived as physical and mental strain, fatigue, monotony and hardships experienced while doing a job (Wankhade et al., 2015). In all three hotspots, the amount of time spent on leisure is lower for women as compared to men.

Insofar as change in leisure time is concerned, there is an increase in leisure time for both women and men, although the increase is higher for women than for men. It was seen that men spend next to no time or a very negligible amount of time on fetching water, cooking, and on household chores. These activities have traditionally been performed by women and continue to be in all three hotspots. However, it was also found that there has been a significant decrease in the amount of time spent by women to collect water and fuelwood for cooking in the last 20 years in all the three hotspots. This could be attributed to the availability of tap water and stand-post water supply for drinking from the gram panchayat, and an LPG connection for cooking. For men, it can be hypothesized that the increase in leisure time is because of the increase in mechanization of agriculture, which usually relieves men of certain labour intensive tasks. Hence, according to the data, there has been a decrease in the workload for both men and women, and a decrease in drudgery for women as a consequence of this.

Decision Making

It was found that men’s involvement in decision making is higher than women’s on every single parameter that was considered. Moreover, the Aanganwadi workers in all three hotspots were of the opinion that women are more educated and independent now as compared to 20 years earlier. Also, a higher percentage of them were now were part of the service sector in certain more industrialized areas as compared to a decade ago.

Within the hotspots, it was observed that women’s involvement in decision making is the highest in Hotspot 1 and the lowest in Hotspot 3. Hotspot 1, where there has been an increase in cultivable land, is where there is maximum participation of women in decision making for 7 out of 10 of the parameters considered. A few of the women informally said that they are merely informed or consulted to some extent before a decision was taken, but theirs was never taken as the final word.

In Hotspot 3 despite there being an increase in urbanization, there doesn’t seem to be a higher level of participation of women in decision making in the current scenario as compared to the other two hotspots. This was unexpected because a much higher percentage of women as compared to the other two hotspots were working in the service sector in this third hotspot. Hence, despite the fact that they are contributing to the household financially, they are still not treated as equals or involved in the decision making process. However, in Hotspot 3, it was observed that women who were working in the service sector seemed more assertive and had more to say during the interviews, although despite this, their involvement in the decision making process was the least.

Conclusion

The position of women in any society is determined by what decision-making power women have in different spheres of life, what choices of freedom, what degree of control and what duties, rights and privileges they enjoy. Moreover, women empowerment means the creation of an environment for women where they can make decisions of their own for their personal benefits as well as for society.

One can conclude by saying that the land use changes and the changes in ecosystem provisioning services that have occurred in the last 20 years have had certain consequences on gender roles and dynamics. There has been a considerable decrease in the drudgery levels of men and women, although the decrease is greater for women as compared to men. However, despite the changes in land use patterns, increase in urbanisation, education levels, improved access to water and other facilities and the inclusion of women in the service sector, women are still not empowered enough to make independent decisions and are not equally involved in the decision making process in the Mula-Pravara basin, is the conclusion we come to based on the findings of this study.

References

  1. https://www.importantindia.com/19050/essay-on-women-empowerment/
  2.  Duraisamy, V., Bendapudi, R., & Jadhav, A. (2018). Identifying hotspots in land use land cover change and the drivers in a semi-arid region of India. Environmental monitoring and assessment190(9), 535.
  3. Ghosh, M., & Ghosh, A. (2014). Analysis of women participation in Indian agriculture. IOSR J. Human. Soc. Sci19(5), 1-6.
  4. Wankhade, P. P., Mankar, D. M., Kale, N. M., & Shambharkar, Y. B. (2016). Drudgery Perceived by Women Labourers in Farm Operations. Indian Research Journal of Extension Education15(3), 85-90.

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