Women in Cotton Farming

Gender equality in India is a topic in need of much attention. The UN has placed gender equality and empowerment of all females as one of its sustainable development goals, with India ranking a worryingly low 130 out of 180 countries on the UN’s gender inequality index.

So how does this come into the Henri supply chain?

Did you know that women are crucial players in the cotton production process? They play key roles in the planting and harvesting and are involved in the heavily labour intensive sowing, weeding and harvesting. Women actually account for 70% of cotton planting and 90% of the handpicking that takes place.

However a great deal more of the work falls to the women. After completing the majority of the farm work, from tending the fields to looking after livestock, women then complete the household chores (which are extensive in rural communities) and through all of this are almost single handedly raise their children. When we asked the farmers wife how much sleep she gets, she said in peak farming season, ‘next to nothing’. When we asked if she felt life for her was tougher as a women, she replied with no hesitation ‘yes’.

Organisations looking to support farmers in transitioning to organic cotton farming are largely geared towards men. Land is passed down through the family from father to son. Women are excluded from training practices even though they make up the majority of the farming work force. They therefore lack the knowledge and skill to be able to manage the land themselves. This is why when we picture a cotton farmer the image that pops into our heads will most likely be that of a man.

Considering the huge input women have in organic cotton farming, arguably the future of organic farming within this sector largely lies with females. They will need to be educated on natural pesticide use, how to maximise yields and make the difficult transition towards organic farming. At other stages of the cotton production process, we found women to typically be found in the lower-skilled, labour intensive jobs such as spinning, whereas the more skilled jobs such as weaving were largely left to men.

We need to recognise the importance of women and address the role they can play in transitioning towards a world where organic cotton becomes the norm. On our next trip to India we hope to delve into this a bit further and work with our suppliers on micro changes that can lead to a more equal way of working and living.