Women at the Wheel — Creating Opportunities for IndiaAgriculture & Rural Development | July 27, 2011
Most women in India were not raised to drive.
According to “Women in Agriculture – Closing the Gender Gap for Development,” a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, women make essential contributions to agriculture in developing countries. On average, 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries is made up of women. This average is even higher in India, where it is estimated that women make up 60 percent of the farming population and complete 70 percent of the farm work.
Despite these impressive numbers, women still have significantly less access than men to resources and opportunities in agriculture including land, livestock, labor, education, extension, financial services, and technology. This gender gap imposes significant costs on agriculture, the broader economy and society, and on the women and their families.
The labor shortage caused by men taking jobs in the cities has made mechanization increasingly important on farms. Tractors till the land that farmhands once worked – and, especially in India, they are typically operated by men.
Women could fill an important role by taking control of these tractors. The problem, however, is that most women in India do not drive and are not licensed to do so. And they are especially unfamiliar with operating heavy farm machinery.
Mahindra’s Lady Tractor Drivers Training Program gives women the opportunity – and education – to get behind the wheel of one of their farm’s most valued assets. This program, and others like it, is helping women step out of the shadows and into the forefront of farming.
The Lady Tractor Drivers Training Program was established as a three-day workshop to teach both maintenance and handling of tractors. Mahindra, its dealers, and the farmers who buy its tractors developed courses that would help women build self-confidence in safely handling tractors and their accessories, educate them in tractor maintenance, and prepare them for proper licensing to operate tractors as professional drivers. At the conclusion of the three-day program, the women receive their licenses and a gift for their participation.
It’s an ambitious goal: teaching women how to do everything from operating and driving a tractor to becoming licensed operators all in just three days. But Mahindra knew how driven Indian women can be when faced with a challenge, and it was confident that the program would be a success.
The first course took place in Rasipuram, Tamilnadu, in close association with the village Panchayat. The women took quickly to their tractors and were soon driving with confidence. Many expressed excitement at the prospect of becoming professional tractor drivers. And while they had to forgo their wages to participate in the training (approximately Rs.750 for the three-day course), the participants are now excitedly sharing their experience with their peers and encouraging them to take part.
In fact, the first program was so well received that additional programs have blossomed throughout India; a total of 1,147 programs and counting have been held!
The Lady Tractor Drivers Training Program has put a much-needed skill in women’s hands and helped them work on farms throughout India. These women are now playing a vital role in India’s food security, in the face of a troubling labor shortage.
As other women learn about the possibilities for them to take an increased role in agricultural production, many more are expressing interest in the program. Mahindra tractor dealers are excited to be a part of this and anxious to see what the future holds for women and farming.
“The women who have learned tractor driving today will pass the learning to other groups and generations,” says Haridwar dealer Mr. Ashok Kumar. “This will help improve the productivity and prosperity of our village and our country.”
Mr. Kumar’s statement holds true on many accounts. The more this program and others like it grow across India, the better prepared we will be to move forward. The UN study mentioned earlier suggested that efforts to close the gender gap will result in significant gains – not just for agriculture, but for our society in general. It indicates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. This could ultimately raise productive output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent – and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent.
These women are putting us on the right track as they break barriers that previously held them back. And our country is stronger for it.
What challenges do you still see for women in India, or worldwide? How do you think we can continue to close the gender gap? What skill would you like to learn if there were no obstacles in your way?
The technological breakthroughs of the Green Revolution in the 60s and 70s sprang us forward. But our growth has slowed. Agricultural growth has missed targets by 1 percentage point for the past 4 years, and the combination of economic growth with a swelling population means more people are demanding more agricultural commodities.
Despite the fairly balanced gender distribution in the Indian population, research shows that women have largely been excluded from India’s economic boom.