Reflections from our work with Better Cotton Initiative in enabling gender integration in cotton farming in Maharashtra

12 Oct 2023

Context of gender gap in agriculture

Cotton is also one of the most important commercial crops cultivated in India. In the raw material consumption basket of the Indian textile industry, the proportion of cotton is around 59%. It plays a major role in sustaining the livelihood of an estimated 5.8 million cotton farmers and 40- 50 million people engaged in related activities such as cotton processing and trade. Women makeup majority of the cotton farming workforce in India. While their contribution to the cotton cultivation process is integral to the cotton value chain, their importance as stakeholders is undervalued and gender inequality remains a pressing challenge in the cotton sector. 

Even though women in cotton production take on varied, essential roles, their labour is often unrecognised and under-remunerated. For instance, they do not have land rights and their labour is not recognized formally. This prevents them from accessing benefits and aids that the Government has allocated for farmers. Additionally, although women put in the same number of hours on the field and spend a greater number of days than men on cotton cultivation, they are perceived to be doing ‘lighter’ work and are not considered as important stakeholders. This controls their decision-making power due to patriarchal mindsets, lack of education, and absence of exposure to market facing roles. 

Maharashtra which is known for one-third of India’s cotton production and a similar pattern in terms of gender inequality persists in the state as well. As per a study conducted by IDH and Sattva in Maharashtra in 2018; 88% of stubble picking, 89% of sowing, 84% of weeding, 74% of fertilizer application and 94% of the picking are done by women. These tasks are typically done manually which makes them highly drudgery prone. 

Due to these challenges, contributions of women remain unrecognised and the critical role they play in adopting more sustainable practices, and creating a transformed, equitable cotton future, is missed. According to UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, it is estimated that women having the same access to resources as men in the farming community can improve yields by 20-30%. When we speak of sustainability, it is important to understand that it doesn’t refer to the environmental impact of cotton alone but on the overall sustainability of the value chain. To bridge this gap, Better Cotton Initiative through this project and other similar interventions, seeks to address these challenges and to integrate gender equality as a cornerstone of sustainable cotton. The gender strategy of BCI aims to systematically mainstream gender concerns, needs and interests across BCI’s policies, partnerships and programmes. This project aims to progress gender equality in cotton farming through two Better Cotton projects in Maharashtra, India. Through the project, Better Cotton aims to realize its mission to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it by reducing gender inequality. 

Objective of the project in partnership with Partnering4Change India (P4C)

This project was looking to build on the pilot phase of sensitizing project implementing partners (IPs) and cotton farmers (men and women) on essential gender equality concepts and strengthen the ongoing efforts to mainstream gender considerations into BCI programmes. Through this intervention in the long run BCI aims to tackle systemic inequalities and unequal gender relations to promote shared power, control of resources, decision-making, and support for women’s empowerment.

The objective of the project was to work with IP staff (Management, field staff) to develop a practical and effective training toolkit that enables them to effectively mainstream gender consciousness and responsive measures among their staff, and farmers in cotton production. This was be done through a context-relevant Training of Trainers (ToT) model that will enable IP staff implement activities to raise awareness on gender roles and gaps, and enhance value of women’s labour and expertise, through community-centred awareness raising sessions within a stipulated time frame.

The first phase was aimed at equipping a selected cohort of field facilitators and Producer Unit Managers from two Implementing Partners with a conceptual understanding of gender and gender analysis tools. The project envisions this cohort from Ambuja Cement Foundation and Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation as mastertrainers who will cascade gender sensitisation sessions among the cotton farming community.

Onground implementation of the project

A contextualised gender training toolkit was developed in consultation with the IPs and two gender training workshops were conducted. The toolkit follows the principles of adult learning and deploys the lense of intersectionality to analysis power relations.It consists of two parts - a toolkit for Training of Trainers and a toolkit for training farmers (men and women). It also includes IEC material such as posters and videos designed to reinforce key messages and their relevance. 

The workshop methodology was designed to enable the cohort to embark on a journey to reflect on their own gender identities and lived realities. Through group discussions and activities, the cohort collectively arrived at a shared understanding of gendered realities and practices in cotton farming communities. 

Monitoring and evaluation data along with reflections from various stakeholders indicates an uptake of an analytical lens to probe social norms and customs, albeit with different levels of engagement among the mastertrainers of the IPs. Through the workshop, the mastertrainers have acquired the foundational conceptual understanding, critical thinking tools and basic skills to conduct gender training at the grassroots. The participants found the inputs for creating an understanding of the difference between sex and gender, upgrading facilitation skills and deconstructing ideologies around the sexual division of labour to be particularly helpful.