Majority of the Nepalese agriculture producers are women. They produce over 50 per cent of the food that we eat, and this scenario probably reflects in the other developing countries as well. Women are usually responsible for majority of the laborious farm operations like transplanting rice and weeding. In almost all the developing societies, rural women tend to work harder and longer hours than men.
Gender discrimination in Nepal varies with the locality, culture and their situation. They are not only involved in agriculture but also have a more fundamental role in nurturing and caring for the children and the elderly. Yet women in Nepal are restricted in their role as farmers by unequal access to and control over the resources. Only about 8 per cent of the women farmers in Nepal own land. Nepal is now in transition to a democratic republic. It is a great time to address all the problems of women, particularly those of rural women.
Equal rights for women have been agreed at international forums by the government of Nepal, however it has been slow to translate this into practice. The government of Nepal has made reservations for the women in the government and elsewhere but there is no entry of rural women in these spheres. The women from the urban areas are enjoying the reservations while the situation of the rural women continues to worsen.
Women farmers often have different priorities than their male counterparts, and this can, in many cases, be related to their direct role in feeding their family. In the rural areas of Nepal, traditionally men control the outside world and women the inside of the home. Such traditional perspectives can contribute to the lop-sidedness of "gender blind" information, collected by outsiders with the intention of helping a community.
It is usually the men who provide information to the outsiders. This means that women’s priorities are often overlooked, unless they are specifically taken into account. This also supports the view that the female farmers receive less extension services which are needed to transform their subsistence-based farming system to a more commercial one.
Access to and control over the resources are more of a power issue. They determine the power status of the persons who are concerned. Women in Nepal are constrained by resources like land, decision-making and other resources due to cultural, traditional and sociological factors.
Issues related to control and access to resources such as land, water and seeds, credit and market need to be scrutinised with special focus on gender. Unless women’s control over productive resources is reinforced - through individual or collective approaches - it is doubtful whether women farmers will continue to contribute to agriculture and food sovereignty with the same dedication that many Nepalese rural women still display.
Food is a hot topic these days. Given the growing population, there is more demand for food, yet climate change has aggravated the food balance scenario in Nepal and in the world. The concept of food sovereignty was coined by the international peasant movement la via Campesina. It refers to the right of the farmers to produce for him, his/her family and the nation.
In this, women and food are inseparably linked. We cannot imagine food sovereignty without the role of the women in the production of the food crops. Our interim constitution has also focussed on food sovereignty. Food sovereignty promotes community autonomy. But the political dimension goes contrary to food security. While the government has reserved seats for the women in the government and other service sectors, it is unfortunate that the problems of Nepalese farmers have been overlooked.
The concerns of rural women cannot be sufficiently addressed by merely resolving economic and livelihood issues. They also need to be addressed by enabling women to gain important social and political space both in the private and public domains. When women are given space and opportunities, they can become tremendously valuable leaders in restoring community cohesion, which ultimately leads to strengthened food sovereignty.
In the constitution that is being written, strengthening food sovereignty should be taken up simultaneously with strengthening the fight against suppression of women and degradation of the precious environment. This should lead to new social relations characterised by solidarity, respect, recognitions of diversity and solving the critical questions of inequality between men and women.