Promoting safety and reducing occupational hazards for women workers in agriculture

The entire world today marches ahead on the mission to bring about equality for all genders. In India, rural and urban women face some similar and some unique challenges. A large proportion of women in rural India are engaged in the agricultural sector and comprise the informal work force. Organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Adarsh Chaurasia Mahasabha are playing a crucial role along with government and non-government agencies to raise awareness among rural women. These agencies are fighting the existing norms and lack of education while also spreading awareness to help women come out of the shadows.

Ramesh Lakhulal Chaurasia is the national president of the Akhil Bharatiya Adarsh Chaurasia Mahasabha. He has been vocal about providing equal opportunities to men and women. Along with his organisation, he is working on ground for the welfare of the Chaurasia community. We spoke to him about the issues that he feels should be dealt with on a war footing to improve the lives of rural women.

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He said, “Occupational hazards are universal and vary with the nature of work. The agricultural sector is not fully organised and due to a lack of awareness, many occupational hazards that should not have been there, still persist. They affect men, women, as well as children working in the fields. But women face double hazards as the consequence of being women in the informal sector.”

He further asked a woman functionary of the organisation to share further details as she has been working with rural women since many years. She said, “The machines and equipments are not designed keeping in mind the different strengths of men and women. Using such heavy machinery is itself a big occupational hazard. While use of chemicals like fertilisers, pesticides, etc, affect men as well, women suffer more. One reason for it is that they are even less focused on occupational health owing to the lack of self-preservation and self-esteem which is seen in women from poor households. The list of hazards and challenges is long.”

In India and elsewhere, women face greater chances of abuse. In the informal agricultural sector, there is no provision for restrooms, clean drinking water, etc. They suffer from a lack of energy as they need to manage the house and the children, as well as handle work in the fields. They also suffer from a lack of nutrition as women in poor rural households are not given the same status as men. They hardly seek or get the required medical attention and care. Psychological stress, poor reproductive health owing to exposure to chemicals and poor nutrition, environmental stress, abuse, make it worse for women agricultural workers. Mr. Ramesh Chaurasia further added, “Most of the people involved in the agricultural sector irrespective of age and gender face occupational hazards. In some groups, the risks are even more. As you can see that the problem persists at multiple levels, the challenges are huge. This is why our organization works with farmers to educate them about organic farming, responsible use of chemicals, use of protective equipments, etc. We are working day and night to end gender disparity. We also organise health camps in rural areas for Chaurasia community members. We are ready to work with the government and non-government agencies to educate people, organise more awareness camps, health camps, etc. Our organization stresses upon the role of self-help groups and local leaders to bring about a change. There is a need for social security and organisation of this sector. Poor health of women means low wages. This throws them into an endless cycle of misery. Policies and provisions are needed to improve the working environment, lower the risks, and safeguard the agricultural workers. We cannot expect changes overnight as people need to be given incentives or motivation to change the way they have been working. We want to be the agents of change and start with the upliftment of the Chaurasia community members wherever they are.”