It is suggested that women in farming households are separately impacted by the adoption of genetically modified cotton in India, and not just by a trickle-down effect caused by increase in family income. Subramanian, Kirwan, Pink and Qaim (2010) have said that Bt cotton technology contributes to higher income of female laborers because harvesting of cotton is primarily female activity in India. Higher the yield gained by Bt cotton, higher is the employment for female laborers and therefore higher income for them. The additional income acquired due to Bt cotton leads to withdrawal of in-house females from farming activities and raises their quality of life. These arguments obviously side with the argument that genetically modified crops yield economic benefits for he agriculture.
A different argument comes from a separate faction. Pionetti (2005) for example has suggested that women farmers’ practices of saving seeds contributes to self-reliance in seed, crop, nutrition, and diversity. Their paper argues for radical re-orientation in public policies to support autonomous seed production in dryland South India. This group does not readily embrace the narrative of biotech as good for agricultural yield and economy.
Another voice adding to the issue of gender in the debate over Genetically Modified crops comes from Shiva (1992). She posits monocultures as against diversity, and therefore against the farming practices of women. Because women’s farm and agriculture related practices are diverse, for them rice is not only food, but it is also fodder for cattle and straw for thatch. She argues that women’s indigenous knowledge should be the basis of crop improvement strategies.
A similar note resonates in P. Sainath’s reportage where he points out that women in agriculture are not considered ‘farmers’. The clue here then is that it is necessary to hear what women farmers have to say about the changing ways of agriculture.
All of these views, including the first study mentioned in this blog that speaks about higher income for women in agricultural households suggest that women, their income, their knowledge all together becomes an important and a separate factor in evaluating the impact of new agricultural technology. The theoretical impulse underlying this contention is that the particular as important in relation to the universal, as Mohanty (2003) says. In “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited” she mentions that her analytical framework is the one that is attentive to the micropolitics of everyday life and macropolitics of global economic and political processes. ‘Under Western Eyes’ sought to draw attention to what was left out of feminist theorizing, the material complexity, reality, and agency of Third World women’s lives. In her rewriting of it, in the twenty first century, she suggests that using the same strategy, now theory, critique, and activism around antiglobalization has to be the key focus for feminists.
I want to end this blog by deriving some possible insights from the above-mentioned works. The literature cited above along with Mohanty’s essay on the new agenda for ‘Under Western Eyes’ suggests that gender needs to be treated as a separate category in studying poor women in marginalized settings in the new economic and global processes. Their concerns need to be addressed with new theoretical insights. And one way to do draw new theoretical insights is by being attentive to the particular, the local, the everyday. I believe it is a crucial point to note that this theoretical gap has been identified and new theorizing is considered necessary.
Subramanian, A., Kirwan, K., Pink, D., & Qaim, M. (2010). GM crops and gender issues. Nature Biotechnology, 28(5), 404-406.
Pionetti, C. (2005). Sowing autonomy: gender and seed politics in semi-arid India. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Shiva, V. (1992). Women's indigenous knowledge and biodiversity conservation. India International Centre Quarterly, 205-214.
Mohanty, C. T. (2003). “Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles. Signs, 28(2), 499-535.