Burmese Women in Agriculture Face Pay Disparity, Discrimination

A female farm worker carries rice shoots for planting in the Irrawaddy Delta. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A female farm worker carries rice shoots for planting in the Irrawaddy Delta. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — For nearly two decades, Min Min has worked as a farmer in Sagaing Division, where he owns six acres of land and pays laborers to cultivate various kinds of beans and onions, depending on the season.

“The usual daily wage for male workers is 3,000 to 3,500 kyats [US$3 to $3.50], while women make 2,000 to 2,500 kyats,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s because men can do the heavy jobs, while women’s work is mild.”

That type of pay disparity is typical on many farms in Burma, where women play a key role in crop production but are often viewed as laborers, rather than farmers, according to the aid and development charity Oxfam.

In a report released Thursday about small-scale farmers in the country’s dry zone, the UK-based charity called on Burma’s government to tackle gender-based disparities in pay, land ownership and access to credit as it looks to invest in the agricultural sector, responsible for 70 percent of national employment.

Oxfam interviewed farmers in two townships of Mandalay and Magwe divisions, including women who were responsible for some of the most critical tasks on farms. In both townships, women reported wages that were about 20 percent lower than those received by their male counterparts, even when they performed the same tasks.

“The position of women in [Burma] is generally better than in many of the country’s neighbors. Despite this, women still suffer inequalities,” Oxfam wrote in the report.

In Arakan State, 35-year-old Nyunt Yi owns 20 acres of land with her husband. She hires men and women to work the paddy fields, and says that due to a local labor shortage she pays higher-than-normal daily wages, but that in the past her women laborers earned about 2,500 kyats per day while the men earned about 4,000 kyats. “Because men can work harder than women,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Not all farms give preference to male laborers, however. Tin Sein, 52, says she received the same wages as men when she worked for six years as a laborer Mon State, before moving to Rangoon Division with her husband. “There’s no difference between women and men farmers,” she told The Irrawaddy. “Women are working the traditional job, like their grandfathers and fathers did in the past.”

But according to Oxfam, gender-based discrimination in Burma’s agricultural sector goes beyond wages.

“Land registration, access to credit and access to training are directed at heads of households, mostly men. Only a small percentage of women are landholders, and land inherited by women may actually be registered in their husband’s name,” it said in the report.

The charity added that some women farmers in Mandalay and Magwe divisions earned extra income by working alternative jobs, including running small enterprises or producing handicrafts. But it said few of them could further these opportunities because they lacked access to credit, which is usually directed at male heads of households.

Last year, Burma’s government launched a National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW), a 10-year roadmap to address gender challenges in a dozen priority areas, including access to education, health care, jobs, credit and resources. The plan recommended an analysis of women’s inclusion in land and agrarian reform, as well as the establishment of vocational training centers and information centers where women can look for work. It also called for research into pay disparities.
“Success will depend on whether the NSPAW addresses the role of women’s economic empowerment in agriculture and if it establishes how this will be supported in policies and budgets,” Oxfam wrote.

In addition to legal changes to allow equal access to land, finance and pay, Oxfam called for measures to create or improve economic opportunities specifically for women farmers, by focusing on crops or areas of the value chain where their leadership can be strengthened. For example, it said women in Burma already play an important role in cotton farming and could take advantage of new opportunities to increase their involvement in cotton trading or seed-specialization enterprises.

“Women’s ability to benefit from economic opportunities determines the ability of family members, especially children, to prosper. From both the perspective of human development and women’s rights, women as well as men must benefit from [Burma’s] new economic opportunities,” it said.

With reporting by Nyein Nyein and San Yamin Aung.

2 Responses to Burmese Women in Agriculture Face Pay Disparity, Discrimination

  1. Where is Suu Kyi, when the poor women of Burma really need her. As Hillary Clinton once said, woman’s rights is human rights, but the famous human rights icon of Burma doesn’t care about other people who are much more unfortunate than she is. Her obsession with her own image is one of the reasons people in the West feel extremely disappointed with her since she was freed.

  2. Surprise – Surprise , sure not, took the media a century to find that out ?????
    Not Farmer only all over women in Myanmar are paid less than men, even all the daily labor salaries which built up Nay Pyi Taw were and are handled the same , that continues into the daily today road construction. All Government money and contracts which means that if the Myanmar Government has any intention to enforce from today on equal pay and equal right for same jobs than this is very easy,- just open announce at each Government money involved projects with the red / white billboards that a woman gets the same as a man…
    Women all over are paid usually 500 kyat a day less, the reality is that women usually are the much more and more hard working what ever job you talk about. Men, specially young men are usually seen in Snooker and T Shops or watching Football. If one works than sure only for more than a women, usually less efficient, less logic and less productive compared to a women working.
    Sure all results of how young boys in families are ill treated as princes, let alone the novice ceremony compared to the similar of a girl. Here the Government until now failed to ensure at least with their projects and the Gov, might be the biggest day labor job provider…. Would be interesting to look deeper into the Governments admin – where usually women are not much more than clerks, higher position is seldom but on the rise. It is the Myanmar women them self as well representatives and top political icons which can and must make a difference here, let Myanmar men alone sure nothing will happen, nothing will change…See the many road constructions the carry and labor jobs are done by the women.

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