Social Protection and Women’s Work in Rural South Asia

A vast majority of the women who are counted as workers in South Asia are in agriculture, and women account for over half the agricultural workforce in most countries of the region. Women agricultural workers and their work, however, remains largely unrecognized in law and policy. It is either unpaid or underpaid. Household poverty, chronic as well as transient, is an important driver of women’s work in this sector, and for many women this work is not associated with economic empowerment. Work that is not recognized may often go uncompensated in terms of women’s own nutritional needs and those of their children. The time spent on work does not always lead to less time on care but can draw on time available for rest and leisure. This paper draws out implications of women’s agricultural work in South Asia for social protection programming, highlights the relative strengths of some of the larger programmes in place, and identifies gaps and possible ways forward.