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Female Headed Households: Status and Issues for Policy and Design

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“Gender is defined as what a given society believes about the appropriate roles and activities of men and women, and the behaviours that result from these beliefs. Gender dimension can have a major impact on development, being conducive to it in some cases while seriously retarding it in others” (Kastens & Okhoy, 2007).Gender equality is the human right that any society should strive for obtaining full potential of its citizens. A society which is equitable should ensure that all men and women have access to equal opportunities, an empowering situation to practice their choices and rights and the ability to raise their voice against gender discrimination. Gender equality cannot be achieved without the empowerment of women, for which the state should ensure through policies and strategies across various sectors. Empowerment of women can be achieved by gradual eliminating of patriarchal and social norms that discriminate girl and women. No society can achieve sustainable development without better distribution of opportunities, choices, resources and power between men and women to shape their lives and communities.

Concerning Female Headed Households

 “The term head of household is used to cover a number of different concepts referring to the chief economic provider, the chief decision maker, the person designated by other members as the head, etc. The focus changes depending on the specific circumstances of the country. Generally, the definition of head of household reflects the stereotype of the man in the household as the person in authority and the bread winner. And even where the definition is adequate, criteria used by interviewers are often vague and leave room for subjective interpretation” (Hedman et al, 1996:64)(Budlender, 1997).

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The interest in the head of household arises because of perceived differences between households headed by women and those headed by men. Female headed households have become cause for concern, and are perceived as category which is ‘vulnerable’. “interest in and concern about households and families largely or solely supported by women is not only theoretically significant but is directly related to some of the major economic and policy issues confronting developing countries today” says Buijs and Atherfold  (1995: 1) (Budlender, 1997). The focus on female headed households is risen because of gender disaggregation combined with difficulty is individualising most household data.


This specificity of our approach is to study gender issues in policy making. There are numerous factors in which girls and women are facing Gender issues. Everyone must have heard the statement that “Women makes just under 70 rupees for every 100 rupees that a man makes”. Some perceived it as capability of women, and some perceived it as discrimination in wages given to women which is gender parity. Gender parity is the tool to measure a particular indicator of women. For instance, contrasting average pay of women with the average pay of men for the similar measure of work. Gender equality and equity are major concern for the society due to the deeply embedded norms of patriarchy in the social ethos, which continues the marginalization of women. Rajasthan State Women Policy 2018 intends to do the same by bringing in together different sectors, both public and private and also involve the community to change their mindset towards girls and women that would pave the way for gender (RSPW, 2018)

Study on Female heads of households

Women who heads household are worthy of special attention because they are triply disadvantaged: they experience the burdens of poverty, gender discrimination, and absence support as heads of household (GeetaRaoGupta, 1997)

Female headed households entails expansion of their responsibilities and acquisition of skills in tasks not traditionally undertaken by women. it thrives women to take up employment and learn to administer household budgets. thus, Men absence from home creates expansion in the women role. In some cases, being de facto household heads, they execute various responsibilities and hires workforce for agricultural labor. If remittances are not large, women’s workload is likely to increase due to the absence of husband. Some studies reveal that male migration tends to strengthen women independency on man.

There are adverse effects on female residents. It varies from family to family, women living in a large family undergo many restrictions from father in law and mother in law; for instance, no freedom of movement or women’s mobility, covering head with saree, no freedom of voice in decisions. Whereas women living in small family has freedom of choice and decision, as she is the only person responsible for the family. Thus, Women living in small family establish their own household and gain increased autonomy. Others living in large families undergo strict supervision.

Sonalde Desai and Manjistha Banerji raised questions about female headed households;

  1. is husbands’ migration empowering for women who are left behind, by increasing their autonomy and decision-making power?
  2. Is husbands’ migration associated with higher work demands on women?
  3. Is this effect conditional on the living arrangements of the women left behind?


The Government of Rajasthan recognizes the importance of gender equality and empowerment of women in overall planning, budgeting, and implementation process of the state. It has been seized of the significance of engaging women as successful and rightful participants in decision-making processes for greater and more wholesome socioeconomic development. Successive governments have therefore tried to strengthen the agency of women through legislation, development policies, plans, and programmes, efforts which ultimately culminated in the State Policy for Women in the year 2000 (RSPW, 2018).

Housing, shelter and asset ownership

Thematic policy states that “take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to enable access of women and girls to affordable, safe and quality housing and shelter, and increase their control over productive assets”. (RSPW, 2018)

The policy is making effort to strengthen asset ownership for women, land leases at nominal rates to support women’s groups for agriculture and horticulture purposes, promote awareness on legal entitlements and property rights of girls and women among the community and permanent shelter homes for homeless women. Additionally, providing resources to enhance the conditions of shelter homes and children’s homes for women and girls with disabilities, single women, and the elderly. (RSPW, 2018)


Thematic policy states that “Ensure equal opportunity and access to quality inclusive education within a safe and effective learning environment for girls and women of Rajasthan”. (RSPW, 2018)

The policy is making effort to adopt special measures to eliminate gender discrimination, universalize education, promote literacy, and create a gender-sensitive educational system, integrate perspectives of gender equality, equity and justice in the school curriculum, strengthen sports and physical education as part of school curriculum for health and wellbeing of children, especially girls, narrow the gender gap in secondary and higher education, free education up to graduation for girls from below poverty line (BPL) households, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya’s, Sharde Hostels and other hostels to promote education among girls particularly in tribal and desert regions, alternative education systems, skill building programmes, and bridge courses in the state for out-of-school adolescent girls to continue their education, Strengthen teacher-training programs and integrate gender and social equity concerns in relevant curriculums. (RSPW, 2018)


Thematic policy states that “Ensure survival of girls, create an enabling environment to promote health and wellbeing of girls and women, and lower the barriers to access and utilization of quality health care and nutrition services”. (RSPW, 2018)

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The policy is making effort to Reduce maternal, child, and new-born mortality and morbidity, mandatory and accurate reporting of maternal and infant deaths for monitoring delivery of healthcare services, gender-friendly approach to health services at primary health centres and government hospitals, ensure quality health services for the mother and the new born, Strengthen referral, follow-up and transport systems for mothers and new-born’s to assure services especially in difficult and remote areas, women to exercise informed choices on their sexual and reproductive rights through safe, affordable, effective, and accessible methods of contraception / family planning, quality health care to post-menopausal and elderly women.

Industry, Labour and Employment

As the Indian economy grows and more new and innovative initiatives take place in the public and private domain, women have to have a fair share of these development gains. Suitable strategies will be implemented to ensure that women have equal opportunities to enter and enjoy decent work, including fair and equal wages, social security measures, occupational safety and health measures. measures will be taken to facilitate women workers units move from the informal economy to the formal economy. Effort will be made for training and skill development of women, emerging areas to promote women employment in both organized /unorganized sectors. efforts will be made to increase work participation of women in the organised sectors and industry sectors. A review policy for increasing female work participation and for eliminating discrimination and promoting equity will be undertaken. (NPW, 2006)

Forest rights act

(Forest Right Act), 2006 was enacted to recognize the traditional rights of the forest dwelling communities who have been depending on the forest for generations (Zaidi & Datta, 2006). ‘Concerning villagers, these policies include tenurial access to the forest lands, to ensure community livelihood and food security, right to graze cattle, excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting parts of wild animals.’ (UNDP, 2014:1) (Zaidi & Datta, 2006). the Act recognizes the right of women to get a legal title to land as equal to men. Single women who are the head of the family usually the widows in the tribal context, too were being recognized for individual rights over land (UNDP, 2014) (Zaidi & Datta, 2006)

Policy analysis and First Hand Insights

Villagers living in Bhakhyorji and Nichlagarh are predominantly dependent on forest lands for their Cultivation, Cattle grazing, collection of firewood, collection of fodder and collection of water. (Forest Right Act), 2006 was enacted to recognize the traditional rights of the forest dwelling communities who have been depending on the forest for generations (Zaidi & Datta, 2006). ‘Concerning villagers, these policies include tenurial access to the forest lands, to ensure community livelihood and food securityright to graze cattle, excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting parts of wild animals.’ (UNDP, 2014:1) (Zaidi & Datta, 2006). FRA conferred land titles jointly for women and men in case of married to empower women by handing ownership rights over the land. Single women and widow in the tribal region, too were being recognised for individual rights over land (UNDP, 2014) (Zaidi & Datta, 2006). The concept behind conferring land title is to bring out self-confidence and security among women, to provide better access to minor forest produce and cattle grazing. Ironically, the situation in Bhakhyorji is quite contrary where majority of the forest land is Withdrawn by the Forest authorities due to completion of tenurial agreement and the tribal people are not aware of the agreement, leaving small piece of forest for Tribal communities. Which resulted in less available land for cultivation and no access to forest produce. Due to Restricted access to Forest lands, earning over cultivation on forest lands is reduced and zero earning in case of some tribal families. As Cultivation is the primary occupation for some of the tribal women, Due to restricted access to forest lands, it created unemployment for women who are dependent on cultivation. Forest authorities should consider access to basic resources such as water, wood, medical facilities etc. Obtaining Firewood from the forest has increasingly becoming difficult due to long travelling distances for 2 to 5 km. Also, it is affecting the forest cover with great impact.

Wage parity in informal employment sector is addressed in National policy for Women (2016) for non-biased wage pay. As there is no authority to evaluate the wage pay in informal employment, Employers shows discrimination towards women in paying wages. This can be eliminated by regular inspections and surveys by Government authorities over Employers and Workers. The security policy for damage caused to Worker should be implemented.

Financial inclusion of women should be universalised, women should possess financial identity, have access to financial services such as saving services, pension schemes, credit sources, insurance, aimed towards poor women (with contributions), special financial literacy programmes for the poor women, and also availing of the transfer benefits and subsidies that are offered by the government (National Policy for Women) 2006. Financial inclusion schemes will incorporate evaluation and monitoring mechanisms to assess gender outcomes to women and in particular to the women belonging to the vulnerable sections. Even though policy states about financial inclusion of women, there is no improvement in the villages. Our study found the lack in financial identity of women. One of the de-facto women said “During Migration, My husband send money through other villagers or he bring along with him”. It clearly explains the financial identity of women in the village. This can be improved by conducting awareness programmes.

Men in Bhakhyorji and Nichlagarh Predominantly migrate to cities for work due to high wages. Women left behind to look after home takes lead as the head of the family. De-facto and de-jure Women find alternative employment opportunities Such as, Working on others farm, Grazing Hamlet cattle, Wage work etc. Most of the women into Cattle rearing and farming travel within 5 km Radius for employment whereas, Women working in a construction site goes around 25 km Radius. However, security of a women is not much priority for women, as it is very important to earn for their basic needs.

Tribal people living in Bhakhyorji have to travel for 7 km to reach nearest primary health center. Due to poor connectivity to Bhakhyorji, it may take 30 to 40 min for an ambulance to reach. Health facilities can be improved by establishing a primary health care unit in village.

Active Anganwadi’s in the village are run by women. As per policy, Anganwadi’s provide nutritional powders to the students. Most of the children are forcibly dropping after anganwadi’ education, It is due to lack of awareness about education, and proximity of the schools.

Overall, policy makers focussed majorly on women development and showed little less concern towards Female Heads of households. The focussed aspects of female headed households  are to develop schemes and programmes on providing safe, adequate and affordable housing for women in urban areas especially women heads of households, migrants, working women, single women, homeless students etc, to provide resources and enhance the conditions of shelter homes and children’s homes for women and girls with disabilities, single women, and the elderly, to promote ownership of assets particularly of land and housing for women with special needs, single, and divorced women. Even though, every policy applicable for women also applicable to female heads of households. Privilege should be given to the female heads of households as they are dealing difficulty in individualising whole household data.


Collecting firewood for the purpose of cooking is one of the major tasks performed by women since they have to walk long distances to find dry wood. This is one of the major unpaid work which women spend considerable time on. Also, the collection of fire wood is significantly affecting the forest cover. Hence, there can be alternate measure for firewood which can be adopted by the women so that they can save the time taken to collect firewood and also protects the forests. LPG’s can be introduced in the households with prior training drills for the safety usage of the cylinders. Sometimes, there might be a requirement for a skilled training course for additional safety in rural areas.

The villagers find it difficult to meet all their basic necessities of life from the meagre income they earn. Many children are dropped out from school to take care of the household works, especially the girls. There is also unmet needs for medical facilities too. So the mere allocation of small land covers do not fulfil these basic needs under the FRA, 2006. Hence, they also need to focus on alternate employment opportunities within the village and improved infrastructural facilities for better access to government facilities (Zaidi & Datta).

Even though policy states about financial inclusion of women, there is no improvement in the villages. Our study found the lack in financial identity of women. One of the de-facto women said “During Migration, My husband send money through other villagers or he bring along with him”. It clearly explains the financial identity of women in the village. This can be improved by conducting awareness programmes.

Migration can be reduced by Introducing employment opportunities to men and women in and around village. Setting up of local small-scale industries would help in creating employment opportunities. Revision of minimum pay-scale policy for informal sector and make sure that it is being followed would help in creating existing employment with better wages and also helps in eradicating Migration.


  • Banerji, S. D. (2008, october). NEGOTIATED IDENTITIES: MALE MIGRATION AND LEFT-BEHIND WIVES IN INDIA. Journal of Population Research, 25(3), 337-355. Retrieved 09 21, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41110916
  • Bhatt, w. (2009). The gender dimension of migration in India: the politics of contemporary space in Orissa and Rajasthan. development in practice, 87-93.
  • GeetaRaoGupta, M. (1997). Female-Headed Households and Female-Maintained Families: Are They Worth Targeting to Reduce Poverty in Developing Countries? Economic Development and Cultural Change, 289-280.
  • https://www.rwe.com/web/cms/mediablob/en/1173976/data/1159262/3/rwe-turcas-gueney-elektrik-ueretim-a-/Annex-F.pdf. (n.d.). SOCIOECONOMIC SURVEY QUESTIONNAIRE .
  • Kastens, R. F., & Okhoy, C. N. (2007). The Gender Dimension.
  • NPW. (2006). National Policy for women. National Policy for women.
  • RSPW. (2018). Rajasthan State Policy for Women (Draft).
  • Zaidi, M., & Datta, a. (2006). Tribal Women’s Empowerment through the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in Southern Rajasthan . Astha Sansthan.


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