Coming out of their homesteads?: Employment for rural women in shrimp aquaculture in coastal Bangladesh
Bangladesh has experienced a rapid expansion of shrimp farming in the coastal regions in recent years. The increase in both area and production has been influenced by the financial profit motive of rural farmers coupled with high international demands for shrimps and ecological congeniality for shrimp aquaculture. In the past the traditional farming systems in the coastal belts of Bangladesh centred around rice crop. In contrast, the introduction of shrimp aquaculture on a larger/commercial scale has developed shrimp-based farming systems. Shrimp farming itself is less labour-intensive than rice cultivation, especially when extensive methods of shrimp culture are practised. Hence, it has reduced on-farm employment opportunities for rural landless. Nevertheless, shrimp production requires a substantial volume of labour in off-farm ancillary activities, namely shrimp fry collection, shrimp feed collection, and shrimp processing and packaging for export. Most of this off-farm work is performed primarily by rural women. This process has engendered a major shift in rural employment and occupational structure in the shrimp belt. Shrimp production has enabled rural women to earn more cash income and to become more active income-earning members in rural households. While they used to contribute to their share of agricultural work in the homestead before the shrimp cultivation was introduced, now they work mostly outside their homes. This has forced them to stay outside of their homes for longer hours, which limits their time for household duties, more specifically looking after children. All these factors together have implications for the socio-economic changes in the rural society. The findings that emerge indicate that a range of factors including rural power structure, centre-periphery issue, rural-urban migration determine the pattern and extent of employment. It is unclear whether greater employment opportunities for rural women have empowered them or have helped extricate them from various forms of discrimination and exploitation.
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