Anthropological studies show that women discovered the art of farming and domesticating animals that resulted into the development of human colonies, which accelerated the evolution of civilisation. In ancient times, when the societies were totally dependent on agriculture, women were responsible for productivity. Thus, all activities revolved around woman, entitling her the status of a goddess. As Pakistan is also an agriculture based country, the role of rural woman cannot be underestimated.
In Barani areas, men are traditionally employed in the non-farm sector, while the women take over a substantial amount of work in agricultural production. Their participation in oil seed crops is higher as compared to that of men. Moreover, dramatic growth rates in cotton production have generated tremendous demand for female labour. Women participate extensively in the production of major crops, but the intensity of their labour depends on the crop in question and the specific activity, as well as cultural specificities in different regions. With respect to crops, women?s participation is particularly high in cotton, rice, pulses and vegetables. Rice and cotton cultivation in Sindh jointly account for more than one-third of the women?s annual agricultural activities. It has been estimated that women account for 29.28 percent of the labour in rice production and 23.55 percent in cotton-wheat areas. One study in rice and cotton producing villages in Pakistan showed that in agricultural activities women spent 39.34 and 50.42 percent of their time in rice and cotton growing areas respectively.
In Balochistan, most of the women do field work. During the productive season from March to mid-November, a woman sometimes spends as much as 60 percent of her time in the productive role. Besides farming, they are also involved in drying of fruits and vegetables, mainly tomatoes and grapes. A large majority of them is engaged in poultry and livestock production. In Punjab, women?s participation is the highest in cotton production because picking of cotton is exclusively a women?s task. About 35 percent of women are engaged in pre-harvest field activities such as cottonseed preparation, which involve weighing, grading and cleaning. In addition, women are involved in various primary and secondary cotton operations, such as weeding and thinning (59.5 percent), manuring (29 percent), hoeing (52.5 percent), cotton cleaning (77 percent) and stick removing (72.5 percent), among others. Actually, the rural women?s participation in production of major crops has been estimated to be approximately 30 percent in rice, 25 percent in cotton, 23 percent in sugarcane, 18 percent in wheat and 26 percent in vegetables.
In the rain fed areas of Punjab, women contribute to almost all of the 22 identified crop tasks with major contribution to seed preparation, collection and application of farmyard manure, husking maize and storage. Activity-wise, men have higher levels of input in the early stages of crop production, such as field preparation; and monopolise most mechanical and technical input. For example, mechanical threshing is carried out by men while hand threshing is a female activity. Female participation is notably higher in food storage and processing. A survey conducted in five districts of NWFP revealed that 82 percent of women participated in agro-based activities. They spent 45 percent of their time working in fields and were responsible for 25 percent of the production of major crops. They produced 30.0 percent of the total food.
Like crop production, caring for livestock takes up to 35 percent of a village women?s time. A rural woman in Pakistan works 15.50 hours a day, spending 5.50 hours in caring for livestock, but spends only 50 minutes caring for her own children. Poultry, sheep and goats are very important to rural women, being the only source of income totally under their control. Women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the feeding and milking of cattle. Over 90 percent of the rural families keep an average of 12 adult birds per family and hatch chicks under a brood hen. The women apply their own methods of rearing, brooding, breeding and management, based on the experience handed down from the elder family members.
A research study conducted in Punjab revealed that an overwhelming majority (91.2 percent) of rural women was involved in activities like feeding and caring for animals. Furthermore, 88.8 percent and 83.2 percent of the respondents were involved in cleaning animal sheds and collection of manure. Similarly, they participate in storage of dung cakes (78.4 percent), fodder chopping (73.6 percent), making feed concentrate (71.2 percent), marketing animal?s produce (66.4 percent), milking animals (56 percent), feeding poultry (49.6 percent), watering poultry birds (48.0 percent) and collection of eggs (44 percent). More than 50 percent of rural women spend more than eight hours daily in performing livestock and poultry activities.
Although women are highly involved in agricultural and livestock activities, yet they are never considered as a ?farmer.? Moreover, they have very little access to resources and agricultural information technology and extension services. Throughout the world only five percent of all agricultural extension resources are directed to women. In Pakistan rural women have no separate agricultural extension services. About 36 percent strongly agreed that agricultural extension services were essentially needed them. For consistent agricultural production and stabilization of income in the agriculture sector, it is necessary to involve women in adoption of improved farm practices. This could be attained through effective training and extension programmes, specially designed and based on technological needs of rural women to enhance productivity. Rural women in our society face many social, economic and technical constraints in accessing agricultural services and development programmes. There is a dire need to design women agricultural development programmes in order to enhance their participation in agricultural as well as livestock activities. The Government should take serious steps to establish trainings centers for rural women.