Pakistan is country of 160 million people. Out of which 52 % of total population fraction comprises of women. As the lion’s share of the total population resides in the rural areas, so, most of the Pakistani women live in rural areas. The fact that women play a crucial role in agricultural production and trade has been widely ignored by development planners, policy makers and administrators. 

By: Rabia Haouala & Raoudha Khanfir

Pakistan is country of 160 million people. Out of which 52 % of total population fraction comprises of women. As the lion’s share of the total population resides in the rural areas, so, most of the Pakistani women live in rural areas. The fact that women play a crucial role in agricultural production and trade has been widely ignored by development planners, policy makers and administrators. Women have been excluded from training programmes on modern methods of crop cultivation, food production, labor-saving technologies, livestock and poultry management, small-scale industries, marketing and services. Credit for technological improvements in agriculture is seldom made available to women. Membership in cooperatives through which agricultural loans are generally channeled is restricted to “heads of households” that are traditionally defined as male. The contribution of women in agriculture is usually vital but hidden, but she is not shared the monetary decisions. We have tried to encircle all aspects of the women role in farm development and productivity, as given in below.

Empowerment in women

In Pakistan, the number of women engaged in agriculture was 6.65 million. They are the major source of labor in subsistence agriculture (100%) and are engaged in various aspects of agricultural production, animal husbandry (50%), inland fisheries (90%) and food processing (100%) and 70% are in farm management. The majority of women are engaged in agricultural work on the family farm. Seven out of ten are unpaid family workers and less than 10% are employed in private enterprises. Women generally make decisions on household expenditure and savings and some make decisions regarding big investments, such as buying land. However, men not women decide on the purchase of agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

In rice wheat cropping system, women provide much of the labor for the staple crop, rice. An in-depth study gives an unusually detailed picture of the labor contribution by sex for rice and other staple foods. It reported that women perform 66% of the labor involved in planting, 75% in weeding and all of the cleaning and storage of rice. In the production of wheat, they contribute 66% of the work; for maize 94%; for oil seeds 85% and for millet, 94%. In addition to this, they make 42% of the agricultural production decisions and are most influential about seed selection and fertilizer use.

Much research of the past two decades has focused on recognition and empowerment of women in agriculture–as farmers, workers, professionals, and within households. For women in developed countries like Pakistan, the focus has largely been on identifying and removing barriers to full participation in the work and rewards of agriculture and rural development, and on recognizing and developing women’s leadership as scientists, teachers, program agents and in voluntary organizations. For women in developing countries like Pakistan, however, the focus has often been on the shortcomings of international agricultural development programs. Many studies have analyzed the implications for successful development programs and policies of incorporating an accurate understanding of women’s roles in agricultural systems, and of involving women as leaders and professionals in the transfer of new technologies and practices. 

More recently, studies of women in international development have also begun to analyze the effects of programs and policies on women directly. Although a subtle change in perspective, the new approach moves beyond analyzing the ways in which understanding women’s roles can make agricultural and rural development programs work more effectively, to analyzing whether some kinds of development programs should not be implemented because of their potential detrimental effects on women’s roles.

Women on the land

A study was conducted by a group of social scientists of department of rural sociology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, in which rural women were classified according to their duties and role on and off farm activities. For this purpose, the category “women on the land” was initially divided into three categories–women as farmers and farm workers, women in farm families, and rural non farm women–but we quickly discovered, as have many who study the lives of rural and farm women, that these categories are deeply intertwined. Separating works on women as farmers from those on women in farm families or on rural non farm women was virtually impossible and not likely to be very useful. Most studies analyze the interactions of a range of roles played by women, especially combining women’s farm work with household and family tasks and with non farm wage or volunteer work. Moreover, the terms “rural” and “farm” are often used interchangeably, especially in the international development literature, making it difficult to accurately separate works on farm women from works on rural non farmwomen.

As a result, the bulk of the citations in this bibliography fall into the large category “women on the land.” Users will find studies on women’s work as independent farmers, farm managers, and farm landlords, and as both paid and unpaid agricultural workers, within the family or for neighbors or unrelated employers. The category includes studies on women’s household work on family farms and in families of farm workers, and women’s roles as farm wives and mothers.

Research on women’s off-farm employment and non farm businesses, women’s activities in farm and rural organizations, and women’s education in both agricultural technologies and non farm employment skills is also included under “women on the land”, as are studies on women’s role in farm structure, sustainable agriculture, rural development programs, and food security issues. Some citations are clearly about non farm rural women, but most of these relate to employment and other rural development issues that could affect farm women as well. Although the category is very broad, we hope the geographical subdivisions will help users focus on items of particular interest to their own research.

The category “women as agricultural professionals” includes research on women’s experiences as vocational agriculture teachers; agricultural economists and engineers; botanists and entomologists; foresters and conservationists; extension home economists; and veterinarians. It also includes studies of the educational programs that produce such professionals and the attitudes of various professions and professional societies towards their women members.

In general, as shown by field surveys, women farmers perform the less strenuous tasks such as planting, cutting, weeding, fertilizing, moldings of soil around young plants and harvesting. Some of these tasks are gender-neutral or interchangeable, especially harvesting and fertilizing. Pest control is less likely to be undertaken by women because it is thought that the use of chemical sprays is dangerous to women, especially if they are pregnant or lactating. Of the 96 farmers in Southern Punjab survey who used insecticides, weed killers and fungicides, men performed the task on 77 farms, whereas it was jointly carried out on 10 farms. Only five females, all of whom owned their own farms, sprayed their own crops. On other female-operated farms, pest control was delegated to hire or family labor. Women in Pakistan do a great deal of agricultural work. They are more involved in lighter work that does not require great physical effort, but needs care and patience: planting, transplanting, weeding, thinning, threshing, harvesting and pulling out the roots. Such activities usually continue throughout the year and are often of a more tedious nature. Most of the work is done manually or with the use of hand tools. Poultry rising, care of livestock, milking and milk processing at the family level are also the responsibility of rural women. It was also noted that illiteracy among females engaged in agricultural work was more than 90% and they were mainly considered unskilled cheap labor. Available information has shown that the redistribution of land under the agrarian reform programme did not significantly increase the number or proportion of women landowners in the country. Membership in agricultural cooperatives is open to male and female farmers; nevertheless, social cultural barriers still limit rural women’s participation in cooperatives. It was reported that female membership is increasing, but at a very slow rate, i.e. 0.5%.

Rural women in WTO scenario

Rural Pakistani women are extensively involved in agricultural activities. However the nature and extent of their involvement differs with the variations in agro-production systems. The mode of female participation in agricultural production varies with the land-owning status of farm household. Their roles range from managers to landless laborers. In all farm production, women’s average contribution is estimated at 55% to 66% of the total labor with percentages, much higher in certain regions. In the Punjab a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours in a year on one hectare farm, a figure that illustrates women’s significant contribution to agricultural production.

The Impact of WTO rules and policies of trade liberalization in the agriculture sector on women is distinctive for four reasons.

Firstly, women have been the primary seed keepers, processors. They have been the both experts and producers to food, from seed to the kitchen.

WTO impacts women’s expertise and productive functions throughout the food chain. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement impacts women’s knowledge and control over seed.

The Agreement on Agriculture impacts women’s livelihood and income security, and also has secondary impacts in terms of increased violence against women. The Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary a-agreement has a direct impact on women’s expertise and economic role in agro processing.

Secondly, as globalization shifts agriculture to capital intensive, chemical intensive system, women bear disproportionate costs of both displacement and health hazards.

Thirdly, women carry the heavier work burden in food production, and because of gender discrimination get lower returns for their work. When WTO destroys rural livelihood, it is women who lose the most. When WTO rules allow dumping which leads to decline in prices of farm products, it is women already low incomes, which go down further.

Fourthly, their position vis-à-vis WTO is also more vulnerable because as the livelihood and incomes of farmers in general, and women agriculturists in particular are eroded, they are displaced from productive roles, and their status is further devalued, while the patriarchal power of those who control assets and benefit from asset transfer due to globalization is increased, other social processes are triggered which result in increased violence against women.

The violence associated with displacement, devaluation and disempowerment takes the form of intensive violence, increasing incidences of rape, the epidemic of female feticide, and growth in trafficking of women. Women also bear the ultimate burden of farm suicides, since they are left to look after their households without assets but with the burden of indebtedness.

Over the period 1997-2007, the drive for market liberalization and globalization has severely impinged on the rural household economies. The traditional mode of agricultural practices has been obliterated.

The Green Revolution had set in the process of replacing of traditional farming knowledge and practices of seed saving. The recent economic system giving a free hand to MNCs in agriculture sector has further caused a rapid shrinkage of the traditional practices and replacement of folk crop varieties by high yielding and hybrid varieties, which escalated the cost of agriculture production while stagnating productivity.

In the past few years ever since the globalization became the mantra, plantation sector too has been at the receiving end. The unrestricted import and the sharp fall in the international price, whether it is tea, coffee, rubber or palm oil has been negatively impacted. Coffee price dropped from their highs and the producers had to take massive cut in their profit.

In coffee plantation, the average working days of the labor largely women have reduced by 30% affecting their survival. A sharp decline is also witnessed in the tea export from $ 542 million in 1998 to $ 209 million in 2003. Tea plantation workers in Swat and Mansehra are facing starvation, following the closing down of several small and medium tea companies. Starvation deaths among workers of abandoned tea gardens in Gilgit have assumed disastrous proportion.

Based on the research study, field surveys and the public hearings, Diverse Women for Diversity has made the recommendation for the National Commission for Women and  Government of the Pakistan, some of the recommendations are:

1. Trade and technology policies must protect the livelihood of women in agriculture. The Agreement on Agriculture must be reviewed with a gender perspective.

2. Women’s work in agro processing is both an important source of livelihood and important source of safe and culturally diverse food. Food safety laws designed to destroy household and community based agro processing need to be changed. The Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary agreement of WTO must be reviewed with women’s livelihood and expertise of agro processing in focus.

3. The quantitative restrictions must be reintroduced to protect the agriculture from dumping of artificially cheap subsidized products. The right to countries to protect special products and special safe guards, measures must be used to protect the livelihood and income of women.

4. Organic farming needs to be promoted to increase women’s productive role in agriculture, decrease health hazards from toxic chemicals and avoid the drain of scarce family income to pay for unnecessary chemicals.

5. Use locally procured grain for all public food related programmes and schemes like Integrated Child Development Programme, Food for Work, School Mid Day Meals, as well as in all other public sector institutions such as primary health center, district health center and other places.

6. Disparity in wages based on sex must be stopped.

7. The families of suicide victims should be treated in the same way as victims of natural disasters such as earthquake.

8. Minimum support price should be fixed for the plantation sector, like tea, coffee, rubber, jute, cardamom, where large number of women is involved.

9. Awareness should be created among women involved in agriculture and plantation sector about the impact of globalization and WTO policies.

10. Women should be increasingly involved in the decision making process in agriculture. Today, while wife is the serpent but it is only her husband who takes all the decisions.


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