Issues and Challenges

Taking Down the Barriers for Female Agriculture Workers

Women are recognized as an essential component for change and prosperity, and are deemed the invisible hand in the socioeconomic development of any country. In every sector of our economy as well, they are working untiringly to bring growth, reinforce change, and boost productivity, agriculture sector being no exception. Agriculture sector is said to be the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and so the participation of women in this sector makes their role significant. Agro-economy produces substantial revenue and enhances food security. The contribution of this sector stands at approximately 20 percent of the GDP of the country for 2020-21. Approximately, 43 percent of the female population is associated with the agriculture sector globally and in Pakistan, this association is 73 percent. However, these women face many issues and challenges. For example, many a time they find it hard to run their farms on their own because they lack resources and technical expertise. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, “If women had the same access as men to productive resources, they could increase yields on their farms significantly, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world.” 

Female agriculture workers in Pakistan face many roadblocks...These obstacles limit them from improving their own and their families’ living standards. There is need to recognize their efforts and pay attention to their issues to give their role in the economy more meaning. 

In rural areas of Pakistan, agriculture is the main occupation of women apart from housework. They do backbreaking work in fields and with livestock to supplement the income of the family and save the expense on hired hands. They not only work in the fields from cultivation to harvest helping in all sorts of tasks, such as land preparation, binding, harvesting, threshing and storage, seed sowing, weeding, etc., but also in farmyards rearing and looking after livestock, in production and storage of dairy products, and collecting farmyard manure to be used as fertilizer in the fields. Despite their efforts and contribution to the agriculture sector, their work still falls under the category of informal and remains unrecognized.
Female agriculture workers in Pakistan face many roadblocks. They lack access to training, technology, land ownership, financial assets, market information, and decision-making power. They also carry the weight of low wages, violence, limited literacy, and gender bias. Moreover, poor nutrition and inadequate health facilities including prenatal, natal, and post-natal facilities are adversely affecting their health that in turn limits their productive capacities. Additionally, they bear the double unpaid house work and labour burden. These obstacles limit them from improving their own and their families’ living standards. 
There is need to recognize their efforts and pay attention to their issues to give their role in the economy more meaning. In this regard, the Government of Sindh has introduced first of its kind law in South Asia, named Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act, 2019, to protect the rights of female workers associated with agriculture, fisheries, livestock, and other agro-based activities. This law promotes the participation of women in decision-making and fosters an enhanced role in the national economy for them. Furthermore, this law also helps them to improve their nutrition and health as well as that of their children. Here are some of the provisions of this Act.
•   A woman agriculture worker shall receive pay in cash or in kind, for any agriculture work undertaken individually, or as part of a family unit, on land and livestock belonging to her or her own family, or to someone else which shall be an equal to pay received by male workers for same work.
•   The pay to a woman agriculture worker under sub-section (1) shall not be less than the minimum wages fixed by the government.
•   The working day of a woman agriculture worker shall not exceed eight working hours, and shall not commence until one hour after daybreak, or continue beyond one hour prior to sunset.
•   A woman agriculture worker shall take time off work due to sickness or for antenatal and post-natal care, routine health check-ups and visits, without incurring financial or other penalty.
•   A woman agriculture worker is entitled to 120 days of maternity leave. Moreover, every worker is entitled to Iddat Leave for the period prescribed in the faith professed by the worker.
•    A woman agriculture worker having a child up to two years of age may breastfeed her child in safe and hygienic conditions and in the first six months of child’s life shall receive the necessary support to exclusively breastfeed her child.
•   A woman agriculture worker shall have the right to access government agricultural, livestock, fisheries and other services, credit, social security, subsidies and asset transfers in her own individual right, or in association with other women agriculture workers.
•   A woman agriculture worker shall perform work free from all forms of harassment or abuse as laid out in the relevant laws prevailing in the Province. 
•  A woman agriculture worker shall receive a written contract of employment, if she so demands, and for accessible and fair arbitration mechanisms, particularly with respect to rates of pay, payment schedules, working conditions, and health and safety at the workplace. 
•    A woman agriculture worker shall have the right to form a union or association or to associate herself with an association for welfare including child health, community development, economic profit, and for accessing public supplied goods and services.
•   A woman agriculture worker shall not be discriminated against with respect to employment opportunities, wages and working conditions on grounds of sex, land ownership, caste, religion, ethnicity and residential status. 
•   These rights are applicable to all women agriculture workers regardless of whether they are currently employed directly or indirectly (through labour contractors or male family members), paid or unpaid family help, or are engaged in agricultural work as part of any other arrangements.
While this law effectively chalks out a preliminary plan to address problems faced by women in agriculture sector, the key remains in its implementation. Other provinces should also follow suit and try to refine the law as they do so. It is imperative to address the rights of women in agriculture, to break the barriers of informal and low-paid jobs. More efforts of civil society, NGOs, media, etc., are needed to introduce different training and skills programs. Agriculture Poly-technique Institute by Pakistan Agriculture Council is a great initiative that conducts different training courses in agriculture disciplines and provides on-job training. On-farm training and education could enhance the capacity and working conditions of women agriculture workers. FAO has also extended help in providing training for entrepreneurial and agribusiness skills to women in different underprivileged areas of the country.
To empower women agriculture workers by training them is necessary to boost development as it will lead to increased output and growth in this sector, as well as help end hunger and poverty. Funds/loans, financial policies, and access to and training for use of digital technology is needed to improve women’s capacities and economic potential in agribusinesses. Empowering these women by giving them protection and recognition and closing the gender gap will bring growth in the agriculture sector and lift Pakistan’s economy as a whole by increasing productivity and quality, while at the same time improving living standards of women engaged in agriculture and that of their families. HH

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