Farming practices date back to around 12,000 years ago when people from the New Stone Age ploughed seeds into the soil, watered it diligently, protected it from harsh storms, gave it abundant sunshine, learnt about the dynamics of different crops, and witnessed their labour come to life as a small green sprout grew up from the ground little by little, representing progression, life, and the beginning of a new era. However, most of our history books have failed to acknowledge how 12,000 years ago women were equally involved in the entire process and were instrumental in the food security and survival of her and her kin. Women have helped maintain fields since the beginning of our agricultural endeavours but rose to prominence in WWII since the men went off to war and women emerged from their homes as the knight in shining armour to uphold structures of society, including farming.
In Pakistan, women are an integral part of our agricultural sector and are to be credited for its current thriving status globally. They perform a variety of crucial tasks, including weeding and tilling the land, planting seeds, collecting farmyard manure and harvesting. They are also responsible for cleaning, drying, food storage, grain cleaning, threshing, livestock, cottage industry and storing grains. Despite their extensive commitment and hard work towards the property of our agricultural sector, they are deprived of recognition and control of the generated income from this work. Studies have proven that a typical woman in rural Pakistan works an average of 15.5 hours a day, including dedicating 5.5 hours to caring for livestock while only having approximately 50 minutes of attention to spare for her own kids.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that empowering women through education and employment has a positive influence on the well-being of society. When women are supported, encouraged, and qualified, they reach their fullest potential.
Female farmers in Pakistan have proven time and again that they are the epitome of hard work and strength since the labour force employed by agriculture females surpasses men in many agricultural chores. The job of an agricultural female is more demanding than men because she must embrace dual responsibility of household tasks and at the same time serve as active or supportive labour to men in the fields.
Some compelling statistics:
- Pakistan derives two third of its GDP from agriculture, among which women make a significant contribution which accounts for 66% out of the total economically active manpower in agriculture as a per cent of the total population.
- This gender participation becomes more asymmetric in rural areas where females make up 28.3% in 56.4% of the aggregate labour force employed, with 7.3% of average annual growth.
Female farmers all over the world are facing constraints within agriculture however Pakistani women’s issues are influenced by several political, legal, social, cultural, and financial factors which put them in a more unique circumstance. Some pressing issues faced by female farmers in Pakistan that demand immediate attention are discussed:
Carrying out such heavy work while her health is being neglected throughout her life is the main cause of malnutrition amongst Pakistani female farmers. Romero-Paris (2000) reported that chronic malnutrition coupled with workload adversely affects women’s health, and also results in the poor health of infants and young children. Additionally, poor attention to women’s physical well-being will have a negative impact on their productivity in the field which will in turn influence the overall productivity of the entire farm.
Lack of progressive agricultural methods
There is little to no knowledge amongst farmers especially female farmers, regarding advanced methods of farming.
Lack or complete absence of education
Probably the most pressing issue on this list is a lack of education, which disables women from progressing, succeeding, and advancing. This leads them to rely on traditional, informal and outdated means of learning. As natural environments are unpredictable, women farmers coupled with illiteracy are unable to foresee weather trends, so any unexpected change badly affects their work. The introduction of the latest technology to agriculture for productivity and efficiency is indispensable nowadays but somehow it produces hurdles for female farmers rather than facilitating them. Technology needs education to be utilised however Pakistan’s rural female literacy rate is extremely low.
Lack of segregated economic policy and reform
Men and women have different sets of skills, knowledge, and experience when it comes to being actively involved in fieldwork. As different aspects of agriculture are variably affected by trade liberalisation, hence, consequences for women and men are not the same. This implies that any change in policy impacts men and women in dramatically different ways, with the lack of inclusivity of women when reforming policies.
Over the past two decades, many rural farmers have migrated to urban areas in search of work or other earning opportunities. This has left women with virtually no support and all the family’s responsibility to bear. Migration is heavily influenced by the lack of recognition and progression of the agriculture sector in general.
Lack of recognition
The reason why female farmers aren’t nationally recognised is not that their participation is any less than a man’s but due to a lack of awareness, recognition and census that records their efforts, leading all their work to be underappreciated and unrecognised.
The following are some ways in which females in Pakistan’s agricultural division can be supported and enabled to strive to their full potential.
- Initiatives should be taken to accurately record and reflect timely data, particularly gender-segregated data about female contribution to agriculture.
- Educating our women regarding updated methods of food processing and food preservation of various fruits, vegetables, and livestock products, would serve as a value addition to economic productivity.
- Women should be introduced to technologies that will enhance their farming experience and assist them for example equipping them with a smartphone with agriculture-related apps and setting them up with helplines. Additionally, introducing them to advanced farming equipment.
- Policy reforms should be introduced to encourage rural agri-based small-scale industries, which would help in diversifying agricultural resources and will generate employment for rural women.
An activist of women’s agriculture and farming as well as the Technical Sales Manager for Ruminants based in Switzerland, Maria Agovino, once said “Women have the skills that modern farming needs; we are natural multi-taskers, good communicators, and used to hard work. The sensibility, determination, resourcefulness, the creativity of women are essential ingredients in agriculture. More women need to be involved in steering the direction of the industry.”
Let us embrace her words and nurture the true potential of Pakistan’s strong and skilful female farmers to plant seeds of progression for our flourishing nation.