THE RURAL WOMAN OF PAKISTAN

Underutilized Production Factor

SHAMSUL GHANI
Nov 05 - 11, 2007

Pakistan is assumed to be a predominantly agricultural economy. The economists and the policy makers have been endeavoring hard to shift the focus from an agro based economy to an industrialist economy. They have succeeded in increasing the share of manufacturing sector to the GDP from 12 per cent to 19 per cent during the last 52 years. They have also succeeded in bringing down the share of agriculture sector from 46 per cent to 21 per cent during the same period. This is a travesty of what should have actually happened. The decrease in one sector should have been matched by the increase in the other allowing for import substitution and lesser dependence on export of food items. The so-called shift of focus has resulted in severe scarcity of food items followed by a high level of food prices inflation.

A recent finance ministry report concludes that food price inflation has become a major source of concern for the policy makers in emerging Asia. China experienced the highest increase of 18.2 per cent in food prices followed by 13 per cent in Pakistan and Indonesia. China's high rate of food inflation may have any reason except an underutilization of women input to the agriculture sector. This is not true in case of Pakistan where woman input to the economy is comparatively low in the face of low literacy rate and somewhat restrictive set of social values.

As a rough estimate, 35 percent of country's population comprises rural woman who, playing a passive role in the male dominated society, contributes to the farm work whatever time she is left with after performing the stereotypical house chores and that too with the explicit willingness of the master of the house. Whatever input she contributes to the productive activities definitely makes a mark but in the absence of any organized effort program, she ends up as an underutilized factor of production. Her contribution to the rural economy goes unrecognized. Never ever any official report mentioned this contribution it is high time we recognize this all-important factor of production and design policies for its institutionalization.

The policy design should be based on a renewed incentive plan for the rural population to forestall its continual exodus to the urban areas caused mainly by the dubious survival possibilities in the somewhat neglected sector of rural economy. According to an estimate the present percentage difference in the rural and urban population will vanish by the year 2030 thereby putting a tremendous pressure on urban areas.

ESTER BOSERUP SAID TWO DECADES AGO:

"The marginalization of women in agriculture has further reinforced policy biases in favor of men."

It is, therefore, imperative that the policy design is devoid of any gender bias.

The incentive plan should also focus on systematic and scientific means to encourage rural woman to fully participate in the farm production activities with a view to giving boost to the rural economy on one hand and to give recognition to rural woman's work on the other.

The business partners to this "Rural Woman Uplift Program" could be government and non-government organizations, banks, private sector companies and multinational organizations. The role of government organizations should be the designing of policy framework, monitoring and control. The implementation job should be assigned to the NGOs, banks; domestic and multi national companies with clear a job description and well defined areas of operation. The factor of conflicting interests should be given serious attention and only such NGOs and multi national organizations should be asked to participate who are seriously interested in the uplift of rural woman in particular and the rural economy in general. Organizations with a mandate to advance their governments" specific agendas in the garb of social work should be screened out.

The program should aim at

1. Women's informal education by the NGOs

2. Free on-the-job training by the government agricultural organizations

3. Extremely cheap credit by the banks recoverable only from the sale proceeds of the product of that particular crop / farm project for which it was allowed.

4. Provision of farm equipment, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc. At subsidized prices by the domestic / multi national companies.

The role of the NGOs will be very important and in the given scenario most challenging too as they will be required to gradually change a particular mindset. They will have to deal with women with dual and triple responsibilities. The fragmentation of woman time is also likely to give them headache. Then the gender bias will be there to stonewall them.

They might have to encounter some religious outfits that will try to outwit them through their limited knowledge of the religion or even threat them with their lives. But their reward too shall be most satisfying. By cleaning the minds full of ill-conceived doctrine and opening them to the realities of life they will be doing justice with their job.

The education shall generally consist of small talk periodically delivered to a group of women encouraging them to fully participate in the farm activities to earn recognition not through aggressive mannerism but through a subtle role of partnership with their male counterpart emphasizing that this will not only increase their family income but will also give them a sense of achievement and participation.

The secondary role of government agricultural organizations should be advisory besides their primary function of imparting on-the-job training. They may advise on the best use of the available production facilities, making use of the recent economic data and market information they may suggest what is best to produce in the given circumstances. For example the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh are suitable for livestock farming which contributes about 40 per cent value addition to the agriculture sector.

The banks shall be required to finance a particular crop or a farm project at a nominal mark up rate, may be less than the prevailing export refinance rate. The finance shall be made repayable from the proceeds of that particular crop / farm project. In the case of failure of crop or the project the loan shall be written off. To share the amount of loss in such unforeseen circumstances the State Bank should reimburse a certain percentage of finance to the bank. The bank may also like to insure such loans through insurance / Takaful companies.

The domestic and multi national companies providing equipment and other farm products at subsidized prices may be allowed tax incentives.