It has been estimated that a working class village woman in South Asia works from 12 to 16 hours a day

Dr. S.M. ALAM, NIA, Tandojam
July 14 - 20, 2003 

Women have been the invisible and unrecognized link in the cycle of economic development of a country. Women also play a significant role in the social development of a country. In rural areas, from which males have migrated in large numbers in search of work, many farms are managed by women, who may not have legal control of the farms and are performing their household maintenance tasks. Women in South Asia keep the rural way of life alive. They participate in all operations pertaining to livestock management, crop production' such as sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting as well as the post-harvest operations such as threshing, winnowing, drying, grinding, husking and storage of the products.

Urban conditions bear the hardest on households headed by women, which represent a significant and growing proportion of the poorest urban households. Many women depend on the informal sector for their earnings, which therefore fluctuate, and their earning capacity is limited both by lack of skills and their childcare and domestic responsibilities. In many countries, women play an important role in the marketing of products. Because transportation costs are high and tertiary roads and paths are few in numbers, the method of transport is often limited to carry goods normally on the heads. Unlike their male counterparts their tasks are not only limited to agricultural activities.

In areas where piped water supply is not available, fetching water is a task. They are totally responsible for fetching and water managing usually assigned to women, who are assisted by their children. The quality of water available for the use of the family is determined by distance and time and the capacity of women to carry it. In most desert areas, drinking water is scarce. The women folk are obliged to bring water from wells or water sources located often away from the villages. Most of their time is used up in this activity. Water is needed for certain agricultural tasks, food processing and at the households level and for livestock especially small animals for which women usually have sole responsibility. Collecting bushes, cooking, cleaning and maintaining the house and taking care of the young and old are done mostly by women.

It has been estimated that a working class village woman in South Asia works from 12 to 16 hours a day. In Nepal, for example on an average women work for 12.07 hours, 47 percent higher than men who work on average 8.21 hours. An important set of variables that affect fertility rates and thus overall population growth relates to women. The level of women's educational attainment is strongly associated with rates of fertility. Better employment prospects and increased economic autonomy for women are also related to the reduction of fertility. Most developing countries seek to achieve universal primary education and evidence indicates that educating girls may be one of the best investments a country can make towards its future growth and progress. Children's educational attainment is related more to the education level of their mothers than fathers.

The engagement of women in agriculture is spread over a large number of activities. In fact in most regions, they perform more tasks than men. The participation or involvement of women in South Asia agriculture, depends on a number of factors such as the type of activity, the crop in question, the particular geographical area, socioeconomic status of the family. On agricultural farms, where men and women work together, women participate in almost all activities related to crop production, but there are certain tasks that covers greater female participation than others.

Female participation may also be higher for a few specific crops harvested in South Asia. In India, women constitute one half of the labour force in rice cultivation. They are also involved in plantation sector. In Pakistan, women play a critical role in the production of cotton. Picking and weeding of cotton is done entirely by women. While land preparation is handled by men. In Pakistan, agricultural activity rates may vary from one region to another as in the NWEP and Balochistan socio-cultural norms are more binding and less female participation in such work is observed. Women from poor landless families work in fields in an attempt to raise their household income. In Bangladesh, studies have found that the highest involvement of women in agriculture comes from households with small landholdings. Similar situation occurs in Pakistan with women communities. Women are often responsible in part or in whole for livestock activities. Women are usually afforded greater recognition in this sector than their role in crop production. In a country, livestock not only generates income but also provides fertilizers for plants draft power for farms, food for humans and biomass fuel for energy. In Pakistan, it is women who make the feed, collect fodder, clean animals and their sheds, make dung cakes, collect manure for organic fertilizers, pump milk, process. animal products and to market them They also play a crucial role in rural poultry farming, where they apply their own methods of rearing and breeding.

Women also play an important role in dairy production. All fresh milk consumed in the country with the exception of a few large cities is based on small domestic production, run and managed by women. It is estimated that 89 to 90 percent of the women who earn income from livestock products control the expenditure of this income. In wearing of textiles, women do not operate the loom but usually perform the preliminary tasks of spinning the yarn, washing, dyeing and setting up of loom. Despite their expanding role in agricultural production, women continue to face conventional constraints. Women have a lack of access to input supplies, extension, advice, credit and the most import agricultural lands.

Women are mostly affected directly by the ubiquitous use of pesticides and other chemicals. Pesticides leave residues on crops, particularly on cotton, which are picked only by women causing blisters on their hands and necks. In Pakistan, about 70 percent of total pesticide use is accounted by cotton. Animal waste used as fuelwood which generates harmful biogases affecting women, especially since they are responsible for cooking. Women in some cases also perform the hazardous task of placing mixtures of mercury and oil in the grains to kill insects. The increased exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides combined with water pollution, creates a number of health risks for women and their infants.

The vast majority of South Asia women work 14 hours in their households and the informal sectors. Yet, their work is hardly recognized in the respective national income accounts. According to some micro level studies in Pakistan women's contribution to total income in crop production is between 25 to 40 percent ant in India the values of household services of an urban home is estimated at about 42 percent of family income. Women account for 60 percent of unpaid family workers in South Asia. In Pakistan, 54 percent of all employed women are counted as unpaid family helpers. About 96 percent of economically active women work in India's informal sector and in Pakistan 65 percent. In labour-market generally, gender specific unequalities in pay and job security are widespread. The conditions of South Asian women are pathetic. We can modify prevailing structures and finances and introduce changes in the long-standing premises of social, economic, political and cultural life.

To achieve greater gender equality though low, actions are needed on several fronts: enforcement of the constitutional rights for women, repeal of discriminatory laws, acceptance of the principal of affirmative action, introduction of positive legislation to minimize violence against women, treating the so-called honour-killings as murder cases, using and interpreting family laws in genter-specific ways and striving to provide women positive legal education. The non-governmental organization (NGOs) and relevant government apparatus should come forward for more measures. Meaningful actions to ensure equality of economic opportunities would require accumulation of enlightened legislation and genuine political commitment. This of course would require legislative discriminatory laws related to economic activities such as quotas for public service jobs for women ensuring the same minimum wage level for men and women on priority basis, collecting, analyzing and using for policy analysis and policy formulation, a comprehensive set of gender diaggregated accurate data on regular and timely basis. Providing schooling facilities to girls needs and concerns, recruiting female teachers for girls schools, ensuring community participation in planning and management and providing easy and cost-effective facilities for higher education.

To reduce gender disparity in healthcare, we must set monitorable targets to reduce infants and maternal mortality rates as well as manage population dynamics, enforce laws against feticide, improve access of quality health facilities and services in rural areas where women are the worst suffers. Peace in the region is absolutely essential to achieve a spectacular shift of resources towards human and social development needs. South Asian women occupy only 7 percent of the parliamentary seats, 9 percent of the cabinet positions, 6 percent of the judiciary and 9 percent of the civil service cadres.


It was concluded that women from the vast majority of the women, live in rural areas. The number of rural women living in absolute poverty has risen during the 1990s. Migration by rural men to urban areas, or overseas to escape poverty traps has increased the number of women who have to carry the fall burden of earning income and managing households and there have been very few strategies and facilities to enable them to do so. Women should be included not only in the planning and designing of gender-sensitive development programmes but their input should be integrated in all agricultural projects pertaining to credit, fertilizer, pesticide, water, land reform, fuel energy, marketing, institutional development and research.