WOMEN IN RURAL ECONOMY

DR IRAM SABA
Sep 1 - 7, 2008

Women play an active role in Pakistan's rural economy. They play a major role in agricultural and livestock development. Development initiatives may however have adverse consequences for women when gender specificities are not taken into account. Greater gender equity means that women are able to express their potential to the benefit of the entire household and community. Economic problems are often the result of poor gender relations. Improvement in the socio-economic status, health and education of women has an immediate and lasting impact on the well-being of the entire family. Increasing the economic resilience of the poor is largely about enabling women to realize their socio-economic potential more fully and improve the quality of their lives.

WOMEN'S ROLE IN LIVESTOCK

Livestock plays important role in maintaining the livelihoods of farmers by providing food, traction power, manure, raw material, cash security, social and cultural identity, medium of exchange and means of savings and investments. The demand for livestock products is rapidly increasing with rise in population, household income and change in food tastes and preferences.

As compared to crop production the participation of rural women in livestock related activities is much higher. Rearing of livestock is primarily a subsistence activity to meet farmers' family food needs & farm income. In livestock sector, women are most important labour force, engaged in multiple ways in animal, crop and family related work. Majority of the women is engaged in fodder cutting, watering, cleaning of animals and their sheds etc. Milking the animals and milk processing has also been attributed to the women folks. Manure collection, preparing dung cakes and the maintenance of animal sheds are also the exclusive activities of rural women. In a nutshell, except grazing women are involved in almost all livestock related activities starting from fodder cutting to milk processing. However, the level of involvement varies from one activity to the other.

Females have a major role in decision making for livestock- rearing and related activities. They decide about the number of poultry birds and the size of the herd to be reared. Decisions regarding selling poultry products and animals are also undertaken in consultation with women. They are also mainly responsible for making decisions regarding animal vaccination. However, their involvement in decisions regarding use of artificial insemination for animal breeding, area allocation to fodder crop and use of improved fodder varieties was found very low.

Women make a considerable contribution to livestock production and this contribution is more visible than their work in crop production. A rural woman works more than 15 hours a day, spending 5.50 hours in caring for livestock, but she provides only 50 minutes for the care of her own children. Women in Sindh and Punjab spend from one-fifth to a quarter of their daily working hours in livestock-related activities. Dairy production is very important for women in most provinces except Baluchistan where the climate is not favorable to dairy cattle raising. With the exception of a few large cities, all fresh milk consumed in Pakistan is based on small domestic production run and managed by women.

Women play a crucial role in rural poultry farming. Over 90% of the rural families keep an average of 12 adult birds per family and hatch chicks under a brood hen. The women apply their own methods of rearing, brooding, breeding, and management based on the experience handed down from the elder family members

WOMEN'S ROLE IN AGRICULTURE

Agriculture directly supports three-quarters of the population, employs half the labour force and accounts for one-quarter of GDP. Women play a major role in agricultural production. They often devote more time to these tasks than men do. They participate in all operations related to crop production such as sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting, as well as in post-harvest operations such as threshing, winnowing, drying, grinding, husking and storage (including making mud bins for storage).

Rural women work longer than men do. Surveys have revealed that a woman works 12 to 15 hours a day on various economic activities and household work. Women from an average farm family remain extremely busy during the two farming seasons in sowing and harvesting. In some ethnic groups, especially in the southern regions of Pakistan, a husband may marry more than one woman to supply additional farm labour. In Barani (rain fed) agriculture, where crop production is not sufficient to meet subsistence needs of the households, men have traditionally sought employment in the non-farm sector. As a result, women have to take over a substantial burden of the work in agricultural production. Moreover, dramatic growth rates in cotton production have generated tremendous demand for female labour. Such production-labour interactions have led to the increasing feminization of agriculture.

Women participate extensively in the production of major crops, but the intensity of their labour depends on both the crop in question and the specific activities related to that crop. Women's participation is particularly high in cotton, rice, pulses and vegetables. Rice and cotton cultivation in Sindh jointly account for more than one-third of women's annual agricultural activities .Similarly, women's participation is the highest in cotton production in Punjab. Picking cotton is exclusively a women's task. Their participation is the lowest in sugarcane production.

SUGGESTIONS

In order to improve socio-economic conditions of rural women, following steps are suggested:

1- Improve all inadequate data bases on women.

2- Improve policy and planning processes to be participatory as well as gender-sensitive.

3- Land policy needs to be reformed to ensure gender equity as well as class equality.

4- Resolve both conceptual and methodological problems and collect sex-disaggregated data so as to generate a proper estimate of women's economic participation.

5- Support policy shifts to encourage rural agro-based small-scale industries, which have employment-generating potential for the vast majority of rural women.

6- Make the extension system more equitable to cover female farmers and food crops grown by them instead of merely focusing on male farmers and commercial crops.

7- Train rural women in preserving and processing of various fruits, vegetables and livestock products.

8- Recognize women's pivotal contribution to the rural economy and include them in farming systems improvement programmes.

9- Conduct basic surveys to identify the varying problems of rural women in different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions so that appropriate intervention needs could be identified.

10- Launch massive basic and functional literacy programmes for women so that they are able to learn and apply improved agricultural technologies.