FEMINIZATION OF AGRICULTURE

SAIMA IBRAHIM
Apr 27 - May 10, 2009

The word "farmer" invariably implies a male farmer. While women farmers receive a rare mention they are usually disguised as "housewives" or "farmers' wives". The role of women in agriculture has become a familiar and well-developed subject. Much research of the past two decades has focused on recognition and empowerment of women in agriculture--as farmers, workers, and professionals. Pakistani women play a major role in agricultural production, livestock husbandry, and cottage industries.

The proportion of persons engaged in the agricultural sector is higher among rural women (79.4%) in contrast to rural men (60.8%). Women's work in agriculture has become more visible over the last few decades as women farmers become more involved in agricultural activities. Rural women are major contributors in four sub-sectors of the rural economy, crop production, livestock production, cottage industry, household and family maintenance activities, such as transporting water, fuel and fodder to and from the home, food preparation.

The elderly and the disabled women make up 76 % of all part-time workers and only 25 % of those acknowledged as full-time workers. Women in the rural sector face increasing difficulties in fulfilling their social role as 'care-givers'.

The present system of production and consumption in many instances provides no assurance to sustainable development and increases rather than reduces gender inequality.

Though Islamic laws do not deny equality between the sexes, women receive differential treatment due to misinterpretations of religious injunctions. Due to various social beliefs and cultural taboos, women's access to property, education, employment, etc. remain considerably lower compared to men's.

A survey conducted in five districts of NWFP reveals that 82% of women participate in agro-based activities. Women often devote more time to these tasks than men do. 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. Men also monopolize mechanical work. For example, they carry out mechanical threshing (with animal or fuel-powered machines), while hand-threshing is a women's domain of task. Driving tractors and watering the fields are also men's job. Food processing and storage is an area where women's participation is considerably higher than men's.

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). In addition, they take care of farmyard manure collection and its application, which has important consequences to soil fertility management.

Women possess knowledge of herbs and medicine for both general and reproductive health, food and fodder. They also know the location of pastures and water sources, etc.

Women generate income through various non-farm activities. Cottage industry is one of the major areas of involvement of rural Pakistani women. Weaving cloth and rugs, and sewing constitute important components of rural women's non-routine tasks. One study in rice and cotton producing villages in Pakistan showed that in agricultural activities women spent 39.34% and 50.42% of their time in rice and cotton growing areas respectively.

Rural Women in Pakistan carry out these tasks in addition to their normal domestic chores of cooking, taking care of children, elderly and disabled, fetching water and fuel, cleaning and maintaining the house as well as some of its construction. Obviously, these 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 chores.

Pakistan's population growth rate remains as high as 2.8% per annum. The sex ratio in Pakistan is such that there are 110.6 men per 100 women. This phenomenon is attributable to male-favoured sex ratio at birth and higher female mortality. In urban areas this sex ratio is 115.3 men to 100 women, whereas in rural areas it is 108.7 men to 100 women. Such a difference could be attributed to a large male emigration from rural to urban areas.

Nearly 40% of the population lives below the poverty line in Pakistan. When it comes to rural areas, this proportion becomes one-third to one-half and women disproportionately share the burden of poverty, which has a twofold impact. On one hand, the women's workload for family survival increases and on the other their share in food and nutrition intake decreases further.

A 70% of the rural women do not have an adequate calorie intake in their diet, and 90% of pregnant women suffer from anemia. In addition to being poor and malnourished, the mass of rural women in Pakistan suffers from too many pregnancies making the lives of rural women miserable with an increase in workload and decrease in income and a worsened state of health.

The educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world. There are distinct gender and rural/urban differentials concealed in the literacy rate. The literacy rate for the urban population only is 47.1%, whereas the literacy rate for the rural population is 17.3%. Moreover, this rural/urban differential is more pronounced in the case of women than men. The literacy rate for urban men (55.3%) is more than twice the rate for rural men (26.2%). However, the literacy rate for urban women (37.3%) is more than five times the rate for rural women (7.3%).

Women extensively participate in the production of major crops; the intensity of their labour varies by crop and specific crop management tasks. Women have active, intensive involvement in livestock production and forestation. Rural women in Pakistan use forests as a source of items essential for survival of their households. Fetching water and collecting firewood for cooking and fodder for domestic animals come in the daily routine work of rural Pakistani women.

Fishery is an area of interest to women. It has been found that traditionally, women were involved in fishing business as entrepreneurs. But presently with the expansion of fishing business into an industry, women no longer manage the business as they did in the past. Rather they are involved in peeling shrimps, weaving nets, making fish baskets, etc. as labourers.

In Pakistan, livestock is an important component of farming systems. It accounts for 26.4% of all the value of agricultural production. Livestock is raised for draft power, milk and meat. Poultry, sheep and goats are very important to rural women for they are often the only source of income.

Women make a considerable contribution to livestock production and this contribution is more visible than their work in crop production. A rural woman in Pakistan works 15.50 hours a day, spending 5.50 hours in caring for livestock, but provides only 50 minutes for the care of her own children.

Women involved in caring and rearing of livestock and poultry, carry out wide range of tasks such as making feed concentrates, feeding, collecting fodder, grazing, cleaning animals and their sheds, making dung cakes, collecting manure for organic fertilizer, as well as milking, processing and marketing of animal products (making ghee, selling eggs, etc.).

Similarly women are playing 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.

In Pakistan's economy women play an active role, but their contribution has been grossly underreported in various censuses and surveys. Consequently, official labour force statistics show a very minimal participation of women. For example, Labour Force Survey 1991-92 revealed that only about 16% of women aged 10 years and over were in the labour force and in comparison, the men's participation rate was 84%.

On the contrary, the 1980 agricultural census showed that women's participation rate in agriculture was 73% and that women accounted for 25% of all full-time and 75% of all part-time works in agricultural households. If women's contribution to economic production is assessed accurately, a conservative estimate of women's labour force participation would be between 30% and 40%.

A look at recent trends and prospects for 2010 for developing Asian countries reveals a striking point: the number of women economically active in agriculture is increasing and growing faster than the number of men economically active in this sector. Women's heavy work load - with dual responsibility for farm and household production - is increasing as agriculture is feminized. This phenomenon of "feminization of agriculture," refers to women's increasing participation in the agricultural labor force, whether as independent producers, as unpaid family workers, or as agricultural wage workers.

The Human Development Index (HDI) rank of Pakistan is 119th amongst 146 countries, indicating low life expectancy at birth, low educational attainment, and low income. It demonstrates that Pakistan is faced with a difficult task in human resource development.

The Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) rank of Pakistan is 120th amongst 146 countries. This illustrates that the human development gap is further aggravated by substantial gender disparities. The difference between HDI rank and GDI rank is of one, indicating that the country performs relatively worse on gender equality than on general achievements.

The long tradition of gender gap and inequalities seriously restricts women's right to legal, institutional and policy support services. They are disadvantaged through limited access to land, credit, technology and information, and especially in the remuneration of their activities resulting to a wide underestimation of women's economic contributions. Also, there are very few programs for enhancing women farmers' welfare and their empowerment under a new rural environment.

Recognizing the need to overcome gender issues in agriculture and rural livelihoods, the international seminar on enhancement of women farmers' role in the development of rural Asia was organized with the overall goal to understand the situation of women farmers in agriculture in order to improve their status and enhance their contribution to rural development. The development of women's groups should be promoted as a strategy to expand women's access to information, increase their comparative bargaining power, and create opportunities for collective action to access economic inputs.

Education opportunities for women are also critical not only in the fields of agriculture and in non-agricultural gainful employment, but also in the sectors of health, nutrition, children's education, and family planning. Women must also be given institutional and legal assistance to have equal access to and control over productive resources, particularly land; make it possible for them to participate in business activities; and guarantee them a right to membership and voting in labor/credit organizations.

As farmers, women in subsistence production ensure the survival of millions of people in all regions. More than half of the world's food is grown by women. Women's work is both wide-ranging and multifaceted throughout the year, and they perform multiple tasks in the sphere of agriculture. Women's indigenous knowledge and skills are vitally necessary for food production and sustainable agriculture.

Women's intimate knowledge of seed preparation and soil management, plants and pest control, post-harvest processing and storage, animal husbandry, as well as food processing and meal preparation are significant. Rural women in their dual roles as producers in the farm and the home and as caregivers need appropriate technologies to ease their work stress and to improve productivity. In developing countries, technology development and extension programs have not been responsive to household drudgery associated with different production activities undertaken by women. Hence, rural women's demand for technology that improves their productivity while reducing drudgery must be recognized.