July 12 - 18, 2010

Women are one of the most important segments of Pakistan's society. In fact, women hold an important role in building the economy of Pakistan. For rural women, many of the farm activities are an extension of their domestic responsibilities, including the fetching of water, fuel, and fodder. Nearly, 71 per cent of the female force in Pakistan is in agricultural sector and their jobs are the toughest of all the womenfolk of our society and yet their contributions go unnoticed and undocumented.

Socio-economic status of the rural women is quite different from the women residing in urban areas of the country. This is because of lack of basic health facilities, low level of literacy rate, poor knowledge, and minimum use of skills.

The rural women make important and effective contribution to agriculture, food production and other micro enterprises. Rural women play a vital role almost in every field to reduce the poverty but their special job is crop production. Millions of women of the country are directly involved in a number of on-farm activities like sowing, watering, weeding, hoeing, picking, fodder cutting, cotton-sticks collection, field cleaning, milking and feeding of animals at household level, cleaning of the animals sheds, manure collection, separation of seed from fiber, packing and grading of fruits, working in cotton ginning factories, packing of fishes and other land and marine sea products.

They perform household work, like housecleaning, fetching of drinking water, dish washing, washing of clothes, collecting fuel wood, food preparation, care of children, sewing and mending clothes. While working with rural men, they really help their efforts in cultivation of crops right from the preparation of fields for sowing to the post harvest operations except plowing, spadework, insecticide spray and watering of the field.

Rural women do manure collection, prepare dung cakes, maintain animal sheds, and care sick animals. They milk cows, buffaloes or goats, feed and clean them. In fact, rural women are involved in almost all livestock related activities starting from feeding of fodder (31 per cent), watering animal (69 per cent), milking (58 per cent), caring sick animal (38 per cent), collection of farm yard manure (85 per cent), preparing cow dung (85 per cent), and to animal place cleaning (80 per cent).

Rural women also play a vital role in poultry farming at household level and thus provide them poultry meat and eggs. Their unnourished bodies are beautifully flexible as they transplant paddy in the sun burning heat in the summer months. It needs precision and stamina to bend and transplant acres of paddy. About 2.5 million women are involved in collection of cotton from cotton-growing districts of the country.

Participation of rural women in cotton production activities include ridge making for sowing (2 per cent), seed sowing at ridge (26 per cent), weeding in cotton (22 per cent), hoeing in cotton (30 per cent), manual weeding (20 per cent), thinning of cotton plant (16 per cent), etc. They also provide most of the labor for post harvest activities including handling, stocking, processing, packaging and marketing.

For better crop growth, about 73 per cent pesticides are only used to control cotton pests, followed by 22 per cent on rice, sugarcane, fruits, and vegetables. These pesticides pose threat to women workers and children in the fields who are at high risk of poisoning as reported by pesticide residue studies, which show disturbed levels of various enzymes, metabolites and hormones. The allergies they develop make them ill, their skin festers and they die untreated. Rural women are also involved in preparing pesticide solutions.

In rural areas, women do not have much access to sufficient resources including health facilities and education. Nearly, 90 per cent of women are illiterate. Only 10 per cent of females have received formal education, while very few females have received college education. The rural women constitute 36 per cent of total population but only 7 per cent can just read and write. Women tend to play a major role in household activities, farming production and generating income for family.

In order to improve socioeconomic conditions of rural women, the following steps are suggested: Several women oriented ventures must be explored either by women or government or private enterprises. They have vast scope in small enterprises including handicraft, pot making, vocational school, embroidery centre, spinning, ginning and garment factory, and cut flower industry. Retail shop is also a dominant business women can run easily followed by small scale poultry farms. Sericulture, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, kitchen gardening, fruit preservation, nursery raising, market-oriented milk production etc. are a check-list of areas where rural women could make a great potential contribution, provided they are given necessary training and credit facilities. Joint effort is needed by government and private associations to motivate and influence rural women to ensure admissions and increase their literacy level. Guidance is needed to rural women at all levels through print and media and TV channel in rural areas to explain them various women oriented business which can be profitable ways for rural women. Rural women should adopt the basic education and health facilities that are highly neglected in rural environment. If the rural women get basic knowledge, health facilities then this will definitely induce confidence in them to do any profitable thing that can be helpful in decision making and this will ultimately guide them in starting their own business.