KARACHI, Aug 23: Speakers at a meeting on Saturday stressed that a nation could not progress in the real sense if half of its population was deprived of their rights and discriminated against in almost every field.
Speaking at the meeting on ‘Media support on women’s employment’ organized by Inter Press Communications, they said that time and again women have proved that they were as efficient and intelligent as their male colleagues in every field and whenever given equal opportunities, they progressed in their fields.
Zeenat Hisam of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), sharing the findings of her study conducted on women in the industrial sector, said that a large number of women were employed in the informal sector, hence they were not protected by legislation formulated by the government or even benefits provided by companies.
She said that many multinational companies, to protect their positive image, outsourced work to home-based workers, many of them women, through contractors to avoid and bypass not only local and international laws but even their own company policy, which they followed in their industrial units located in the developed world.
She criticised the government and said that the colonial era Factories Act 1934, which restricted women’s work to the daytime, had been amended recently and now the industries can ask their workers — regardless of gender — to work till 10pm.
Najma Sadiq, sharing her findings in the field of women in agriculture, said over the years agricultural methods have changed and with the introduction of mechanization, a large number of agricultural workers had been rendered jobless and women were the worst sufferers.
She said that huge multinational companies had entered the agricultural sector by promoting monoculture crops. They supplied genetically modified seeds that needed chemical fertilizers to grow and also required chemical pesticides to protect them from pests. The yield increased temporarily, but in the long run the land became addicted to the chemicals and if these were not used the crops were affected and farmers suffered economically. She suggested that if one acre was given to a woman, she could sustain a family of six on it.
Farida Jamote, highlighting the plight of fisher-women, said that with the cutting of mangroves, increased land-based pollution into the sea and fishing by modern trawlers owned by foreigners, which has wiped out the fish stock near the beaches, local fishermen, who earlier used to go out to the sea for a few hours and return with a big catch, now have to go further away from the coast to fish. They spend days at sea and yet their nets are rarely filled with fish. On return they can hardly pay for the cost of the voyage, which had crippled the economy of the fishing community.
She said that owing to this the fisher-women, who earlier used to work either in the fishing sector or near their homes, now were forced to work as house-maids in far-off places.
Sheen Farrukh of the IPC said that women were exposed to harassment the moment they came out of their homes to go for education or work. They were harassed at bus stops, in public transport vehicles, in the workplace and other public places. They were paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same jobs. She said that discrimination started from the home when the family gave preferential treatment to the male child.
Rehana Iftikhar said that though the Constitution guaranteed equal rights and opportunities, women were deprived of these in the name of social and cultural customs.
Tauseef Ahmed, Nargis Khanum, Nasrin Baig and others also spoke to the audience, the majority of which comprised students of mass communications.