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Rural women at work

By Dr. Ali Muhammad Khushk and Saifullah Hisbani

Rural women in Pakistan play a significant role in agriculture, with a participation rate of about 43 per cent. They are involved in a number of on farm activities – weeding, hoeing, grass cutting, picking, cotton stick collections, besides separation of seeds from fibre and in cotton ginning factories.

They also help men to mix and prepare pesticide solutions. About 2.6 million women collect cotton from nine cotton growing districts. Women constitute about 25 per cent of all family workers in agriculture house holds and 75 per cent of part time workers. Yet their role in farm decisions is not established. The rural women Constitute 36 per cent of the total population, but only 7 per cent can just read and write. The literacy rate in the provinces is even lower i.e only 1.75 percent in Balochistan, 3.8 per cent in NWFP and 5 per cent in Sindh.

About 70 per cent of the female labour force is engaged in agriculture sector and their role being the toughest of all the women folk of our society and yet their contribution goes unnoticed and undocumented. Woman farmer Mumtaz Rashdi, from Sindh wrote about them in the diary of gentlewoman farmer (Dawn, July 14, 2002). She described that nimble fingers milk cows, buffaloes or goats, feed and clean them. Their unnourished bodies are beautifully flexible as they transplant paddy in the burning month of May and June, it needs precision and stamina to bend and transplant acres of paddy. While cotton kings spray their crops with poisonous pesticides, women pick cotton from sun rise to sunset. The allergies they develop make them ill, their skin festers, and they often die untreated.

The majority of rural women are uneducated, unskilled and tradition-bound. Their productive efficiency is extremely low, due to illiteracy and lack of skill. They also contribute to family income by preparing handicrafts. These women do assist men folk in the fields also. Their joint efforts obtain better yield and more income.

Indeed most of the caring activities of livestock are carried out by women. For example, watering, milking, milk processing, preparing ghee and feeding etc are considered women’s responsibilities. The male take the herds to the pastures and carry them back home. Women play a vital role in poultry fanning at household level. This indicates that they are self sufficient in nutritional requirements of their families, with eggs and poultry meat. Although, they are not using modern management techniques such as vaccination and improved feed, their poultry enterprise is comparatively good. However, due to lack of proper marketing none are sold outside the village.

Also, rural women provide most of the labour for post-harvest activities, taking responsibility for storage, handling, stocking, processing and marketing. However, women have more or less the same kind of activities in daily life elsewhere in the third world.

The woman performs duties such as house cleaning in the morning, dish washing, fetching drinking water and laundry, preparing food for family, care of children, tailoring and also mending clothes. Some jobs she starts early in the morning up to noon. She manages her activities at different times during the day as a routine practice. Rural women in particular are responsible for half of the world’s food production. Yet, despite their contribution to global food security, women farmers are frequently overlooked in development strategies. Rural women help produce the world’s staple crops rice, wheat, maize. Their contribution to secondary crop production, such as legumes and vegetables is even greater.

In most of the developing countries, both men and women farmers do not have access to adequate resources, but women’s access is even more constrained as a result of cultural, traditional and sociological factors. Accurate information about men’s and women’s relative access to, and control over, resources is crucial in the development of food security strategies. It is hoped that the combination of these activities and the emphasis placed on women’s concerns with in agriculture will empower, motivate and strengthen women’s capacities to take on the challenges they face, be it, the age old trends of patriarchy and pesticides and emerging threats of biotechnology, the new trade agreements and so fourth.

Socio-economic conditions: The selected socio-economic characteristics of the rural household shows that the average family size is 9.87 and it is composed of two males, two females, five children and two aged persons. Almost half 48 per cent of a family is of non­working age. There are wide gap between males and females in educational level. Only 70 per cent of males are illiterate. Most of the 30 per cent have received formal education whereas 13 per cent of females have such education. As many as 87 per cent of the female are illiterate. Very few females have received college-level education while a significant number of males (nearly seven per cent) have received college and university lever education.

The pattern of access to land resource provides important information regarding farm resources of a family. The large majority of farmers 80 per cent have small land holdings. On an average they own 6.7 acres of land. Due to small land holdings the size of land, which is rented in or rented out, is also small (4-6 acres). On an average the operational land size is 4.2 acres. Every household having ample man­power, which seems to be more than their farming requirements. On an average 2.0 adult males are working on farm full time whereas 2.2 females are involved in on farm activities.

The difference in gender involvement in off farm working is highly significant as the average involvement of adult males in off farm is 1.4 per cent whereas only one female is involved in off farm activities which is very low as compared to males. The average off farm monthly income of males is Rs3700 while the average off farm monthly income of females is Rs2400. Better education level of males might have provided them access to off farm job opportunities.

Women tend to play a major role in house hold activities, in farming production and consumption patterns and generating income for family.

Cotton picking is exclusively female (86 per cent) activity. They are also significantly involved (30 per cent) in hoeing and (22 per cent) in weeding activity. Except these three activities women have very little involvement in other cotton production activities while the males play major role in seed preparation (85 per cent), cotton ridge making (87 per cent), sowing of cotton on ridges (54 per cent), hoeing in cotton (17 per cent) thinning of cotton plants (44 per cent), preparation pesticide application (98 per cent), fertilizer application (99 per cent), cotton stick cutting (77 per cent), stick collection (62 per cent), cotton field cleaning (55 per cent), and preparing of cotton seed (87 per cent).

Males seek consultation from females while selecting cotton pickers, time to start first picking, total number of pickings and selecting the storage place for cotton. Considerable number (28-42) of females are also being consulted regarding which variety to plant, plant, distance /population, timely sowing of seed, ensuring quality seed collection from own crop, applying seed rate as per cotton variety and selling of cotton at certain price. Few females (14 per cent) have not only been consisted to assess pest attack but have also been consulted to select pesticides and for the number of pesticide applications as well.

Only 21 per cent of females have been consulted to use alternative methods of plant protection. They (22-27 per cent) have some voice in decisions regarding area allocation to cotton crop, selection of land lord to work with as tenant, purchase of inputs from the market, irrigating field from tube well and selling of cotton to a specific agency.

Activities in the filed of stock: Livestock is primarily a subsistent activity to meet household food needs as well as supplement farm incomes. Almost every farm family owns some livestock. The pattern of livestock strength is mainly influenced by various factors such as farm size, cropping pattern availability of range-lands including fodder and pasture.

On an average every household owns 1.52 buffalo and 2.78 cows whereas on an average every family is having 1.57 young stocks. It is common practice in the study area to give livestock to women in dowry.

The number of small ruminants (sheep and goat) is 3 per farm. It is revealed that on an average an amount of Rs5561 per annum is added to the income of a household from the sale of animals.

Milk, milk products and poultry also bring some money. Selling milk brings disrespect to the family. The majority of the households do not sell milk. However, few families have taken it as income generating activity. Although livestock rearing has a potential to generate income yet it is not being properly exploited.

A majority of families are engaged in cleaning of animals and their sheds and watering the animals. Milking the animals and milk processing has also been attributed to the women folk. They have also reported that manure collection, preparing dung cakes and the maintenance of animals shed are also the exclusive activities of the rural women. In a livestock base line survey has indicated that 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 other. They have also described collection of farm yard manure, preparing dung cakes, milking and processing the milk as highly significant female activities. It is presumed that the female participation in livestock management practices in the study area will be quite significant.

Except grazing all other livestock management activities are predominantly performed by females. Stall feeding of animals is carried out by 31 per cent of females whereas milking, milk processing carried out by 58 per cent and preparing dung cakes are earned out by 90 per cent of females. Ninety per cent women are involved in shed cleaning and 85 per cent in collection of farm yard manure. Watering is also performed by the majority (69 per cent) of females. However males do share the responsibility of talking dung care of sick animals. It is quite evident that the women are playing a dominant role in the livestock production and management activities.

Besides documenting females role in livestock production activities the effort has also been made to understand female’s contribution in taking decisions regarding livestock rearing activities.

Females are only being consulted but claim major share in decision taken in this regard. The findings of the study reveal that females are consulted before taking any decision regarding livestock related activities. An overwhelming majority of women (80­87 per cent) have asserted that decisions are made in consultation with females regarding number of poultry birds and the size of the herd to keep.

Source: Dawn