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Gender in agricultural labour
 By  Haroon Mustafa Janjua

Gender in agricultural labour:-Pakissan.comEnforcement of minimum wage will be a real problem because the inspectors in the directorate of labour will either be reluctant to visit farms and fields or big landlords and zamindars will be reluctant to cooperate with them.

Though agriculture is the single-largest contributor to the gross national product (GNP) and also the biggest sector for employment, agricultural workers, specifically women, are badly exploited and form an oppressed class of rural society.

Powerful zamindars (land owners) often treat them worse than slaves and pay them their wages that are not in cash but in kind.

They are unable to organise themselves despite being a distinct class because of absolute dependence on the landowners.

The absence of any land reforms whatsoever and transfer of land to ownership of the actual tilling population only exacerbates the problem.

Unequal access to decent work can be noted not only between women and men but also by ethnicity, age and education.

Agricultural workers get employment for less than six months in a year and are often constrained to migrate to other avenues of employment like construction and similar blue-collar occupations during the off-season.

Almost 79 percent rural women are engaged in agriculture but have a share of only 20.8 percent of the total income earned in Pakistan. In contrast, 60 percent rural men get the remaining 79 percent.

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Gender differences in employment status appear to be more pronounced in South Asia where only 13 percent of adult women are self-employed in agriculture compared to 33 percent of men, and less than six percent of rural women work in non-agricultural sectors compared to 27 percent of men.

It is interesting to note that, in South Asia, women appear somewhat equally distributed between wage work and self-employment (13 percent and 12 percent, respectively) within agriculture, whereas most men who work in agriculture are self-employed.

Women in South Asia are relatively more engaged in agricultural wage employment than are women in any other region, most likely the result of womenís weaker property rights in land and other assets than in most other regions, coupled with increasing landlessness.

South Asian women are also more likely to remain unpaid for work in their own family business than in any other region.

The International Labour Organisationís (ILOís) data for 2007 indicates that 59 percent of the total female labour force in South Asia works as contributing family workers, compared with 36 percent in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, 35 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and only seven percent in Latin America.

The corresponding shares for men are 18 percent in South Asia, 18 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and four percent in Latin America.

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Female labour workers often lack finances and circumstances force them to borrow money from time to time from private sources.

Women agricultural workers often suffer severe working conditions; they work for 12 hours a day and receive no weekly rest, they are hardly provided any housing facility, their wages are invariably delayed and, in some cases, defaulted.

The elimination of forced labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of all forms of discrimination in the workplace (including through ratification of a number of ILO conventions, particularly relevant to rural workers such as convention numbers 11, 111, 129, 138, 141, 182, 184 and others), rural workers, especially women and children, face both legal impediments and practical challenges in asserting their rights.

Therefore, it is imperative that the four provinces jointly sit together and formulate an inter-provincial migrant workmenís act.

It is possible that the directorate of labour may not cooperate for the enforcement of this law, yet it must be ensured that not only such legislation is promulgated but even the right of freedom of association, as envisaged in article 17 of the constitution of Pakistan, be put into effect for agricultural workers.

According to the report of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), the problem of the exclusion of agricultural workers from relevant national laws and non-application of these in practice has been raised in 30 countries.

Moreover, issues of violence, harassment, weak labour inspection mechanisms and non-recognition of trade unions concerning agricultural workers are quite common.

Enforcement of minimum wage will be a real problem because the inspectors in the directorate of labour will either be reluctant to visit farms and fields or big landlords and zamindars will be reluctant to cooperate with them in ensuring minimum wages.

Payments to agricultural workers only through cheques deposited in bank accounts must be treated as legal payment and not in kind. Agriculture can offer job opportunities to a large number of unemployed workers.

With the passage of time, gradually the provisions of various labour legislations should be extended to agricultural labour so that, in some years, all the provisions of labour legislation, including the freedom of association and the right to form trade unions can also be applicable in relation to agricultural workers in Pakistan.

The government should provide easy incentives to rural women so that they can utilise the money for activities like buying small land holdings and growing vegetables and other minor crops on these lands for their income generation.

The department of agricultural extension should provide trainings to these women so that they come to know their rightful place in the agricultural sector where they can contribute even after mechanization has been introduced.

To improve the role of women in agriculture, women should be given more wages for their labor and be given full control over it, as this will bring a positive effect of on both the wealth and the work of the women concerned.

The regulation to implementation of legislation can also contribute to making women workers visible and empower them with equal rights in the agriculture sector. Increasing the income and education level of women in the long run will not only contribute to the quality of the labour force and productivity but also to food security through a lower rate of population growth.

There is the need for an integrated perspective on health as most of the health problems that agricultural women face relate to their general life situation, which aggravates the problems they face as workers such as inadequate nutrition, non-accessibility to healthcare, water, housing, sanitation, maternity benefits and children amongst others.

August, 2014

Source:  Daily Times;


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