In Pakistan, where gender roles generally limit women, the agriculture sector exhibits a complex gender gap.
Amidst the vast and vibrant landscapes of Pakistan, where fields stretch to the horizon and farms whisper secrets of sustenance, there exists a remarkable story. It's not just a tale of crops and commerce but a narrative woven form the intricate threads of gender dynamics, determination, and change. Agriculture, often hailed as the backbone of Pakistan's economy, engages more than a staggering 40% of the nation's workforce and stands as a towering pillar of its GDP. Yet, behind these numbers lies a captivating and saga – the silent revolution led by women in agriculture.
Women are sowing the seeds of empowerment beyond the rows of green and golden crops in the heart of every farm. This blog takes readers on a journey across the lush fields, drawing on significant data from studies to uncover the untapped potential of Pakistan's strong, resilient, and often underestimated women. Join us as we uncover this extraordinary story of transformation, in which women are not only influencing Pakistan's agricultural destiny, but also inspiring a brighter future for the entire country.
In Pakistan, where conventional gender roles generally limit women to domestic tasks, the agriculture sector exhibits a dramatic and complex gender gap. According to figures, women make up around 43% of the agricultural labour and play an important role in various agricultural chores such as crop planting and harvesting.
A significant issue affecting women in agriculture is their limited access to resources. Land ownership, credit facilities, and even training opportunities are often skewed in favour of men as patriarchal practices are deeply woven into culture and tradition that is followed in Pakistan, there is also a lack of legal reforms alongside limited access to education. While Pakistan has made an effort to introduce gender equality in some areas there are still many stones left unturned and women are not seen as anything but a vulnerable threat to assets, especially in areas where agriculture is the primary source of livelihood. Rural family’s are often reluctant to transfer land to women as they fear the family’s financial stability; an emotion that is based on unfair cultural norms and the lack of awareness. According to reports, only 4% of Pakistani women own agricultural land, and just 1% have access to formal credit. This unequal distribution of resources hinders the potential for women to maximise their productivity and economic impact.
Women's participation in Pakistan's agriculture sector is undeniably substantial. To put this into perspective, agriculture is a cornerstone of Pakistan's economy, employing a vast portion of the population. In September 2021, approximately 42% of Pakistan's labor force was engaged in agriculture. Now, when we consider that women make up around 43% of this agricultural workforce, it becomes evident that their role in shaping the country's agricultural landscape is vital. That is almost 20% of our total workforce, nationwide.
Women's contributions in agriculture encompass a wide range of activities, from tilling the land to caring for livestock, which are fundamental to ensuring food security and economic stability. Despite these significant contributions, gender disparities and inequities in resource allocation continue to hinder women's full potential within this sector. Recognizing and addressing these issues is not only a matter of gender equality but also crucial for the growth and development of Pakistan's agriculture and national fabric as a whole.
The 4% of Pakistani women who own agricultural land usually have smaller plots of land, which may comprise small-scale farms or homesteads. These women mostly farm for subsistence, planting crops such as wheat, rice, and vegetables, and may also raise a modest number of cattle. However, because of different cultural and legal restrictions, they frequently face difficulty in increasing their landholdings and gaining access to the resources required for more extensive and productive agricultural endeavours.
Tabadlab findings reveal that only 1% of women have access to formal credit facilities, limiting their financial independence in agriculture. The limited access to credit facilities for Pakistani women in agriculture can be attributed to a combination of factors. Deeply ingrained gender biases and traditional practices often make it challenging for women to secure loans. Financial institutions may be hesitant to extend credit to women due to concerns about repayment, considering the prevailing societal norms that restrict women's roles in economic decision-making. Additionally, their limited land ownership and collateral may further hinder their ability to access formal credit, as these factors are often considered in loan approval processes.
Differences between men and women in education and training also exist. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM), female literacy rates in rural areas, where agriculture predominates; are significantly lower than male literacy rates. In rural settings, the need for female labour in farm activities often outweighs the perceived importance of education, perpetuating the cycle of lower literacy rates among women. This imbalance in access to education and training hinders women's ability to assert their rights and opportunities within the agricultural sector.
While women currently make up a significant portion of Pakistan's agricultural workforce, men continue to have a dominant position in this sector. However, men's responsibilities and experiences in farming varies greatly; while woman will be sweating it out working tirelessly in the fields, the men in their family often leisurely sit and socialise at dhabbas (tuck shop) and enjoy their session of hookah till sundown and await the money they seek from rent at the end of every month- a cycle seen endlessly and widely accepted as this patricahal and toxic tradition is the norm in this country and to speak against it is often seen as something women fear doing. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) reported that approximately 34% of women in rural areas have faced physical violence at the hands of their husbands but it is not limited to just physical abuse; financial abuse and emotional abuse are also present. The economic stress of running an agribusiness and lack of awareness leads to behaviour and unjust actions like this also being part of the norms accepted by a good majority of people in surrounding areas. Women are seen as doers and men have the role of providers; even if they are providing money only earned by the help of a woman, they carry the credit and get pats on their backs.
The leadership roles assumed by men in the cultivation of traditional cash crops like wheat, rice, and cotton often encompass key decision-making positions within the agricultural domain. They are commonly seen as owners of larger agricultural holdings, making crucial choices related to crop selection, resource allocation, and financial investments. Their leadership extends to managing the agricultural workforce and ensuring the overall success of the crop cycles. This division of leadership, which tends to favour men, can reflect both historical and cultural norms that have traditionally placed them in these influential positions. It's a dynamic that echoes deeply rooted gender roles in agriculture, emphasising the importance of addressing gender equality to harness the full potential of the agricultural sector.
Rwanda, a country with a history of gender inequality, undertook a transformative journey towards gender equality in agriculture following the tragic genocide of the 1990s, which led to a significant reduction in the male population. They took steps that included legal reforms granting women equal land ownership rights, the integration of gender-responsive budgeting, the promotion of women's agricultural cooperatives, and initiatives to enhance women's education and training in agriculture. Despite facing resistance and challenging traditional norms, Rwanda's determined efforts, supported by advocacy and international assistance, have resulted in remarkable progress. Today, Rwanda stands as an inspiring example with women accounting for about 50% of agricultural roles, showcasing the power of policy reforms and dedicated action in achieving gender equality in agriculture.
To bridge the gender gap in agriculture, it is imperative to implement initiatives that actively promote women's land rights and advocate for joint land titles. This strategic move not only grants women a voice in agricultural decision-making but also ensures they receive due financial rewards for their contributions. By enabling women to access and assert their rights to land, Pakistan can cultivate a more equitable and prosperous agricultural sector for all.
The pathway to credit access in agriculture often involves a series of interconnected steps. To empower women fully, it's vital to address these challenges comprehensively. Initiatives such as educational workshops and awareness campaigns, particularly in rural areas, play a pivotal role in equipping women with essential skills and knowledge. These programs can encompass topics like financial literacy, the importance of documentation like CNIC cards, and how to set up basic mobile banking options like Easypaisa or JazzCash. By providing women with the tools to access these services and understand their financial rights, we can pave the way for them to benefit from microfinance programs and training opportunities effectively, unlocking their full potential in the agriculture sector.
The contributions of women in agriculture must be recognized and valued. Their involvement in agricultural associations and policy discussions can ensure that their voices are heard and their interests are considered. Women's empowerment in agriculture has far-reaching effects that go beyond the sector itself. Women can have a huge impact on their households and communities as they attain independence and become active participants in the agricultural economy. Here are some examples of how farming promotes women's independence:
Economic autonomy is more than just a financial concept; it represents a transformative shift in a woman's life. It means having the power to make choices without being financially dependent on others. For women in agriculture, this might mean investing in their children's education, securing better healthcare, or diversifying their farming practices for increased income. It's about breaking free from traditional constraints and being the author of their own destinies, while also contributing to the overall well-being of their families and communities. In essence, economic autonomy is the key to unlocking opportunities, pursuing dreams, and fostering a brighter future.
Active involvement in agriculture elevates women's social status, while elders in these communities may hold steadfast to traditional values, where women's roles have long been confined to the domestic sphere. It challenges traditional gender roles, breaking down barriers and fostering a more equitable society.
Women engaged in agriculture acquire a diverse skill set that extends well beyond the fields. From agricultural expertise to financial management, problem-solving, and leadership skills, these competencies can be applied in numerous aspects of their lives. Whether it's enhancing crop yields, managing household finances, or participating in community leadership, these skills empower women to take on diverse roles and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. In the process, they gain not only the capacity to improve agricultural practices but also the confidence to embrace leadership roles, fostering their personal growth and enabling them to be catalysts for change in their communities.
Women actively engaged in agriculture play a pivotal role in enhancing family health and nutrition. With smaller family sizes, improved access to contraception, and a stronger focus on education, these women foster higher household well-being. Moreover, their increased income from agricultural endeavours enables investments in better-quality food and healthcare, ultimately leading to healthier families. Research and studies have demonstrated that active participation in agriculture by women correlates with greater family health and nutrition. Their diverse contributions extend beyond the fields, fostering a positive cycle of well-being, education, and economic stability that helps not just their families but also their larger communities.
Pakistan can draw inspiration from overseas models, such as Rwanda, but tailor its strategies to align with its unique cultural and societal context. Implementing localised awareness campaigns, engaging community leaders, and integrating traditional practices that respect cultural values can help foster acceptance of gender equality initiatives. Empowering women in agriculture is more than an economic imperative; it's a call to uphold social justice and equality. By levelling the playing field and recognizing women's indispensable contributions, Pakistan can unlock the untapped potential of its agricultural industry. In doing so, it paves the way for a brighter, more egalitarian future that benefits everyone, bridging the gender gap and ensuring a prosperous tomorrow for the entire nation. Change may take time, but the journey towards equity has already begun, and it's a path well worth treading.