HYDERABAD, Nov 1: Issues confronting women farmers mostly associated with cotton picking were discussed at a meeting organised by a foundation working for women peasants’ rights on Friday.

The participants in the meeting, held in the office of the Sindh Community Foundation, noted that Pakistan was the 4th largest cotton producing country in the world, but conditions faced by women cotton pickers were deplorable.

They said that women peasants were largely associated with cotton, rice, pulses and vegetable sectors.

They said that one third of women peasants were associated with rice and cotton cultivation in Sindh and southern Punjab.

The meeting participants observed that Pakistan’s important industrial export sector — textile and clothing industry — was dependent on women. They said that women cotton pickers worked under scorching heat in the fields of southern Punjab and Sindh to harvest raw material for the industrial sector.

They said that stakeholders — including cotton growers, industrialists, government and the public at large — were unaware of their plight.

The women became associated with cotton picking on a seasonal basis and received low wages as compared to their male counterparts, they added.

Most of the women were illiterate and belonged to vulnerable rural families lacking bargaining power, networking with other women and human rights organisation and faced exploitation and violation of their rights, they added.

The meeting participants said that another serious problem faced by women peasants was use of poisonous pesticides in the fields that caused different health problems to them.

Around 5,000 rural women were associated with cotton picking, they added.

Speaking on the occasion, a woman peasant, Lahrki, said that they faced unsafe environment during cotton picking process and did not get wages that were on a par with their male counterparts.

She said that women got Rs150 for picking 40 kilos of cotton while a maund of crop was sold at Rs2,400.Another peasant, Padmi, said that incidents of harassment of women peasants were reported in different areas. She said that women cotton pickers were not recognised as labourers under labour laws.

They asked the government to carry out legislation and register women cotton pickers and agriculture workers and provide them safe working environment, including provision of gloves by landlords, and fix their wages.

The meeting was attended by Punhal Saryo of the Sindh Hari Porhiyat Council, Zulifqar Halepoto of the Sindh Institute of Democracy and Development, Javed Soz of the Sindh Community Foundation and others while some women cotton pickers from Matiari also attended the meeting.