KARACHI: Condition of women workers and peasants in rural Sindh remains precarious despite existence on paper of various laws aimed at addressing their issues as there is a notable gap in the implementation of laws on women and gender inequality persists in Sindh’s agriculture sector, according to a report recently launched by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA).

The report titled Assessing the Conditions of Women Workers and Peasants in Rural Sindh, which was launched at a local hotel the other day, offers valuable insights into gender roles in agriculture, fisheries, and livestock and advocates a more inclusive and equitable agricultural sector in Sindh.

It highlights gap in the implementation of laws on women in rural occupations and said for instance, the Benazir Women Support Programme under the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) faced challenges due to its complex and unimplemented board structure. Additionally, the Women Development Department had not adequately addressed the needs of rural women, it says.

It notes that 98.7 per cent of women in rural Sindh lack land ownership and initiatives such as the Sindh Benazir Income Support Programme exist but concerns about women’s dependency instead of empowerment persist.

The report says rural women face a stark gender disparity in education, which hinders their empowerment and perpetuates a cycle of poverty, and lack adequate access to healthcare, resulting in high maternal mortality rates. Besides, social, cultural, religious, and economic barriers further compound their challenges, it says.

The report calls for comprehensive interventions to address the multifaceted challenges women workers and peasants face, and stresses the need for effective implementation of existing laws and initiatives aimed at empowering them.

Speaking at the launching ceremony, Anis Haroon, Member of National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan, said that there should be a political will to implement exiting women specific laws. The Sindh government had legislated many laws for women, which needed to be implemented, she said.

She said that vulnerability of peasant women had further increased due to losses in crops and livestock and collapsed homes in the wake of devastating floods in 2022. There was need to introduce sustainable programmes for women, which empowered peasant and worker women socially and economically, she said

Iqbal Ahmed Detho, chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, emphasised the importance of agricultural items and stressed Khairpur and Larkana’s potential for evolving into agro-industrial centres.

Akram Ali, president of HWA, said that the association noted that despite existing laws, gender inequality persisted in Sindh’s agriculture sector. For instance, the SWAWA 2019 recognised women’s contributions but challenges remained in its implementation. While the law mandated fair payment and formation of associations, most rural women did not receive minimum wages, and unionisation remained difficult, he said.

Similarly, the Sindh Water Management Ordinance, 2002, was amended in 2021 to enhance women’s involvement but bureaucratic indifference hampered its implementation.

He said that the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (SIRA), 2013, acknowledged the right to unionise for both genders, but significant unionisation, especially for women peasants, still lacked due to inconsistencies and ambiguity in SIRA. As of May 2024, no published plan for implementation of SIRA existed, and a lack of rules impeded its enforcement, he said.

He lamented absence of land reforms in Sindh, hegemony of a few feudal lord families over lands and the entire governance structure, and the fact that Sindh government had filed a plea in the Supreme Court to challenge a landmark ruling of the Sindh High Court that threw out regressive revisions to the Sindh Tenancy Act and addressed bonded labour practices in the province.

Pirbhu Lal Stayani, Member National Commission on The Rights of Child, said that child labour in agriculture sector was increasing and girls were deprived of education and other rights. The commission was going to criminalise child domestic labour through proposing prohibition of Child Domestic Labour Bill 2024, he said.

Kousar S. Khan, a researcher on women rights, demanded that every woman should have at least two acres of land for her survival. The government should provide social protection including minimum wage to women farm workers, she said.

Rida Tahir, legal adviser at SHRC, highlighted the fact that Sindh government had passed several laws aimed at empowering women but challenges persisted, particularly in providing adequate facilities to women.

Basran, a woman trade union leader from Shaheed Benazirabad, said that they lost their homes and belongings in floods. Peasant women were living in miserable conditions, millions of women in agriculture sector were exploited by their landlords and contractors and did not have any social protection, she said.

Riaz Ahmed Jakharani, deputy secretary law, Farkhanda Memon from Human Rights Department, Rejo Mal from Labour Department, Ishaq Soomro, Aijaz Ali Khoawja, Saeed Baloch and Abdul Razak Memon also spoke at the gathering.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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