Women comprise approximately half of the total population of Pakistan. The majority of women live in rural areas. They are mainly engaged in farming, fisheries, livestock and management, mostly as unpaid contributing family workers or on very low wages. Our rural women earn lower wages as seasonal hands than their male counterparts. Yet, they experience greater workloads that include reproductive work, fetching water and fuel, along with care work. It has been estimated that more than fifty percent of the world’s food production is done by women.
However, their work remains unnoticed. Pakistan’s agriculture is labour intensive with women making an essential contribution. Their roles are substantially different across regions and are changing rapidly. Our rural women are intelligent and involved in activities such as cultivation, processing as well as preserving locally adapted nutritious crop varieties.
They may be recognised as the innovation leaders for sustainable development in agriculture in Pakistan. Moreover, they are exceptionally hard working. A study points out that in Pakistan, climate change will decrease agricultural productivity by 8-10% by 2040 and wheat production will decrease massively. Another study predicts that the worst impact of climate change will be felt by wheat and rice (especially Basmati rice) both in the coming years. It anticipates that wheat yield will decrease by 6% and the Basmati rice yield will fall by 15-18% across Pakistan. Pakistan is extremely vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. The recent monsoon season affected 15% of the total population. Extreme heat waves were followed by the worst rains and floods in the country’s history. Agriculture is an essential sector for human survival and economic development. It provides food, fibre, and other vital products. Thus, in such crucial conditions, women can play a huge role if supported and encouraged to walk along men in bringing sustainability.
Rural women own less land and have inadequate access to agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilisers or labour-saving machines and equipment. Their property rights are often challenged and even when they own property, they may not control it. Provincial Governments should initiate job-oriented diplomas for rural females who do not continue in school after middle or matric. Skills training should align with the work of rural women in agriculture and livestock, as well as the needs of the non-agricultural rural economy.
The government must ensure that, as small producers, women have equal rights to access and control productive resources. Distribution of state land to women farmers would go a long way, provided the land is cultivable and the land grant is accompanied by a resource package. Empowering women in agriculture is critical for achieving sustainable development and food security in Pakistan. Good finance, rightly deserved land ownership, better education, and modern technology can improve their productivity, income, and decision making power.
Cotton is the country’s most widely cultivated crop and an important raw material for its growing textiles industry, representing 8.5% of GDP. However, as cotton farmers contend with the effects of extreme weather and pest outbreaks damaging the crops, the future of Pakistan’s cotton production will depend on men and women playing an equal role in fighting climate change and promoting sustainable farming practices.
Female cotton farmers can set a powerful example in their communities, inspiring more women to take on greater responsibilities in their family businesses and inspiring girls to pursue leadership opportunities in their communities. In rural Pakistan, this means overcoming entrenched attitudes towards the roles of men and women in the home and in the field. Gender equity is critical for achieving sustainable development goals and ensuring the well-being of women and their families. Above all, promoting gender equity in agriculture can lead to decarbonisation, poverty reduction, and human rights advancement. Also where education is another essential need in empowering women, most of them in rural areas do not have access to quality education due to cultural, social, and economic barriers.
With our economy in shatters and inflation so high, agriculture is our only source of hope. Encouraging women in agriculture will help prosper our economy. Moreover, women’s contribution to agriculture is critical for sustaining life on the planet in general. Also, the government needs to approach, involve policymakers, private sector, civil society, and women themselves. Women must be encouraged to take on greater responsibility in the fields, and even to become independent farmers.