AGRICULTURE IS the mainstay of Pakistans economy. It accounts for 21 per cent of the GDP and together with agro-based products fetches 80 per cent of the countrys total export earnings. More than 48 per cent of the labour force is engaged in this sector. The Punjab province has about 57 per cent of the total cultivated and 69 per cent of the total cropped area of Pakistan. It contributes a major share in the agricultural economy of the country by providing about 83 per cent of cotton, 80 per cent of wheat, 97 per cent fine aromatic rice, 63 per cent of sugarcane and 51 per cent of maize to the national food production. Among fruits, mango accounts for 66 per cent, citrus more than 95 per cent, guava 82 per cent and dates 34 per cent of total national production of these fruits.
At the time of independence in 1947, Pakistans population was 32.5 million and in 2012 the figure jumped to 180.71 million. The Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2011-12, shows that 64 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and is directly or indirectly linked with agriculture. The Federal Labour Force Survey of Pakistan mentions in its 2010/11 report that the employment rate for women is 20.02 per cent. In rural and urban areas, womens participation is 26.27 and 12.03 per cent respectively. These figures refer to male – female employment percentage as 74.52 and 20.02, a huge difference despite all efforts for proportional representation of female population in all walks of life. When compared with other semi-industrialized Muslim countries like Turkey and Malaysia, one finds that the representation of women in economic activities in Pakistan is substantially lower. However, it is encouraging to note that women participation has made its way into the national economic scene but the womens involvement in non-agricultural sector is only 7 per cent.
According to Labour Survey of Pakistan (2010/11), more than 70 per cent of female labour force is engaged in agriculture and its allied fields. Majority of the rural women are uneducated, unskilled and tradition-bounded therefore their productive capacities are also low and counted as unskilled labor. Though rural women also help to produce the staple crops like rice, wheat, and maize, but her contribution is secondary in staple crop production, however, in legumes and vegetables, her role is instrumental.
Rural women have been intensively involved in agriculture and its allied fields. Traditionally, cotton picking is exclusively female activity and 89 per cent women are engaged in it. They are also extensively involved in other activities such as 31 per cent in hoeing and 23 per cent in weeding. Women are also expected to collect wood from fields. This wood is being used as a major fuel source for cooking. Because of the increasing population pressure, over grazing and desertification, women face difficulties in searching of fire wood. Clean drinking water is another major problem in rural Pakistan. Like collection of wood, fetching water from remote areas is also the duty of women. Because of premier role in farm activities, keeping of livestock and other associated activities like milking, milk processing and preparation of ghee are also carried out by the women. Livestock is the primary subsistent activity used to meet household food needs as well as supplement farm incomes.
Aside from agriculture sector, large numbers of women entrepreneurs are found in Pakistans traditional business sector, running small business such as boutiques, parlours, bakeries while some of them are also involved in manufacturing and consultancies services. The largest number of skilled women labor force is employed in garments and handicrafts sector. In general, urban women are better placed than those working in rural areas.
Even though rural women supply half of the Pakistans food production, yet her own food security is always at risk. Women farmers are frequently ignored in development strategies and policies. In most of the developing countries, including Pakistan, both men and women farmers do not have access to adequate resources, but womens are even more constrained because of cultural, traditional and sociological factors. Accurate information about mens and womens relative access to, and control over, resources is crucial in the development of food security strategies. Challenge of adequate food for all can only be met by making food insecure women population to food secure ones.
The writer is M.Phil Scholar, Government College University, Lahore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org