Gender in agricultural labour
By Haroon Mustafa Janjua
of minimum wage will be a real problem because the
inspectors in the directorate of labour will either be
reluctant to visit farms and fields or big landlords and
zamindars will be reluctant to cooperate with them.
Though agriculture is the
single-largest contributor to the gross national product
(GNP) and also the biggest sector for employment,
agricultural workers, specifically women, are badly
exploited and form an oppressed class of rural society.
Powerful zamindars (land
owners) often treat them worse than slaves and pay them
their wages that are not in cash but in kind.
They are unable to organise
themselves despite being a distinct class because of
absolute dependence on the landowners.
The absence of any land reforms whatsoever and transfer of
land to ownership of the actual tilling population only
exacerbates the problem.
Unequal access to decent work can be noted not only between
women and men but also by ethnicity, age and education.
Agricultural workers get employment for less than six months
in a year and are often constrained to migrate to other
avenues of employment like construction and similar
blue-collar occupations during the off-season.
Almost 79 percent rural women are engaged in agriculture but
have a share of only 20.8 percent of the total income earned
in Pakistan. In contrast, 60 percent rural men get the
remaining 79 percent.
Gender differences in
employment status appear to be more pronounced in South Asia
where only 13 percent of adult women are self-employed in
agriculture compared to 33 percent of men, and less than six
percent of rural women work in non-agricultural sectors
compared to 27 percent of men.
It is interesting to note that, in South Asia, women appear
somewhat equally distributed between wage work and
self-employment (13 percent and 12 percent, respectively)
within agriculture, whereas most men who work in agriculture
Women in South Asia are relatively more engaged in
agricultural wage employment than are women in any other
region, most likely the result of womenís weaker property
rights in land and other assets than in most other regions,
coupled with increasing landlessness.
South Asian women are also more likely to remain unpaid for
work in their own family business than in any other region.
The International Labour Organisationís (ILOís) data for
2007 indicates that 59 percent of the total female labour
force in South Asia works as contributing family workers,
compared with 36 percent in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,
35 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and only seven percent in
The corresponding shares for men are 18 percent in South
Asia, 18 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and four percent in
Female labour workers often
lack finances and circumstances force them to borrow money
from time to time from private sources.
Women agricultural workers
often suffer severe working conditions; they work for 12
hours a day and receive no weekly rest, they are hardly
provided any housing facility, their wages are invariably
delayed and, in some cases, defaulted.
The elimination of forced labour, the abolition of child
labour and the elimination of all forms of discrimination in
the workplace (including through ratification of a number of
ILO conventions, particularly relevant to rural workers such
as convention numbers 11, 111, 129, 138, 141, 182, 184 and
others), rural workers, especially women and children, face
both legal impediments and practical challenges in asserting
Therefore, it is imperative that the four provinces jointly
sit together and formulate an inter-provincial migrant
It is possible that the
directorate of labour may not cooperate for the enforcement
of this law, yet it must be ensured that not only such
legislation is promulgated but even the right of freedom of
association, as envisaged in article 17 of the constitution
of Pakistan, be put into effect for agricultural workers.
According to the report of the ILO Committee of Experts on
the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR),
the problem of the exclusion of agricultural workers from
relevant national laws and non-application of these in
practice has been raised in 30 countries.
Moreover, issues of violence, harassment, weak labour
inspection mechanisms and non-recognition of trade unions
concerning agricultural workers are quite common.
Enforcement of minimum wage will be a real problem because
the inspectors in the directorate of labour will either be
reluctant to visit farms and fields or big landlords and
zamindars will be reluctant to cooperate with them in
ensuring minimum wages.
Payments to agricultural workers only through cheques
deposited in bank accounts must be treated as legal payment
and not in kind. Agriculture can offer job opportunities to
a large number of unemployed workers.
With the passage of time, gradually the provisions of
various labour legislations should be extended to
agricultural labour so that, in some years, all the
provisions of labour legislation, including the freedom of
association and the right to form trade unions can also be
applicable in relation to agricultural workers in Pakistan.
The government should provide easy incentives to rural women
so that they can utilise the money for activities like
buying small land holdings and growing vegetables and other
minor crops on these lands for their income generation.
The department of agricultural extension should provide
trainings to these women so that they come to know their
rightful place in the agricultural sector where they can
contribute even after mechanization has been introduced.
To improve the role of women in agriculture, women should be
given more wages for their labor and be given full control
over it, as this will bring a positive effect of on both the
wealth and the work of the women concerned.
The regulation to implementation of legislation can also
contribute to making women workers visible and empower them
with equal rights in the agriculture sector. Increasing the
income and education level of women in the long run will not
only contribute to the quality of the labour force and
productivity but also to food security through a lower rate
of population growth.
There is the need for an integrated perspective on health as
most of the health problems that agricultural women face
relate to their general life situation, which aggravates the
problems they face as workers such as inadequate nutrition,
non-accessibility to healthcare, water, housing, sanitation,
maternity benefits and children amongst others.