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HYDERABAD: On this International Day of Rural Women, the Hari Welfare Association (HWA) is deeply concerned by the failure of federal and provincial governments to safeguard the rights of rural women in Pakistan. This day serves as a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done to ensure the rights and welfare of women in rural areas of Pakistan.

HWA raises a critical issue where government programmes, such as Ehsaas and Benazir Income Support Programme, are failing to enable rural women to become self-sustaining. These programmes provide financial aid but do little to empower women to build livelihoods of their own. HWA President Akram Ali Khaskheli expressed disappointment in the lack of implementation of the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) passed in 2019.

This act is a pivotal step towards recognizing the work of women in the agriculture sector, promoting their participation in decision-making, and fostering empowerment. Unfortunately, more than three years have passed, and no steps have been taken to enforce this law, which is vital for the rights of women involved in farming, livestock, fisheries, and related sectors. The Act acknowledges several important rights, including the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to unionize, the right to a written contract, and access to social security and welfare benefits. However, its implementation faces structural challenges within the agriculture industry and complex bureaucratic procedures.

Khaskheli said that the lack of access to education, particularly in rural areas, exacerbates the suffering of women. Rural women are often denied schooling due to the absence of educational facilities, female teachers, or societal norms controlled by feudal and tribal systems. This low literacy rate contributes to their vulnerability and impedes their access to economic and political opportunities. In rural Sindh, more than 70% of women are employed in agriculture, yet they and their families continue to endure poverty, malnutrition, and hunger. Gender-based discrimination, particularly in nutrition and food distribution, further compounds their plight.

HWA President Akram Ali Khaskheli also draws attention to the alarming statistics of violence against women, including honour killings, child marriages, and domestic violence. These atrocities persist in rural communities, affecting women and girls disproportionately. The statistics reveal a dark side of our society that urgently needs to be addressed.

Akram Ali Khaskheli highlights the prevalent issue of hazardous working conditions in the cotton production industry. Despite laws and regulations aimed at protecting women and children, especially girls, many are forced into hazardous work conditions, including cotton harvesting, pesticide application, and exposure to dangerous machinery and environmental risks.

HWA President calls on federal and provincial governments to prioritize the well-being of rural women. They must establish livelihood programmes in rural areas, support social systems for the protection of women and girls, provide land to women in rural areas, and ensure that social security programmes cover all rural women.

Moreover, HWA insists that the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act must be fully implemented. The government’s commitment to enforcing this law is crucial to recognizing and protecting the rights of women in the agriculture sector. On this International Day of Rural Women, HWA urges the government to take action, empower women through education, health, and financial stability, and ensure the effective implementation of laws and policies aimed at safeguarding women’s rights.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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