On a recent visit to a village of Sindh’s Thatta district, several rural women along with minors were picking green chillies from a field early in the morning to wind-up work before the temperature rises in the afternoon.

Scores of these women agricultural workers would soon be trying to cultivate the land for cotton after the present harvest as their economy is based on agricultural produce.

“Rates of green chillies have plummeted recently which means our margin of profit will shrink considerably,” worried Haleema, who was busy in the fields with her children and other women.

Haleema and her friends toil the land from dawn to dusk. She manages a small piece of her half-an-acre land located behind her village. Also, after working in the field she is supposed to take care of domestic chores, ranging from cooking and cleaning to livestock management and children’s care.

Her economic cycle has, though, recently been somewhat affected since tomato prices decreased after showing an upward trend. This lead to income woes. And now the green chillies for which she uses hybrid imported seeds are facing a similar situation price-wise. “It was Rs5,000 per 40kg in the market but has dropped to Rs800,” she shared.

Haleema is part of the farming community of Sindh. Besides owning her small land she also works as a farm worker at her neighbour’s land if needs to make an extra buck.

Women constitute 49% of Pakistan’s population but only 24% of Pakistan’s labour force as per the Global Gender Gap 2018 Report. In the recently held provisional census, women (22.956m) are half of Sindh’s total population of 47.883 million which is 48% and they mostly live in Sindh with a dismal literacy rate when compared with the urban literacy rate.

Many farm workers like Haleema, however, await protection of rights as workers. The Sindh Assembly has, lately, passed an amendment in the Sindh Water Management Ordinance (SWMO) 2002 to ensure participation of women in all tiers of the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA).

The bill for amendment was tabled by Rana Ansar, a reserved member Sindh Assembly from Hyderabad. This amendment ensures that rural women would now be part of SIDA which aims to promote participatory irrigation system in Sindh. Another women agricultural workers-specific legislation has been finalised but its implementation is eluding.

For protecting women agricultural workers’ rights, the provincial assembly achieved another milestone when it passed the Sindh Women Agricultural Workers’ Act 2019. Its implementation, however, remains a problem. The rules which are essential part of any enactment have not yet been framed.

The new piece of legislation covers all important issues pertaining to women agricultural workers like payment; working hours; child nutrition; access to health services and government institutions of agriculture; maternity leave; workers registration; free from harassment and abuse; association of women agricultural workers; Benazir Women Support Programme; and tripartite arbitration councils, etc.

As far as payment is concerned, under this law the payment should not be less than minimum wages fixed by government — Rs17,500 for unskilled labour.

A Benazir Women Support Programme is to be governed under this law by a board comprising 18-members from different departments including female provincial assembly members, civil society members and farmer organisations’ representatives. But this board has not been formed yet.

According to Hari Welfare Association President Akram Khaskheli — who sought attention of the Sindh government towards implementation of the law — argued that the law was enacted without the consultation of civil society and since its rules were not yet framed its implementation would remain a huge task.

He added that the act provides that a union or group of women agriculture workers should be constituted by at least five ‘Benazir Card’ holders, who could apply for registration of a “Women Agriculture Workers Union”. He said further that registered women agricultural workers would get “Benazir Women Agricultural Card”.

Sharing other concerns, he listed the lack of explanation of the ‘tripartite councils’ in the law, as well as representation of genuine women peasants in the ‘board’.

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