In Pakistan, hunger has a woman’s face, said noted human rights activist Tahira Abdullah at a talk while explaining how women face poverty differently than men.
She argued that women may be more impoverished due to societal biases and incomprehensive governmental definitions of what constitutes “productive work”. Societal biases include giving last portions to sons since they need the energy for school work and, ultimately, breadwinning.
Abdullah criticised the government for ignoring women’s contributions to the Gross Domestic Product, saying that cotton, Pakistan’s largest cash crop, is picked entirely by women but the government records make no such mention.
“Women face a triple burden,” Abdullah argued. The first is the domestic work they do free of charge, which if quantified comes out in billions of dollars. The second involves the numerous years lost in childbearing and rearing which leads to a loss in income. Lastly, productive work such as picking crops goes unaccounted for.
Using extensive research statistics to validate her point, Abdullah stated that women are disproportionately impacted by the WTO, globalisation, liberalisation and deregulation. She enumerated the causes as being the “the lack of fledgling social protection mechanisms and removal of agriculture subsidies”.
Women have traditionally been seen as the “seed keepers”. However, with multinational corporations and their monopoly on seeds, women are no longer able to transfer the extensive knowledge reserves on agriculture to subsequent generations, Abdullah said.
The result is a foregone conclusion: a reduction in food security and kitchen gardens. These acts are seen by Abdullah as “criminal neglect by the agriculture industry”, especially with the knowledge that it is the backbone of the nation’s economy.
Abdullah also questioned the Benazir Income Support Programme’s “Poverty Reduction and Alleviation Programme” that gives Rs1,000 per month to eligible candidates. “It fosters dependence, poverty, beggary and mostly serves as a vehicle to secure votes for the next elections.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2012.