Climate action: the vital role of rural women

Majority of rural women work in the agriculture and livestock sector, but unfortunately their efforts go unrecognised


Dr Riffat Sardar October 15, 2021
The writer is the Chairperson of the K-P Commission on the Status of Women

Every year on October 15, the world celebrates the International Day for Rural Women. This year the recognition is on the vital role that rural women play in climate action.

In K-P, the agriculture sector accounts for over 20% of the provincial GDP. About 80% of K-P’s population is dependent on it for survival. The majority of rural women work in the agriculture and livestock sector, but unfortunately their efforts go unrecognised. They are the true leaders of the province and contribute significantly to agriculture, food security, and nutrition while also taking up unpaid domestic care work. They are at the frontline when natural resources and agriculture are threatened. Despite obstacles and patriarchal stereotypes, rural women have proved that they have instinctive knowledge in backyard poultry, kitchen gardening, management of domestic livestock, and food preservation. Women also collect biomass fuels, plant trees, and pump water. About 80% of households without piped water rely on women and girls for water collection.

In 2015, the then Information Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani said that the K-P government wanted to develop a new agricultural policy that would “help ensure food security of the low-income group, overcome poverty and pave the way for increased role of women”. Seven years later, it seems that what was said then is still true. There is still a need to ensure food security, eradicate poverty, and pave the way for women to play a more productively role.

The K-P government has taken a commendable step by rolling out its first food security policy in June 2021. Its salient features range from enhancing income generation to promoting livestock in order to improve the standard of nutrition, among other things. The K-P Chief Minister has also inaugurated the Kissan Card initiative to provide direct relief to farmers. However, women as stakeholders and as beneficiaries should have been consulted and their participation ensured when such plans were made. There is no field data to determine the ratio of indigenous women farmers in K-P. As rural women are not aware of the Kissan Card, it is up to women rights machineries along with the agricultural department to raise awareness and encourage indigenous women to register as farmers and receive government benefits.

The K-P Agriculture Policy 2015-25 has a clear vision for gender mainstreaming, and recognises that “women, elderly and youth should be taken as the main targets for transferring new and appropriate technologies”. It also supports the “integration of women into farmers’ organizations by adopting appropriate cultural approaches”. There is a need to translate this vision into implementation at the ground level.

Agriculture universities have a significant percentage of female students who enroll each year and graduate with degrees. But the government has not fully utilised these graduates to reach communities and local women farmers. They must be given the task to inform local farmers about improved seeds, handling of finances and other technical issues.

The 10% quota for employment of women is not being reserved in the agriculture department. The K-P government has established 120 civil veterinary dispensaries in settled areas and 50 veterinary facilities in merged areas. While livestock is the main activity of rural women, the advertisement for posts of veterinary officials and extension workers does not encourage women to apply for these posts.

Recently, the government gave out farm inputs to farmers in South Waziristan and the Tank district; one wonders how many were received by women? The K-P farm services centres have been established, but trained women are not there to provide expert advice to women farmers. Last month, officials from the agricultural department held a meeting to review the current progress. Not a single woman was present. At least the female MPAs who are representative of women from the merged areas should have been invited to the meeting. Moreover, the Billion Trees Tsunami project was successfully launched, but neither in the overall narrative nor in the optics were women linked as users and beneficiaries of forests.

While our leaders are committed to gender equality with regard to climate change — in policy and in response — it must show at the grassroots level. If expert advice, modern machinery and marketing support are provided to rural women, they will transform the farming sector from subsistence farming to a modernised one. It is necessary that the government functions as a role model for gender equality by ensuring the participation of women in technical positions. This can be done by providing women with jobs in the agriculture and livestock sector; by inviting women leaders, MPAs, and eminent personalities to raise awareness; by ensuring the distribution of agricultural inputs have women as receivers; and by encouraging women to occupy leadership roles in the agriculture, livestock, forestry and environment sectors.

The matriarchs have not lagged behind when it comes to handling agricultural and forestry affairs. They should be in the committees set up by the agricultural department. It is about time we provide them a platform to voice their concerns.

A healthy society is an inclusive society, and inclusion comes with the acceptance that women have the potential to contribute. Rural women deserve the best from any and all government initiatives. They must be recognised as contributors to the rural economy and to national development. We must support rural women and build their capacity to respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security, and natural resources management.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2021.

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