International Day for Rural Women 2021

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Dr. Riffat Sardar

Every year on 15th October 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 KP, the agriculture sector accounts for over 20 per cent of provincial gross domestic product and about 80 per cent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s population is dependent on it for survival. In KP majority of rural women work in the agriculture and livestock sector, albiet unrecognized. Rural women and girls are leaders in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land, managing natural resources and unpaid and domestic care work. They are at the frontline when natural resources and agriculture are threatened. Despite obstacles and patriarchal stereotypes, rural women have proved their instinctive knowledge in backyard poultry, kitchen gardening, management of domestic livestock, food preparation/preservation/storage and consumption. Women also collect biomass fuels, plant trees, and pump water; eighty percent of households without piped water rely on women and girls for water collection.
In 2015, the then Information Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani said that KP Govt wanted to bring 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 need for food security, eradication of poverty, and need for paving the way for women to play their role more productively.
The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has taken a good step and rolled out its first Food Security Policy in June 2021. Its salient features range from enhance income generation to, promote livestock to improve standard of nutrition etc.
The Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mahmood Khan has also inaugurated the Kissan Card initiative to provide direct relief to farmers. 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 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As rural women are not aware about the Kissan Card, the women rights machineries and Agricultural Dept should raise their awareness and encourage them to register as farmers to receive the Government benefits.
The KP Agriculture Policy 2015-25 has a clear vision for gender mainstreaming and recognizes that “support services are still geared towards reaching male farmers. This needs to change and women, elderly and youth should be taken as the main targets for transferring new and appropriate technologies… and integration of women into farmers’ organizations by adopting appropriate cultural approaches”. There is need to translate this vision into implementation at the field level.
The Agriculture Universities have significant women students enrolled each year who graduate with degrees, however the government has not fully availed these graduates to reach communities and local women farmers and inform them about improved seeds, handling of finances and other technical issues. The 10% women quota in the Department of Agriculture has been neglected. The KP Govt 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 Govt of KP gave out inputs to farmers in South Waziristan and Tank; one wonders how many were received by women? The KP farm services centres have been established, but women are not there to provide expert advice to women farmers? Last month the Merged areas officials from Agricultural department held a meeting to review progress. Not one women was present. At least the female MPAs who are representative of women from the merged areas should have been invited to the meeting. The billion trees tsunami project of the Govt has been successfully launched, but neither in the narrative nor in the optics, women are linked as users and beneficiaries of forests.
Our leaders have committed to gender equality in climate change policy and response. If expert advice, machinery and marketing support are provided to rural women, they will change farming from subsistence farming to commercial and 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 by providing them jobs in the agriculture and livestock sector, by inviting women leaders, MPAs, Eminent Personalities, and women who have made their mark in any field, to their meetings for review of progress, ensuring that the distribution of agricultural inputs have women as receivers, and 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 agro and forestry affairs. They should be in the Committees set up by the Agricultural Department comprising of farmers. It is about time we provide them the platform to speak their concerns and best practices with their fellow women and men. A healthy society is an inclusive society, and inclusion comes with the acceptance that women have lived the experiences, and have the potential to contribute . Rural women deserve the best from any and all government initiatives. They must be recognized as contributors to rural economy and development. We must support rural women and girls and grow their capacities to respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security, and natural resources management.
(Riffat Sardar, Ph.D, is Chairperson of the KP Commission on the Status of Women)