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NGO grieved over Sindh’s lack of will to implement the women agriculture workers Act

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Hyderabad: On international women rights day, in a press conference at Hyderabad press club, Hari Welfare Association (HWA) showed serious concern over the lack of the Government of Sindh’s will, seriousness and commitment to implement the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) of 2019.

HWA said that more than a year has passed but not a single step has been taken to implement the law, which not only recognizes women’s work in the agriculture sector, including farming, livestock and fisheries, and related sectors but also promotes and protects their right to participation in decision-making and fosters empowerment.

While addressing to the press conference speakers including Saiqa Bakhsha of Hari Welfare Association, Akram Khaskheli President Hari Welfare Association, Social Activist Pirbhu Stayani, Human Rights Activits Komal Hingoro said that the law guarantees various long-denied rights to women agriculture workers but getting benefits through the law is an extremely difficult task- if and when implemented. The Act provides for the registration of women agriculture workers in the register of women agriculture workers to be kept at the Union Council level. A woman registered in the register has to be issued a Benazir Women Agriculture Worker’s Card (BWAWC or Benazir Card) and only women having the Benazir Card shall be able to make associations or groups, which, according to the HWA is an illogical approach towards women peasant workers.

They said that the Act also provides that a union or group of women agriculture worker should be constituted by at least five Benazir Card holders, and they could apply for the registration of a “Women Agriculture Workers Union”. It provides that the registered female workers or groups could apply for “Government asset transfers, subsidies, credit and services, as well as for arbitration and enforcement of contracts and may mobilize for support within communities for the equitable distribution of the care burden of families” (Section 13 (6)). However, the Labour and Human Resources Department is responsible to maintain the register at the union council level. The registration process has not started yet though one whole year had lapsed.

They said that it is unfortunate that the law was drafted without adequate consultations with the civil society that is why it had an extremely complex system of governance – which would always be a barrier even the government tried to implement it. The GoS makes the Benazir Women Support Programme a permenant part of the Labour and Human Resources Department. It says that the GoS shall run the programme through a Board, headed by Chairperson (Minister for Labour and Human Resources or Advisor for Labour Human Resources or any other Minister or person to be nominated by the Chief Minister). Unfortunate, the board is a complex structure, appears to be unmanageable or unimaginable to be regulated.

They said that in addition to the chairperson, the Act provides the following list of 18 members of the board: Ex-Officio Members (Secretary Labour and Human Resources; Secretary Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries; Secretary Women Development; Secretary Local Government Secretary Finance; Secretary Planning and Development and all Divisional Commissioners (Five Divisions)), members (two representatives of the farmer’s/abadgar organizations, members (two women MPAs nominated by the speaker), and members (two elected representative of groups of women agricultural workers from each division of the province). HWA feared that in this board, the true and genuine representation of peasant women would remain a serious concern. HWA also added that the government has neither constituted the board for the implementation of the affairs nor framed and notified the rules of business.

The law says that the BWAWC programme shall have the mandate to register women agricultural workers and for this purpose, it will have a field presence in all 29 districts of the province. HWA is displeased to mention that a year had to lapse without constituting the board, appointing the secretary, set upping field offices to register women agriculture workers.

The Act brings in another complex – or close to un-implementable – mechanism of tripartite arbitration councils. It says that Labour and Human Resource Department shall establish “tripartite arbitration councils at provincial, district, taluka and union council level with representatives of women agricultural workers, employers, labour and female councillors, and Labour and Human Resources Department”. It provides the details about the functions of the tripartite arbitration councils; however, it does not provide details about each council’s functions separately. Perhaps, these have to be described in the Rules of Business. However, the Rules of Business are not easily produced; as we noticed in the case of the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 2015 and the SIRA of 2013. To date, the Rules of Business for these laws have not been notified yet. HWA also added that instead of providing mechanism f tripartite arbitration councils, the matter should be have been directly linked to the labour and civil courts. Because for the last six years, the GoS and the Labour Department have not constituted the DVCs under the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act; how these would set up and implement tripartite councils at the union council level.

They said that HWA noted that according to the 2017 Census, Sindh’s total population was 47.883 million, of which 22.956 million (48 per cent) were females, mainly in rural parts of Sindh, where the literacy rate is 45 per cent as compared to 80 per cent in urban areas. HWA said that the low literacy rate in rural areas means most women and girls are not being sent to the schools because of the absence of girls’ schools, female teachers, or feudal and tribal system, which control the society. HWA stated that in Tharparkar, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Dadu, Jacobabad, and Badin districts, women live in the worst conditions, almost without access to health and education services and facilities. HWA grieved that more than 70 per cent of the rural women in Sindh who work in the agriculture sector are victims of poverty, malnutrition, hunger, and lack of access to essential health and education services. HWA said that girls and women in rural areas are still subject to mental tortures inflicted through males or by preferences.

For HWA, the SWAWA is an important development because it recognizes around many rights of millions of women agriculture workers that include the right to earn the same as men doing the same work, to unionize, to have a written contract, and to receive social security and welfare benefits. However, its implementation will always be a challenge because of the structural barriers in-built in the agriculture economy as well as complexities constructed within it. HWA urges the government of Sindh and the labour department for notifying the board, setting up field offices across the province, registering women agriculture workers and notifying rules under the law. It also urged the government to provide a genuine representation of women agriculture workers in the board and tripartite councils through wider publicity and promotion of the law.

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