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HWA regrets that federal and provincial governments are not doing enough to protect rural women’s rights

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Speakers at a seminar on the occasion of the international day of rural women, said that the federal and provincial governments through bait-ul-mal funds making rural women beggars instead of organizing incapacitating them to earn their livelihoods. Through Ehsaas and Benazir Income Support Programme and other initiatives, the governments provide money without enabling them to use it to make livelihoods.
The seminar organized by Hari Welfare Association at Nawabshah, was attended by large number of peasants women, women rights activists, representatives of human rights groups and civil society organizations.
Those who spoke on the occasion including Qamar-ul-Nisa Dhamrah, member Sindh Commission on Status of Women, Akram Khaskheli President Hari Welfare Association, Zaib-ul-Nisa Deputy Director Women Development Department SBA, Yaseen Morejo, Lecturer Media studies Shaheed Benazir University, Saiqa, Naila and others
The speakers expressed sadness that the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) in December 2019. However, no action has been taken to put the Act into effect by 2020. Furthermore, the SWAWA may not have positive outcomes even if it is attempted to be implemented due to the law’s complexity and the government’s lack of commitment. The SWAWA was passed in 2019, but no action was made to effect in 2020 or 2021. The government has yet to appoint or notify the board to oversee the Act’s provisions.  According to the HWA, women agriculture workers have not been registered under this Act at the grassroots union council level, and no measures have been adopted in this regard. The Act is unquestionably a watershed moment for Sindh’s peasant and women agricultural labourers. However, the Sindh Tenancy Act (STA), the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (SBLSAA), and the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (SIRA) have all failed to achieve their goals since the government of Sindh has made little effort to enforce them.
They that the PPPP’s provincial government in Sindh is famous for introducing human, child, labor, workers, and women’s rights and protection laws. However, the implementation of laws had remained a severe problem in the same government. The GoS lacks the will, seriousness, and commitment to implement the SWAWA of 2019. More than two years have passed, but not a single step has been taken to enforce the law, an important 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, only if it is implemented.
According to the 2017 Census, Sindh’s overall population was 47.883 million, with 22.956 million (48%) women, primarily in rural areas where literacy rates are 45 percent compared to 80 percent in urban areas. Because of the low literacy rate in rural areas, most women and girls are not sent to school due to a lack of girls’ schools, female teachers, or the feudal and tribal systems that rule society. According to the Human Rights Watch, women in the districts of Tharparkar, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Dadu, Jacobabad, and Badin live in the worst conditions, with almost no access to health and education services and facilities. They said that agriculture employs more than 70% of Sindh’s rural women. Despite this, families and their children suffer from poverty, malnutrition, hunger, and a lack of vital health and education services. According to HWA, girls and women in rural regions continue to be subjected to mental torment imposed by males or by personal preferences. Girls are frequently denied enough nourishment and nutrition as a result of boys’ choices.
They said the SWAWA is significant because it acknowledges several rights of women agricultural workers, including the right to earn an equal salary as males doing the same labor, the right to unionize, the right to a signed contract, and the ability to receive social security and welfare benefits. However, due to structural hurdles in the agriculture industry and additional societal complications, its implementation will always be difficult. In the agricultural industry, women’s exploitation is anchored in an unwritten agreement. Unpaid employment on family farms is common among women and girls, blurring the border between farm work and household work. In general, women’s commitment to the industry is seen as an extension of their domestic chores and obligations. Women who do get paid earn significantly less than the minimum wage. They are not given a written contract or any social security coverage.
According to the HWA’s Economic Survey 2019-20, only 21% of women in rural Sindh are literate, compared to 55% of men in urban areas. Illiteracy has made life harder for women and girls in rural regions, and it is one of the main drivers of poverty and underdevelopment. Rural women in Sindh are the worst affected by the province’s economic, social, and political challenges due to the government’s neglect. Abject poverty, debt bondage, slavery, forced marriages, honor killings, child marriages, domestic violence, abuse, and hunger are common occurrences for women and girls in rural communities.
They are also denied access to healthcare and education, as well as economic and political opportunities. In rural Sindh, 769 persons were assassinated in the name of honor between 2014 and 2019, with women and girls accounting for 66% of the deaths. The group Sahil documented 786 occurrences of child weddings in Pakistan between 2014 and 2019. Sindh recorded 483 (63 percent) of the total child marriage cases, with females being the primary target. Between 2013 and 2020, the HWA recorded the release of 8725 bonded peasants from landowner captivity. Of these, 2923 (33.5 percent) were women. Women suffer the most in debt bondage as they are also targeted for sexual abuse and harassment by the landlords and their kamdars.

Speakers demanded that federal and provincial governments start livelihood programs in rural areas and support social systems to protect women and girls rather than depriving them of education and targeting them for honor-related issues. They also urged the government to give the state’s land to women permanently in rural areas.

They stated that the government of Sindh could only protect women and girls in rural areas from all forms of abuse and exploitation, as well as deprivation of food, health, and education rights if society’s empowerment programs are implemented through women’s education, health, and financial stability, as well as effective implementation of laws and policies for women protection. Social security programs should cover all rural women, and women should make themselves eligible for housing schemes. The Sindh Women Agriculture Workers’ Act, should be implemented by the government.

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