Peasant women are most vulnerable in Sindh

Karachi: 17 April 2021- Peasant women do not have access to information about their registration under the Sindh Agriculture Workers Act of 2019 and they do not know how to unionize and be able to access food and livelihoods resources, said Nuzhat Shireen, Chairperson Sindh Commission on the Status of Women (SCSW) in an online webinar on the occasion of international peasants’ rights day organized by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA). She also complained that the SCSW is weak and civil society organizations come forward to strengthen it. She also said that due to lack of literacy among rural women, women are neither able to read laws about their rights and also unable to maintain records of their financial transactions with landlords. She said the Government of Sindh should first distribute land among landless peasant women. She claimed that the previous project by the government of distributing land among landless peasants was not successful because the land was not given to women. Chairperson Shireen asserted that peasant women can get their basic rights if they form their unions under the Sindh Industrial Relations Act or the Sindh Agriculture Workers Act of 2019. She added that peasant and rural women do not have access to funds. 

Akram Ali Khaskheli, president of the HWA said that food sovereignty is the fundamental right of everyone including peasants. He said that it means that peasants have the right to define their own agricultural and fishing policies, management of land, water resources, seeds and biodiversity. He added that peasants are not the centre of any of the relevant policies in Sindh and Pakistan. He lamented that federal laws such as the Seed (Amendment) Act in 2015 and the Plant Breeders Act in 2016 poses threats to the traditional heritage and structure which are built on the foundations of free exchange of seeds and knowledge among peasant communities. Moreover, the Plant Breeders Act of 2016 further adds to problems created by the Seed Act of 2015.

Shabnam Baloch Provincial Lead for International Trade Center said that food sovereignty is serious issues in Sindh but there was no food sovereignty of peasants who grow and cultivate foods. She also added that for the protection of peasants laws are available but are not implemented. Shabnam also added food sovereignty could come through land ownership but around 80 percent of agriculture land was under the control of only 5 percent of families in Sindh. She also said that poor peasants do not know about agriculture input funds, and some do not know how to obtain these.

Picture 1: Webinar- International Day for Peasants Strugle

Picturee 2: Webinar- International Day for Peasants Struggle

Abid Niaz Khan, National Project Coordinator of the ILO’s EU funded Trade for Decent Work Project also spoke over the Zoom meeting. He highlighted that ILO’s C011 – Right of Association (Agriculture) Convention, 1921 (No. 11) was ratified by the British Government in 1923. The motivation to do so would probably have been drawn from article VI of the convention which required the member states to apply the ratification to their colonies at that time. Pakistan after becoming a member of ILO in 1947, inherited this ratification. The provisions of the convention have somewhat translated into constitutional guarantees and eventually into legal entitlements, most lately in the form of Sindh Industrial Relations Act of 2013. Mr. Niaz opined that haris and peasants have multiple legal protections-their human rights, tenancy rights, labour rights, economic and social rights are protected and they thus have multiple layers of protection which unfortunately are not translating into practicality.

He said that informality of work in agriculture sector is a big issue of Pakistani labour market. ILO’s tripartite constituents have prioritized ‘Promoting Decent Work in Rural Economy’ as one of the priorities in the Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP). He also opined that workers themselves can best protect their rights by forming their trade unions, engaging into social dialogue, forming trade union federations and undertaking collective bargaining towards Decent Work and Socially Just conditions of work. Agriculture employers and landlords also need to be engaged and sensitized for offering better employment and conditions of work as articulated in SIRA etc. He called upon the civil society organizations to advocate for incorporation of the provisions of C129 – Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129) in the SIRA.

Professor Ismail Kunbhar from Tando Jam Agriculture University said that Sindh’s peasants and workers produce abundant food including wheat, sugar, rice, but they do not receive it for their survival. Thus, he said, their food sovereignty does not exist. Professor claimed that the migrant workers especially women, from the Tharparkar region to other districts of Sindh where they pick chillies, cotton, mangoes, and watermelon but are not paid decent wages. He lamented that every type of courts are available but peasant courts are not available to provide justice to peasants. Professor also added that the landless peasant project of the government did not bring positive results for peasants because many of them do not have access to water and their lands are yet un-identifiable even allocated by the government.

Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director PILER said that, unfortunately, there is a sheer dearth of peasant’s rights struggle by peasants; although NGOs are working in their individual capacity but a collective voice and struggle did not exist. He lamented that due to such a gap, peasants’ real issues including slavery and debt bondage have become silent. He added that it is duty of the government to ensure that those who cultivate land for food and cotton, they should have enough to eat and wear.

Rafia Gulani, women rights activist Sindh said that women workers and peasants suffered the most during the natural calamities, and landlords are compensated for the loss but peasants are never compensated for the loss in floods and rains. Rafia said that women picking chillies and cotton do not have basic health services, and they suffered the most. She urged that all women in agriculture should be provided with social security and should be organized under the SIRA and the Sindh Agriculture Worker Women Act.

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