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WDF Welcomes New Rights Bill For Women Agricultural Workers But Retains Reservations

KARACHI: The Women Democratic Front (WDF) in a statement released earlier this week welcomed the recently passed “Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill 2019” by the Sindh Assembly. The joint statement issued by WDF Sindh and the federal leadership of that organization including activists and leaders Marvi Latifi, Maqsooda Rattar, Alia Bakhshal, Tooba Syed, Aabida Ali and Ismat Shahjahan appreciated the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for taking the lead on legislation for the rights of women who provide labour in the agriculture sector. However, they expressed deep concerns about overall relations of production in the agrarian sector that are an obstacle to achieving the larger objectives of this law.

WDF describes itself as a socialist-feminist political organization aiming to bring together struggles of women against all forms of patriarchy, capitalism, feudalism, national oppression, state repression, war, and religious extremism.

The WDF believes that the new legislation is an important legal development guaranteeing legal rights of women agriculture workers, mainly through recognition of women’s work in the agriculture sector, including farming, livestock, fisheries and related sectors.

The legislation promotes and protects their rights to ensure their participation in decision-making; for an 8-hour workday, proper contract and wage; 120 days of maternity leave and Iddat leave; harassment-free work environment; equal wage; the right to form unions or associations or to associate themselves with an association; and registration of workers at union council level. The bill, according to the WDF, ensures their official recognition by employers and the state, and protects their right to fair arbitration. The organization stated:

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“In our view, these are important measures to set in motion struggle of women agriculture workers. We strongly encourage the formation of appropriate state institutions to ensure thorough implementation of these provisions. We also call upon other provinces to take similar initiatives, as labour law is a provincial subject after the 18th constitutional amendment.”

WDF noted also that due to high male migration from villages to other cities within Pakistan and overseas in search of jobs, there has been an increased feminization of agricultural labour over the years, and that a majority of women take part in agricultural activities as unpaid family workers or heavily underpaid daily wage labourers, despite the fact that the work involves long hours and intense labour and forms a key part of the economy.

“We also note that women’s labour in agriculture has historically been not recognized as ‘work’ by formal and informal institutions. This results in marginalization of agricultural women in every aspect of their social and economic lives. Above all, feudalism inherently involves worst forms of labour exploitation and patriarchal oppression of hari/kissan women,” the activists said.

However, the organization retains its reservations about the effectiveness of such legislation in the larger social context of rural areas.

In the presence of feudalism and patriarchy, the WDF believes, women agricultural workers will not be able to fully overcome their exploitation and oppression, despite legal guarantees. Given the fact that hari families do not own productive assets (such as land, machines, inputs, and livestock) they become dependent on land-owners and work under worst forms of labour exploitation and indebtedness. Such marginalization hits women hardest.

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“Subsistence-owner families do not accept women’s right to ownership and inheritance, and yet women provide most labour. Big land owners (some of them) accept half share of women in inheritance as per Shariah law, but then do not allow women to marry outside the family to maintain the property within the family. They also keep wives under constant pressure to give birth to sons to maintain the male lineage of property. Even in cases where women own assets, they rarely have control over their use and income.”

The WDF statement concluded that effective redistribution of land via reforms and reforming the civil law of inheritance to ensure equal inheritance rights of women remain critical preconditions for the success of legislation such as the “Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill 2019”.

In addition, the WDF called upon the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to ensure that the Sindh government treats the issue of land reforms and working women’s rights with the same spirit of cooperation as that which it has shown towards the demands for restoration of student unions. This, according to the WDF, would be made easier since these issues are provincial subjects.

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