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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Towards a new regional agenda: bringing visibility to rural women in South Asia

By Saba Aslam
Women picking cotton in the fields, Sindh province
Photo credit: Wasim Gazdar
Across the world, women form an integral part of the agricultural sector. In much of South Asia, women make up a majority of the agricultural workforce, but the extent of their contribution remains unacknowledged in policy and public debates. They often undertake difficult physical labour, working long hours and are paid lower wages compared to their male counterparts if they are paid at all. LANSA research identified women’s agriculture work in South Asia as a critical mediating factor between household poverty and undernutrition. The recognition of women’s agricultural work and women as agricultural workers, moreover, was identified as a key entry point for leveraging agriculture for the improvement of nutrition.

LANSA research in India and Pakistan has already made a significant contribution to national debates and policy thinking on women agricultural workers. The ANH Academy Week in Kathmandu in 2017 offered an opportunity for taking this dialogue to the regional level. The advantages were clear. Despite many differences across the region – even within large countries such as India and Pakistan – there are many common strands that cross national boundaries. LANSA had already shown the value of collaborative research across these boundaries. It was also obvious that other researchers working on these issues had adopted comparable approaches and came up with similar findings. The diverse experiences across countries of engagements with policy and political processes also promised to be huge sources of insight and inspiration.

In 2018 LANSA was able to form a partnership with an influential global and regional stakeholder – namely UNWomen – to co-host a regional roundtable Recognizing the Rights of Women Agricultural Workers in South Asia: Roundtable on Policy, Politics and Impact. This was held in Bangkok in October 2018 and brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, including policymakers, representatives from governments, universities and research institutions, international organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs) and grassroots activists. The roundtable provided an exciting opportunity for the sharing of research findings and policy engagement experiences, and brought forward a new regional agenda that brings visibility to rural women’s rights.

A statement of joint recommendations was adopted by consensus by the participants to bring transformative change in the lives of women agricultural workers. This joint statement encapsulates a set of action recommendations that focus on policy, legal and programmatic changes to recognize, protect and promote the rights of women agricultural workers. It mirrors the voice of rural women who are excluded from many policy dialogues and lays out a range of provisions that women should receive from governments.

Legal recognition of women agricultural workers needs to be seen as a starting point, leading to ensuring that rights to equal and living wages, and the provision of social protection in the form of pensions, housing, childcare, free and quality healthcare including sexual reproductive health, education and maternity entitlements are established and enforced. The need to mobilise women agricultural workers and provide them a platform for discussion and articulation of their needs and demands, emerged as a strong component of the joint statement, given the near-total absence of such platforms, be it unions, associations or other forms of organisation.

Women agricultural workers’ voices need to be amplified across different fora – local, national and international. Policymakers, governments of all tiers, international agencies, local and community based organisations, communities and women agricultural workers themselves have to become a part of this regional agenda for women’s rights and benefits to be realized. The regional roundtable was one step towards recognizing the contribution of women agricultural workers and it ended on a positive and optimistic note. There was plenty of energy and commitment for continuing engagement with the issue.

*This blog was originally written for LANSA with inputs from Haris Gazdar and Nitya Rao

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Deconstruction of #MeToo and the new-age feminist movement

By Sana Naqvi

Hashtag #MeToo
Source: Wikimedia Commons


The feminist movement has been an intrinsic part of progress in Pakistan’s narrative and has evolved over the years. The movement today has more tools at its disposal than the street-based activism of the previous generation of feminists; new platforms have emerged and transformed the way protest and dialogue on gender issues can take place. The #MeToo movement uses social media to amplify women’s voice by carving a space for them to share harrowing encounters of being sexually assaulted or incidents of other forms of sexual harassment. One of the criticisms leveled against the movement is that due process is not followed and has resulted in creating binaries between social media and legal recourse. It is important to look at both separately, but also together, and try to come up with a nuanced way forward.

Social media has transformed the activism landscape globally and has allowed women to speak about their injustices, reach out to others who might feel as immobile, and provide an avenue that has for the most part not been available to many. Facilitating women to find solace in comfortable spaces is perhaps social media’s greatest achievement.

Misunderstanding about the #MeToo movement has led to it being criticized as a ‘witch hunt’, leading to reservations against it. The movement is about a certain kind of accountability, which requires men to take responsibility for their actions and exercise caution about improper conduct. With women no longer remaining silent about their experiences, they are trying to transform the discourse by changing the norms around how men treat women and normalizing conversation on sexual harassment, which is scarce, if at all.

In situations where harassment is involved, it is difficult to conceptualize what ‘justice’ would look like, as a result it becomes increasingly complicated to have a universal set of rules. Critics are wary of using social media, and propagate the use of legal recourse. In a country like Pakistan, where legal systems have failed women multiple times, is this the best course of action?

The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, passed in 2010 requires each organization to have an inquiry committee set up to listen to complaints that employees might have, setting out ‘major’ and ‘minor’ penalties. Complaints can also be reported to the federal or provincial ombudsman specially appointed to handle harassment cases. To complicate this relatively well-drafted law which includes an all-encompassing definition of what harassment is, the Sindh ombudsmen is a male; however, few women would be comfortable speaking to a man about their experience. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not even have ombudsmen, so who do women reach out to when the legislative mechanism (the ombudsman) is absent? In this context if women resort to social media, is it still fair to demonize them for it?

In our work in the Action for Empowerment and Accountability Programme, we have studied politics as an arena in which there is widespread harassment. Legislators have their personal character and physical safety vulnerable to attack; female politicians are frequently verbally harassed during rallies, in talk shows and even on the floor of the parliament, which is routinely covered by national media. Examples include Shireen Mazari being called a tractor trolley, Amir Liaqat’s inappropriate comments about Sherry Rehman and a religious cleric assassinating Punjab Minister for Social Welfare Zille Huma in 2007 for not wearing ‘Muslim clothing’. The National Assembly still has no committee specifically for parliamentarians to hear complaints of harassment. As incidents have become public, some women politicians with voice and agency occasionally take issue and raise objections on the floor of the house.

Strong action across the board is required to make the political arena safe for all women because when we achieve this, women in important positions will be able to ensure that protective laws against women are tabled, passed and implemented. Our research has shown that protection for women politicians is largely missing, and this issue is not class specific nor is it party specific - it’s gender-specific.

Women who speak up are labelled as doing it for attention, fame, vengeance and money, but the movement’s real aim is to create support systems for victims and also help move forward from the trauma. One way to achieve this is the concept of ‘restorative justice’ which ‘emphasizes accountability and making amends, seeks to avoid sentencing, instead focusing on bringing victims and offenders together to understand the magnitude of the harm done, the ways in which healing can be achieved’. Constructive paths like this can only be achieved when there is open discussion about how to deal with harassment; dialogue not punishment can help curtail future behaviors.

The #MeToo movement raises important questions, a pertinent one being why frameworks to deal with sexual harassment are so weak. Even though we have a sexual harassment law passed almost a decade ago, it has taken the #MeToo movement in 2018 to push for more widespread sexual harassment committees at workplaces and a review of the Ombudsmen’s effectiveness. It is important for those who are skeptical of the #MeToo movement to recognize that it has alerted the public of the lack of implementation of the existing laws, forcing women to take to social media. This movement is crucial to give agency to women, and the way forward is if legal recourse and social media stop being seen as antithetical to one another.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The chickens and eggs dilemma: can poultry transfers reduce poverty?


By Kabeer Dawani and Ayesha Mysorewala



Photo credit: Pixabay.com



Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent announcement to give chickens to women in rural areas, as part of a poverty alleviation strategy, has received a lot of flak.

Khan identified two benefits of this asset transfer programme: nutritious food for eating and more chickens and eggs to sell.

Although the prime minister claimed the programme has been tested, we are not aware of publicly available results from any evaluation of such a pilot in Pakistan. Moreover, scale-ups of successful pilots often disappoint in their results.

There has been one major study in Pakistan on a graduation strategy for the ultra-poor to transition to a higher standard of living. Its results highlight two factors that are important to consider.

First, when given the choice of a productive asset, only 10 per cent of the sample opted for chickens, with the majority choosing goats. This implies that poultry is seen as a relatively low priority asset by the population.

Second, the intervention tested in this study had a gamut of additional components, including technical skills training, health and financial support and monitoring. All of these are absent from Khan's proposal and so any conclusions about the success of this study cannot be drawn for our context.

Writing for Dawn.com, Myrah Nerine Butt nicely pointed out the potential drawbacks for women from such a programme. In a similar spirit of thoughtful engagement and building on her article, we will argue using theory and evidence that the economic, gender and nutritional impacts of such a programme are limited at best and negative at worst.

The economics does not add up

It appears that the government has already initiated the programme, with rural women in Rawalpindi being the first to receive the chickens.

Each woman is being given one unit, which is made up of five chickens, with a total of 2.5 million units to be handed out across the Rawalpindi division at a cost of Rs 1,200 per unit. This has two implications.

First, if a similar proportion is applied to the rest of Pakistan, this has a budgetary implication of approximately Rs 78 billion for the nearly 65 million rural women across Pakistan.

This is no trivial amount, especially given the budget deficit. In fact, it is almost exactly the annual revenue collection from taxes on mobile prepaid cards alone that the Federal Board of Revenue stands to lose due to the previous government's tax reforms.

The second issue that is apparent from the distribution in Rawalpindi is that, all of a sudden, there will be a lot of households within close vicinity of each other in possession of the chickens.

This means that supply of chickens and eggs will increase significantly, making any commercial sales of surplus chickens and eggs difficult; basic economic theory suggests that prices will be driven down because of the drastically increased supply, making any profits minimal.

Rural areas are usually not well connected to markets in the first place and this lack of outlet will be a problem once localised markets become saturated. There may also be a negative spillover of this — existing suppliers of poultry could also see their profits slashed.

In addition, there are significant costs for households associated with handing them chickens. These include higher use of cooking fuel to cook desi chickens because they take longer to cook; land is needed for rearing poultry, which poor households do not necessarily possess; and finally, the opportunity cost of time for women, which is an issue we return to below.

These will of course remain hypotheses until tested, but nevertheless are based on observations from field work in rural areas.

All these issues identified above make it unlikely for an asset transfer programme comprising chickens to have any impact on income poverty.

Nutrition and health

At first glance, giving households greater access to protein-rich foods may appear to be good, especially with undernutrition being a major issue in Pakistan; the latest Demographic Health Survey shows that 41pc of rural children are stunted.

More chickens and eggs to consume, then, may be good, but it is important to point out a number of caveats to this.

Globally, there is a lack of consensus and consistent evidence on whether livestock and poultry transfers can decrease stunting. It is agreed, however, that the success of the interventions is conditional on certain factors such as where households keep the animals and how well connected they are to markets.

In some cases, there has in fact been a negative impact of livestock and poultry ownership on nutrition due to diarrhea and other diseases related to proximity to livestock.

Poultry fecal waste also leads to increased risks of environmental enteropathy, a serious condition which limits the absorption of nutrients among children.

On this, a recent World Bank report on Pakistan has argued that we need to focus on improving sanitation, especially in rural areas, to make progress on stunting.

There may be a strong argument for giving chickens and other small livestock to women, given that women’s control of assets and resources in the household is associated with better nutrition. Research from the LANSA project shows that care of small livestock and poultry is usually the domain of the woman. We also found that income from the sale of products and animals themselves is rarely controlled by the woman.

Given this, if transfers of more animals do not improve women’s access to resources and say over how their products are used, it may well increase their time burdens. This reduces time spent on rest and care of children, which is detrimental to their own health and that of their children.

Evidence from a previous study on a livestock and poultry intervention did, in fact, show no significant improvements in women’s say in household decisions in Pakistan.

In sum, there is no guarantee that giving chickens to households will improve health and nutritional outcomes.

In fact, there exists a possibility that without checks on sanitation and women’s time poverty, providing chickens may make things worse.

What about poverty alleviation?

Any poverty alleviation strategy must aspire to sustainable and broad based development.

Redistribution programmes, which transfer cash (such as the Benazir Income Support Programme) and assets (such as chickens), can serve the important purpose of protecting the poor from shocks and mitigating their risks.

These are valuable goals in and of themselves; however, what they do not do is provide a basis for structural reform to alleviate poverty significantly.

If the prime minister is serious about alleviating poverty, he must focus on halting and even reversing Pakistan’s premature de-industrialisation.

It is the manufacturing sector which has the capability of providing high-productivity and high-wage jobs, and which has globally led to poverty alleviation and inter-generational social mobility.

In the midst of a narrowing manufacturing base, however, hopes for broad-based development remain bleak.
*This blog was originally published in Dawn.com's blogs section.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Women’s Mobility and Labor Force Participation in Karachi: Some Preliminary Observations

By Natasha Ansari


Women working in a garment factory in Korangi's industrial area
Photo credit: Waseem Gazdar


Pakistan has the lowest female labor-force participation rates in South Asia[1] and urban areas perform especially poorly[2]. Distinct patriarchal norms interlinked with migrant status can affect women’s autonomy and thus labor-force participation in different ways. Recently the Collective for Social Science Research conducted fieldwork for the IGC supported project ‘Women's Mobility, Agency and Labour-Force Participation in the Mega-city of Karachi’ at three ethnically purposive sites. Many female respondents mentioned instances, relative to patriarchal norms and structures of their communities, which informed their ability to work in the city. In this blog, we attempt to present a current snapshot of some of the diversity of women’s experiences with regards to labor force participation in relation to their community norms and migrant status in Karachi.

Lyari

Lyari is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods in Karachi, and pre-dominantly consists of Baloch and Katchi populations that have long assimilated here. Most young Baloch and Katchi women we interviewed preferred to work and complete their education.[3] Two-thirds of younger women have at least completed Intermediate exams and nearly all aspired to hold undergraduate degrees if they didn’t already. In terms of mobility, our female Balochi respondents within Lyari did not report restrictions on mobility from patriarchal figures in the household or street harassment by strangers to the same degree as in other sites where this study was conducted. One respondent who works as a teacher noted that her community respected her a lot for her job, and that when she is walking to work, men actively move out of her way. The extent of mobility and the relative lack of restrictions described by some of the Balochi women around issues of respectability and safety, strictly in a comparative sense with other localities in Karachi, have been surprising for us to learn and are indicative of norms improving overtime, in conjunction with length of the migration period.

In terms of hindrance to employment, an issue most women noted was labor-market discrimination pertaining to ethnicity rather than gender. Nearly all of our respondents complained about rampant racism in the rest of the city against Lyari residents and its adverse effects on their employability. Being Baloch in addition to being a Lyari resident compounded the problem more so.

Baldia

Baldia was selected as a site because it consists of predominantly Pashtun migrants. For women, earning was considered disgraceful and dishonorable because it implied that the household was running on the woman’s income instead of the man’s and the sense of emasculation is a major cause of disrepute for the men in the community. Despite income issues, prospects of poverty still do not seem to mobilize women or let men from their household to relent and let them work or earn. The only instances women resorted to working were in the face of extreme destitution as a result of the absence of a male patriarchal figure and bread-winner in the household, at the expense of disrepute in the community. Older women also hardly held jobs – not even cleaning jobs in households, unlike the other two sites we investigated. Similarly, in terms of education households frequently stopped their daughter’s education after primary school or once they reached puberty, and cited ‘azaad mahol’ (permissive environment), which points towards future potential constraints to labor-force participation.

Korangi

Korangi was chosen due to the ethnically heterogeneous nature of the community and the prevalence of Urdu-speaking and Sindhi populations in the area.

In terms of employment, similar to Lyari, the long assimilated Urdu-speaking and Sindhi women did low-paying private school teaching jobs. If they had income issues they took up better paying, but far more demanding, company or factory jobs. Working in the nearby garment factories was commonly reported by some of the respondents. Older uneducated women usually took up work as cleaners in other households but this was not considered respectful work by them. In contrast, newer Sindhi migrant women were not allowed to work at all, especially if they were young, due to anxieties pertaining to the strangeness of the new and unfamiliar city.

Conclusion

There is indication that patriarchal arrangements relative to migrant status and cultural notions of respectability, determine the extent of women’s participation in the labor market. The relegation of women’s labor force participation only to certain acceptable occupations or by keeping women at home entirely, unquestioningly indicate that gender norms play a role in shaping women’s labor force participation in Pakistan. In an urban context, mobility is complicated by distinct norms pertaining to patriarchy within their communities, geographic and spatial anxieties due to migrant status, and histories of conflict within the city. Our preliminary findings suggest a differentiated employment strategy concerning women’s labor-force participation, underpinned by social-policy that is context-specific to communities within Karachi is needed.


[1] 57 percent in Bangladesh (ILO 2014), 29 percent in India (ILO 2014), and 22 percent in Pakistan (PLFPS 2015)

[2] 10 percent for urban areas in Pakistan in 2015 (PLFPS 2015) , as compared to 15.5 percent for urban areas in India in 2011 (ILO 2014) and 14.7 percent for Bangladesh in 2016 (QLFS 2017)

[3] The jobs many women hold are low-paying teaching jobs at local private schools because they are a walking distance from their homes, which indicates that many young women do struggle with family restrictions on their mobility

References

Chaudhary, R., & Verick, S. (2014). Female labor force participation in India and beyond ILO Asia-Pacific Working Paper Series: International Labour Organization.

Labor Force Survey 2014-15. (2015): Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Quarterly Labor Force Survey 2015-16. (2017): Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.


*This blog was originally published in "Pakistan's Growth Story

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Making the most out of democracy

By Ali Ahmad

Photo credit: flickr.com
2018 has been a significant year for Pakistan’s democratic transition. In July, general elections took place, and the country made a historic decision by electing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan for the first time. The PTI’s election campaign revolved around slogans of ‘accountability for all’ and removal of corruption with many arguing that we must celebrate the success of democracy and the rise of a new government.

What are the underlying factors that help voters choose public representatives and form perceptions about politicians? What role does the media play in ensuring the functioning of democracy? How can we, as voters, become more critical evaluators of our representatives?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Women agricultural workers and their rights

By Saba Aslam

Consultative discussion on Rights and Well-being of Women Agricultural Workers in Pakistan
Photo credit: Waseem Gazdar

The National Commission on the Status of Women and Collective for Social Science Research hosted a consultation on the rights and wellbeing of women agricultural workers and their children in Pakistan. It was held on 29th August 2018 at the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi. The consultation acted as a platform to bring together activists, lawyers, researchers, parliamentarians, women agricultural workers, members from the National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women, and policy makers who discussed the issues faced by women agricultural workers in Pakistan, and debated potential ways of moving forward in recognizing and protecting rights of women agricultural workers at local, provincial and national levels.

Dr. Yasmin Zaidi, Director of Center of Gender and Policy studies (CGaPs) presented key findings of UN Women’s recent report on status of rural women in Pakistan. Citing secondary data, Dr. Zaidi provided insights on women’s extensive contribution in the agriculture sector. She said that 53 percent of women involved in agriculture do unpaid work out of which 60 percent belong to the rural areas. Their work is often considered informal, and hence they are not counted as workers. This makes them virtually absent across public policy design and discourse. They are denied basic rights such as public health services, and social security. She suggested that policies and programmes must focus on improving women’s economic empowerment, their participation in politics and their right to access justice against violence.

Mr. Haris Gazdar, Director of Collective for Social Science Research presented findings from a LANSA study on “Women’s Work and Nutrition” stressing the link between women’s work, their health and the health of their children. He discussed associations between women’s work and other exogenous factors such as household food insecurity, mother’s education and household wealth status that could be potential drivers of women’s work in agriculture. His presentation revealed that the nutritional status of women agricultural workers and health of their children was negatively linked to their status of work. For example, women who undertook strenuous work during pregnancy and after giving birth had poor nutritional outcomes.  

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Which is worse: corruption or misogyny?

By Ayesha Khan

Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman in Abbotabad
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Naya Pakistan’ we find ourselves in will be filled with unknowns and new opportunities. One of them will be the chance for women voters to decide which is more inimical to their interests: corruption or misogyny?

Pakistan will have a Prime Minister with a strong view on the question. He is personally not corrupt, in the sense that no accusations have ever been wielded against him for illegally making or giving payments or ill-gotten gains. He has made incorruptibility the backbone of his credibility as a politician, and the masthead of his party.  (However, his selection of ‘electables’ in the allocation of tickets, including many old-guard figures whose reputations are more questionable, led to protests from PTI workers before the elections.)

Misogyny, on the other hand, is a badge he wears with pride. As a recovered playboy, he is at great pains to distance himself not only from his past but any whiff that may remain from his considerable time spent in the west. Comfortable, at last, with a pious and curiously shrouded wife, he said in an interview before the elections, “I totally disagree with the western concept and the role of the feminist movement, which has completely degraded the role of mother.” He then waxed on about having been brought up by his mother, etc.