In the wake of disaster, it was found that women being the most marginalized community in Pakistan face serious issues of food insecurity. Willful negligence and violation of the rights of the poor women on the part of the overall society and the government in particular, has severe impact on the poorest of poor women. It is believed that women comprise more than 60% of farm labour workforce but there is no legal protection and recognition of their status. They neither have access nor control over the land they work in. Similarly they are not entitled to standardized wages and their labor is exploited heinously. It does not stop here rather they have no control over the meager amount earned by them and again these are the men who take decisions on behalf of women.
Due to deep rooted patriarchy and cultural norms, most of the property, including land and other productive resources are owned and controlled by men. This leads to economic, political and social suppression of women, which increases their dependence on men, thereby lessening their control over their own lives. Keeping in view the structural inequalities and discriminatory practices against women, and a denial of their fundamental right to (own and control) productive resources, ActionAid Pakistan has launched a campaign to help thousands of landless women farmers, peasants and rural women to demand their right to own and control land.
In continuation with the demand raised while marking 1st anniversary of floods 2010, ActionAid Pakistan organized two People’s Assemblies (at provincial level) and a policy dialogue on ‘Rebuilding Lives- Post Floods 2010 & 2011’ in 2012 to mark 2nd anniversary of floods. Among various other demands raised on these forums, the demand for women’s right to land grabbed more attention and response from different sectors of the society particularly the government institutions, parliamentarians, larger civil society and the media. Women farmers from different flood affected parts of the country participated in these events and spoke of their grievances and sufferings in the absence of women friendly laws.
While applauding initiatives taken by Sindh government to allot land to landless women farmers, the women demanded of expanding the scope of work by including more women in the beneficiaries’ list (in Sindh) and by replicating the Sindh government’s initiative in other provinces. A woman landless farmer and one of the flood affectees from Kashmore, Sarwat Mai said, “The 2010 floods washed away all my belongings and my house flattened completely. I work as a farmer and I bear all the crop expenses but in return when the crop gets ready, I receive merely one fourth of the product. This time I purchased seeds from local money-lender on high interest rate. I am unable to educate my children. I ask the government to distribute land among poor women like me so that we lead respectable lives and send our kids to schools.”
ActionAid Pakistan has always prioritized women issues for development and advocacy initiatives. In line with our human rights approach, women’s right to land demand was very well taken since the days the floods hit Pakistan in 2010. We prioritized women for livelihood and shelter support. Women were provided goats, hens, seed and other agricultural inputs for kitchen gardening. It was further linked to our national campaign on women’s right to land which outlines a roadmap for the fulfillment of basic rights of small and landless women farmers. Through the campaign, we want the government to ensure that women have control over land and other productive resources like credit, market linkages, and agricultural extension services.
It was nonetheless a success for the flood affected landless women when the chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) conceded to public demand of prioritizing women in emergency response mechanism. He made a solemn commitment to the participants of the policy dialogue on ‘Rebuilding Lives-Post Floods 2010 & 2011’ that NDMA would, in future, provide shelter and livelihood support in the name of women. He endorsed the flood affectees’ demand of allotting land to women and referred the issue to the parliamentarians for making effective laws for the protection and welfare of women, arguing that women’s right to land must be treated as priority agenda for it encompasses different other areas of women’s empowerment.