Pakistani women work in a field in Lahore.

© 2014 Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacifi/SIPA via AP Images

Sindh province in Pakistan is taking an important step toward ending abuse and discrimination against women agricultural workers. On August 24, the Sindh cabinet approved the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act 2019, which will now be brought to the provincial assembly for a vote. It is expected to pass.

The proposed law recognizes the right of women workers to have a written contract, minimum wage, social security, and welfare benefits including for child health, maternity leave, and access to government subsidies and credit. It requires gender parity in wages. It is also the first time that Pakistan will recognize the right of women agricultural workers to unionize.

The agriculture sector is Pakistan’s biggest employer. But agricultural workers are often denied labor rights protections, most do not have a written contract, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.

Rural women and girls face additional challenges. According to a 2018 report by UN Women, 67 percent of Pakistani women in the labor force work in agriculture and 60 percent of their work is unpaid. Discrimination faced by rural women is part of a broader landscape of gender inequality in the country. The literacy rate among rural women is 35 percent as compared to 69 percent in urban areas. And the male literacy rate in rural areas is 63 percent, nearly double that of rural women. 

In September 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a draft Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, recognizing the significant role rural women play in the economic survival of their families and the rural and national economy. This declaration built on 2016 guidance from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women regarding the rights of rural women.

The Sindh government’s initiative is an important recognition of the challenges faced by rural women, and the value of their work. Pakistan’s federal, as well as other provincial governments, should follow its lead.