Livestock is the largest subsector of agriculture in Pakistan, contributing close to 60 per cent to the agricultural value in fiscal year 2021. Like many Asian countries, Pakistani women form a major part of the labour, as they play a catalytic role in the achievement of transformational economic, environmental, and social changes essential for sustainable development.
Historically, women have played a vital role in many developing economies, struggling to build a pathway out of poverty for themselves and the surrounding communities. In Pakistan, they have been a major driver of Pakistan’s economy.
A testament to the same is the recent impact case study conducted by the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business (CERB), ‘Nourishing Lives: Empowering Women and Transforming Communities through Sustainable Dairy Initiatives’. The study focused on selected women and men participating in Enhancing Women’s Income through Dairy Interventions (EWID) initiative by FrieslandCampina Engro Pakistan Limited (FCEPL). This intervention has enabled women dairy farmers towards professional excellence, who previously conformed to societal norms, as they were completely housebound, where their work was neither recognised nor compensated. It has built their entrepreneurial skillset, given them more access to productive resources, and allowed them to become responsible earning members with access to the marketplace, assets and financial services, and relevant training and education. This entailed best practices on dairy farming, animal health, milk hygiene, farm economics, calf rearing, and the overall environment adapted to local preferences.
Launched in districts Vehari and Sahiwal of Southern and Central Punjab, a total of 4020 villagers have received training, with 3000 women livestock beneficiaries, 100 livestock extension workers (LEWs), 20 women milk collection agents, and 1000 males who have undergone the gender sensitisation training.
This has improved the socio-economic development of rural women, as they experienced a massive improvement in their living standards: their income tends to be re-invested in children’s education, and they have improved household healthcare and nutrition, and greater financial resilience, making them economically independent and transforming their livelihoods.
While women remain a focus of such interventions, there is a focus on men too as they are engaged in gender sensitisation sessions to break the social barriers. Traditional roles of domestication and child-rearing are broken and a change is brought in the cultural outlook in rural communities associated with gender stereotypes.
So, while these enterprising steps improve productivity in general, it also serves the larger purpose of improving human development indicators. As women’s niche in the value chain becomes commercially profitable, they become a catalyst to economic growth. When men become a part of the same conduit, both can capitalise on the extraordinarily productive and poverty-reducing potential of women.
Another strikingly shining illustration of the same is that of K-Electric’s ‘Roshni Baji Programme’, that entails the organisation cherry-picking female safety ambassadors who go door-to-door, imparting knowledge about the importance of energy conservation, electrical safety, rain safety, power theft, and ensuring conversion to safe legal electric connections.
These women (and their children) are vulnerable to electrocution incidents inside homes owing to faulty equipment combined with unsafe, nonchalant behaviour toward safety and security.
A stellar example of women empowerment, in a sector primarily dominated by men, manoeuvring through unconventional avenues to include women and break barriers is a feat. Although designed to cover women empowerment essentially, it is forward-thinking in providing skill-based training, to predict and meet the challenges faced by women in the field. The ‘bajis’ are trained through workshops focusing on personal and professional development, building self-reliance in several ways. It increased their mobility through motorbike riding. The self-defence training increased safety and security. The electrician training programme built women’s knowledge on electrical systems. More than 40 women from the pilot cohort graduated from Pakistan’s first female certified electrician training program. The certification entailed 8000 man-hours of training and involved complete internal wiring on a single-phase supply of up to 5kW from the electric utility’s meters to the distribution board of a home.
They are also trained to calculate the load and energy consumption of appliances, to ensure that the electricity supply inside homes is safe and reliable. They have easier access to communities where homes are predominantly occupied by women during working hours because almost 50 per cent of our daytime users are women.
The destination was sweet but the journey was not. Women holding fieldwork positions came with their fair share of challenges. It is difficult to communicate with and teach women about the technicalities and importance of protecting themselves. The solution was fruitful when KE hired women to communicate with their own gender. This endeavour was all the more economically relevant during the pandemic when countless were losing their livelihoods.
It offered economic independence and gave them the necessary skillsets to become role models in their communities that also provided income perpetuity. Enter the Roshni Baji Programme!
The whole corporate sector must step up and take responsibility to make a social impact for a hopeful and viable future for our generations to come.
Women continue to shine in the fields when they are enabled, equipped, and empowered, regardless of the varied continuum of ethnicities, backgrounds and ages they belong to.
Pakistan needs more of these initiatives that allow women to gain more control over their resources and have greater decision-making power in the households. Enterprising interventions such as these ensure inclusive growth and profitability, allow for income-generating activities that are sustainable, and strengthen women’s overall bargaining power in the household – in terms of land and property rights, financial security, access to markets and assets, and profits.
A large proportion of production attributable to women makes them key agents of economic development and essential to making Pakistan economically strong.
The productivity and economic empowerment of women should therefore be a logical priority of corporate programmes and national policies of Pakistan. The priority is warranted both in terms of the importance of women’s contribution to economic growth and as a source of livelihood and poverty reduction.
These initiatives represent new opportunities that should address gender disparity because poverty is deeply rooted in the imbalance between what women do and what they have. It provides a deeper insight into the role and contribution that marginalised women can play to improve their position within the household and society at large. Creating such inclusive settings in Pakistan is important and necessary as the country is already struggling economically.