The International Day of Rural Women, observed every October, represents a global acknowledgment of the indispensable role rural women play in enhancing agricultural and rural development, food security, and poverty eradication. In countries like Pakistan, the significance of this day is even more profound, given the profound contributions of rural women to the national economy and the socio-cultural fabric of the society.
The idea of an annual Rural Women’s Day was launched to emphasize the contribution of rural women in enhancing agricultural and rural development, particularly in countries where agriculture forms the backbone of the economy. Pakistan, with its rich agrarian history and reliance on farming, is one such country where this day has a unique significance.
Rural women in Pakistan make ample contributions to the economy through both productive and reproductive roles. Their traditional economic activities form a critical part of the nation’s GDP, especially when one considers the informal sectors and home-based industries that rarely get accounted for in mainstream economic metrics.
The theme for the International Day of Rural Women in recent times has been “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All”. This theme resonates deeply with Pakistan’s context, given that a substantial portion of the nation’s food supply is sourced from rural areas.
The theme underscores the essential role that rural women play in ensuring food security for the entire nation. Apart from their economic contributions, rural women in Pakistan play a pivotal role in preserving the nation’s cultural heritage and traditions. Their involvement in folk art, crafts, music, and storytelling serves as a bridge between the past and the present, ensuring that generations to come remain connected to their roots. Moreover, their roles as mothers, teachers, and community leaders further underscore the invaluable impact they have on the societal fabric of Pakistan.
One of the major areas of focus for many NGOs and governmental bodies in Pakistan has been the education and empowerment of rural women. By acknowledging the International Day of Rural Women, Pakistan reaffirms its commitment to ensuring that every woman, irrespective of her geographical location, has access to quality education and the tools necessary for her personal and professional growth. With the proliferation of technology and the advent of digital transformation, rural areas in Pakistan are not as isolated as they once were. This interconnectivity has provided rural women with new avenues to showcase their skills, connect with urban counterparts, and tap into national and global markets. The significance of the Day lies not just in celebrating the traditional roles of these women but also in acknowledging their potential in the modern era. While urban areas have seen rapid development and progress, rural areas, particularly those where women are at the forefront, often lag behind.
Literacy Rate of Women (ages 15-64)
(Source: Estimated from PSLM 2014-15)
The Day is a reminder for policymakers, civil society, and the general populace to bridge this divide. Ensuring that rural women have equal access to resources, opportunities, and decision-making roles is essential for the holistic development of Pakistan. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of rural women in Pakistan is their inherent entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it’s selling handicrafts, running small-scale agribusinesses, or pioneering community-led initiatives, these women showcase immense innovation and business acumen.
By celebrating the Day, Pakistan not only acknowledges their entrepreneurial endeavors but also encourages investment in their ventures, leading to the creation of sustainable livelihoods.
Over the years, there has been a significant shift in how rural women are represented in both the media and public discourse in Pakistan. The Day serves as a catalyst in this transformation by offering a platform where the stories of these women can be heard and celebrated. From documentaries to mainstream cinema and literature, the narrative around rural women is evolving from one of mere subsistence to one of resilience, empowerment, and innovation. Empowering rural women has a multiplier effect on communities. When a woman is educated, financially independent, and aware of her rights, it not only benefits her but also her family and the wider community. This ripple effect can bring about profound social, economic, and political changes in rural regions of Pakistan, making the International Day of Rural Women not just a day of recognition but a roadmap for systemic change. The significance of this day also lies in the collaborative platforms it creates. Governments, NGOs, civil society, and corporate entities come together, aligning their efforts to uplift rural women. By pooling resources, sharing knowledge, and forging partnerships, collective strategies can be devised to tackle the multifaceted challenges faced by rural women in Pakistan.
(Source: Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-22)
Access to healthcare remains a significant concern for rural women in Pakistan. With limited medical facilities and persistent cultural barriers, many women often neglect their health needs. Recognizing the Day emphasizes the need for targeted health interventions and campaigns tailored to the unique needs of these women, ensuring that they lead healthier and more fulfilled lives. While challenges abound, the narrative is not just about hardships. The Day is also a celebration of stories of triumph – of women who, against all odds, have risen to become leaders, change-makers, and inspirations for countless others. By sharing these tales of resilience, determination, and success, the day serves as a beacon of hope, encouraging others to break the shackles of societal norms and pursue their dreams.
Health Indicators of Pakistan
In an increasingly digitized world, technology has the power to transform lives. For rural women in Pakistan, this can mean access to online education, telemedicine, digital financial services, and e-commerce platforms, breaking the barriers of distance and isolation. Celebrating the Day is also an opportunity to discuss and deliberate on how technology can be harnessed to further empower these women in the digital age.
Rural women in Pakistan, much like their counterparts in other parts of the world, have a deep-rooted connection with the environment. Given their active roles in agriculture, they are often the first to face the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Their traditional knowledge and practices, passed down through generations, often serve as sustainable solutions to modern-day environmental challenges.
The Day thus also shines a light on their role as the stewards of nature and their contributions to ecological conservation.
It’s not only a celebration but also an acknowledgment of the challenges faced by these women. Early and forced marriages, gender discrimination, lack of access to basic amenities such as water and sanitation, geographical isolation, and the dearth of female teachers are just a few of the myriad challenges rural women in Pakistan encounter on a daily basis. By recognizing this day, Pakistan commits to creating more inclusive rural areas and highlighting the contributions of rural women while striving to alleviate their challenges. Achieving gender equality is not just an ethical obligation but also a practical necessity for nations to progress. Rural women confront global crises, including the rising cost of living, which directly impacts their quality of life. By celebrating the Day, Pakistan takes a step towards gender equality, emphasizing that empowering women isn’t merely the right thing to do but an essential stride towards national development.
As Pakistan grapples with numerous challenges, from economic uncertainties due to high international commodity prices to significant pressures on the external side, the role of rural women becomes even more crucial. Their resilience, ingenuity, and commitment can provide valuable insights and solutions for sustainable growth. It’s a testament to Pakistan’s aspirations for a brighter, more inclusive future.
In summation, the International Day of Rural Women is not just a date on the calendar; it embodies the spirit, tenacity, and aspirations of millions of rural women in Pakistan. By celebrating this day, the nation not only pays homage to its unsung heroines but also pledges to create an environment where every woman can thrive, prosper, and realize her fullest potential.
Dr. Sahibzada Muhammad Usman: Postdoctoral Fellow, Global Engagement Academy, School of Culture and Communication, Shandong University (Weihai). Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals.
Fatime Mehdi: Researcher at the University of Siena, Italy.