Wednesday, 6 July 2022
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Wednesday, 6 July 2022

New project to help improve the lives of women cotton pickers in Pakistan

Sangita Shrestha, Communications Manager, Feed the Minds writes

FEED the Minds is running a new one-year project alongside our local partner organisation Sindh Community Foundation (SCF) to improve the literacy skills, rights awareness, and networking of 650 women cotton pickers, enabling them to secure fairer wages and safer working conditions.

Low levels of literacy among women cotton pickers in Sindh, Pakistan

It is estimated that more than half a million women work as cotton pickers for 4-5 months of the year (SCF, 2019) in Sindh province of Pakistan. 

The Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013 defines agricultural workers, including cotton pickers, as formal labourers, which legally grants them comprehensive labour rights, including their right to association and to establish and join trade unions. However, the application of this Act and enforcement of employment laws has been limited.

In 2014, Sindh Community Foundation (SCF) conducted a study into the realities for women cotton pickers who work for private landowners in Sindh Province. The study found the majority (90%) of women cotton pickers were illiterate with low levels of education, members of poor households and poorly networked with other cotton pickers. They also had low labour rights awareness and bargaining power and earned lower wages than their male counterparts. 

Due to low levels of literacy and numeracy, women cotton pickers struggle to understand labour legislation and are unable to effectively calculate their weekly and monthly wage levels, often leading to exploitation from landowners in the form of underpayment.  

Improving the literacy for rights protection of women cotton pickers in Pakistan

This project is a one-year intervention to support 350 women cotton pickers, who are members of 10 newly established Trade Unions (TUs) at village level, to improve their literacy skills and advocate for improvements to wages and working conditions. They will participate in 240 hours of literacy classes through a comprehensive 6-month literacy programme, which will result in increased awareness of labour rights and ability to negotiate for fairer wages. 

Rights awareness workshops and training dissemination will directly benefit a further 300 women cotton pickers, who will also become members of Trade Unions. Leadership training and follow-up meetings will enable these Trade Unions to conduct advocacy activities and network with the labour department to secure safer working conditions. 

A learning, sharing and regional advocacy workshop will engage cotton industry stakeholders, leading to increased awareness of the issues and rights violations experienced by women cotton pickers. Also, 70 men and women (cotton picking stakeholders) will benefit from an increased awareness of the issues and rights violations experienced by women cotton pickers.

It is estimated that 6,400 people will indirectly benefit from significant improvements to working conditions secured by Trade Unions and improved quality of life through increased household income of female cotton pickers. 

We are honoured to be working on this new project with SCF, who has a strong track record of implementing programmes on livelihoods, human rights, women and girls’ empowerment, economic justice for women cotton pickers and good governance, in partnership with a wide range of national and international donors.

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