Sindh Hari women face discrimination

NCHR calls for proper implementation of existing laws to ensure justice.

KARACHI: “Despite the existence of various laws aimed at safeguarding the rights of women and labourers, the Hari women in Sindh continue to endure widespread discrimination and marginalisation. The solution to this pressing issue lies in the implementation of these laws. This was the crux of a day-long consultation held at the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) at its Sindh office on Saturday.

“Sindh, home to over 50 million people, heavily relies on agriculture as the cornerstone of its rural economy, significantly contributing to the nation’s development. However, those engaged in agricultural labour, particularly women and landless Haris, face a multitude of challenges, leaving them vulnerable and unprotected,” Anis Haroon, a member of NCHR Sindh, said at the session. “Their vulnerability is further exacerbated by natural and man-made disasters, such as the devastating floods of 2022, which resulted in collapsed homes, destroyed crops, and loss of livestock,” she added.

The consultation, titled “Issues and Challenges Faced by Farmers in Sindh,” was organised by the National Commission for Human Rights Sindh in collaboration with the Hari Welfare Association. Anis Haroon presided over the event in which participants included Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, former chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission; Rana Ansar, former opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly; Akram Ali Khaskheli, president of the Hari Welfare Association; Iqbal Detho, Chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission; and community members representing peasants, civil society activists, and human rights defenders.

Khaskheli underscored that peasants have been grappling with numerous challenges for decades, with systemic discrimination being a longstanding issue. However, their conditions have significantly worsened following the devastating floods of 2022. Landless and at the mercy of landlords and employers, these hapless people lack land ownership and the protection of their rights, despite reservations expressed by civil society regarding the Sindh Tenancy (Amendment) Act 2013.

Researcher Kausa S Khan highlighted the dire situation of Hari women who toil in the fields all day, receiving unequal wages and facing various hazards, from sexual harassment to domestic violence. The lack of access to healthcare facilities has further exacerbated their difficulties, especially in the wake of the recent floods, Khan added.

Haleema, a community member of the Haris, shared the harrowing story of their post-flood existence, where they have lost their belongings, are forced to drink contaminated water, and sleep in open areas, all while receiving meager wages for their backbreaking labor. Another community member pointed out the irony of cultivating crops without having enough to eat or wearing new clothes despite cultivating cotton. This stark reality calls into question the fairness of the system under which they labor tirelessly under the scorching sun.

Naghma Iqtidar, a human rights activist, criticised the bureaucratic hurdles preventing the implementation of crucial laws, such as the Sindh Women Agricultural Workers’ Act 2019. Four years after its passage, there have been no concrete steps taken to enforce this law, revealing the government’s indifference to the plight of the most impoverished.

Nuzhat Shireen, Chairperson for the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, emphasised that landlords, who often do not engage in physical labor, exploit marginalised groups, including women and those from scheduled castes and other vulnerable communities, who are landless and lack bargaining power. The absence of written land tenure agreements and limited mobility due to indebtedness further trap these communities in a cycle of bondage.

In the end, Anis stressed the urgent need to address these issues. She called upon civil society and human rights defenders to raise their voices on various platforms to pressure the government into taking swift action to alleviate the suffering of peasant women in Sindh. She also announced that the NCHR, in collaboration with other civil society organisations, will review existing laws and propose amendments, working tirelessly towards their implementation.

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