Lahore, Pakistan, Sep 2, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Women farmers in Pakistan received helping hands last month from Caritas Pakistan, the Catholic bishops’ arm for social development. The agency sponsored a four-day workshop to help women farmers develop their skills and economic competitiveness, with a focus on environmental sustainability.

“Empowering and strengthening the skills of women plays an important role in community development and agriculture is one of the important sectors,” Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, told CNA Aug. 30. Gulzar said the event aimed to bring together women farmers and beneficiaries of women empowerment groups and entrepreneurship programs, providing a platform for them “to voice their issues and gather relevant learning skills from one another.”

The third Women Farmers Conference, held in Lahore Aug. 16-18, brought together 140 women from across Pakistan. This year’s theme was “Empowering Women, Empowering Pakistan.” Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi delivered a message of encouragement to the delegates. He emphasized promoting the rights and opportunities of “the most ignored section of women like ‘Haris’ (peasants), small farmers and tenants for their integrated development.”

The participants also shared their positive approaches, methods, and challenges during the inter-group discussion session.  

Razia Mushtaq, a farmer from Sargodha (about 80 miles northwest of Faisalabad), shared her experience using a biofuel plant and recycling cattle dung to produce clean renewable energy for cooking. She reuses waste slurry on the fields to renew soil fertility and increase productivity.  

The women farmers composed a final resolution highlighting their commitment to learning. They also created an action plan for various purposes: mobilizing women in response to climate change; training other women; gaining and disseminating information to others; and promoting sustainable agriculture and home grown vegetables to minimize malnutrition and food insecurity.

Gulzar praised the important role of the women in family and agriculture in Pakistani society. Highlighting the challenges faced by rural farmers, he encouraged them to update their skills and be open to learn new organic methods that will benefit the economy and healthy community development.

“This event is a tribute to the contribution of women engaged in different sectors,” Gulzar added. “Caritas Pakistan expects that more annual programs will be carved out to ensure that the workshop and training will benefit women and the development of the community.”  

Fouzia Waqar, who chairs the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, was a speaker at the event. She pointed to a commission report that highlights the 70 percent of rural women who are involved in the agricultural sector, mainly as cotton and vegetable pickers. Despite their disproportionate numbers, women receive less than 10 percent of government benefits for subsidized seeds and fertilizers, agricultural training and other activities.

Summera Saleem, a senior program officer at the Aurat Foundation, said many rural women are not legal owners of their livestock and face other problems, such as illiteracy. The speakers said that women in rural areas work from 16 to 18 hours but are underpaid. They receive half the wages as male farmers, and child marriage is also a problem for some. The speakers explained different opportunities available to the women farmers and also spoke about climate change’s effect on women’s social and economic lives.  

The Caritas representatives showcased various ongoing initiatives and contributions of Caritas Pakistan that have helped beneficiaries regardless of race or religion.