RAJSHAHI: Women of ethnic group are contributing significantly in boosting the agricultural production in Rajshahi region, particularly in the vast barind tract.
Since time immemorial, they are engaged in all forms of farming activities, including seedlings transplantation, weeding, harvesting, threshing and drying, side by side with the males round the year.
Although females perform identical work like males in farming fields, the female agricultural workers especially coming from the ethnic groups are still facing wage disparity in the region, particularly in the vast Barind tract for a long time.
"It is high time to acknowledge the contribution of women farm labourers," said Kolpona Tirkey, President of Sammilita Adibashi Nari Jote.
She said time has come to recognize the ethnic minority women farm workers as agriculture labourers as that will protect them from wage disparity.
Conventionally, most of the ethnic female members work in agricultural fields for sapling transplantation, weeding and harvesting side by side with their male members.
Bharoty Rani, a farm-labourer of Raighati village under Mohanpur Upazila, alleged that many NGOs are working here in the name of ensuring legitimate rights to the ethnic women but none of them has taken initiative to remove the wage disparity.
Maya Rani, another farm-labourer of Jamtala area under the same upazila, said the employers give Tk 300 to 350 as daily wage while her male co-labourers get Taka 500 for the similar work.
She mentioned that the malpractice has been taking place for a long time and none has headache in this regard. Normally, the female workers don’t protest against the wage disparity due to various reasons.
“Though the female workers are more honest to work than the male workers, they get less wage as they are most vulnerable in the present social context”, she added.
"Fortunately, the female workers are more experienced and efficient in work than that of their male counterparts. They also manage their households and nurse their offspring,” said Jahangir Alam Khan, Coordinator of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) Project. He said a large number of women in the region work in crop fields as day labourers. But all of them are given lower wages than their male labourers.
Around one lakh ethnic people live in the Barind area comprising the districts of Rajshahi, Naogaon and Chapainawabganj.
More than 95 percent of them irrespective of male and female are involved in agricultural works. Around 45,000 of them sell their labours to other fields almost round the year.
He also said the female workers are more efficient in seedling transplantation and its weeding and nursing.
Besides, they show equal competence in weeding and paddy harvesting, threshing and cleaning. Many of the land owners choose the female workers in farming activities as their wage is less to some extent than the male ones.
Raj Kumar Shaw, Executive Director of Anagrasar Samaj Unnayan Sangstha, alleged that if they claim equal wages like their male counterparts, the employers become reluctant to engage them in work for next time.
For this reason they are compelled to receive much lower wages. He said some female day labourers who are victim of discrimination are frequently seen narrating the stories of their frustration and deprivation at workplaces.
This desperate situation forces many ethnic women to sell their labour in advance for an even lower rate during the lean seasons, and they work for longer hours just to feed their families.