Women working in agriculture is not a modern trend or a new habit in the Syrian community, but for a long time they faced challenges in this field, those challenges got more complicated after and during the ongoing war. Not only did it get more complicated, but also new types of challenges have appeared, leading to new types of unjust discrimination.
Although there are no accurate statistics on the number of women working in agriculture, reports confirm that the number increased after 2011. This work has become a source of livelihoods for many women in different areas of Syria.
Working in agriculture is not a problem per se, it is quite the opposite. Agriculture is an essential part of growth in rural communities, and it has helped some women become financially independent and to overcome poverty. A study by the International Center for local Agriculture (ICBA) stated that women in developing countries depend to a large extent on the income they earn from farming-related activities in order to provide for their families.
Hard work and low wages
Um Ahmad, a Syrian woman living in Idlib, leaves every day in the early morning to the fields and farms. She said, “I work on the soil, removing surrounding weeds in addition to harvesting and olive picking. Her children stay alone for 8 hours every day so she can earn less than one dollar for the whole day.
Most of the women working in agriculture spend long hours under the sun. Samira, 42 years old, said, “I work 9 hours a day, on 2 shifts. It’s exhausting. when I arrive home, I can’t do anything”.
Syrian journalist Abdullah Al Aboud said, “the job opportunities in Northwest Syria in general are scarce, for both men and women. The wages remain very low especially in the agricultural sector.”
He added, the women working in agriculture leave their home at 5 a.m. until the late evening, and the wage is not more than 1 or 2 dollars per day. Aboud believes that some of the employers and bosses take advantage of the women’s situation and their needs to have a stable income. He explains that these wages are not even enough to buy 1 kg of potatoes or tomatoes.
Dangerous working opportunities
During my interviews of many women, it was remarkable that many of them were telling me, “I’m lucky to have a job”. It means that finding or obtaining a work opportunity is totally by chance, as the economic situation in those areas are deteriorating due to high unemployment rates as a result of the huge population. Some of the available working opportunities can be risky and life threatening, as women sometimes work near the military frontlines between Syrian regime forces and the oppositions, like in Hama and Aleppo. Also, they may be exposed to mine explosions in many areas.
Riham, a 31-year-old woman from Raqqa, said, “my only opportunity for income in order to support my family is through agriculture. I work in harvesting and purging the fields of weeds”
Riham contemplated, “there were many women who have passed away as a result of mines, I feel terrified sometimes, but this is my only income. I didn’t finish my education, and I don’t have a craft”.
Lost rights, inside and outside the home.
Women working in areas where there is no law or government institutions responsible for protecting workers’ rights, put them in great danger. They all work without any medical insurance, as well as material exploitation and fraud, they are at risk of sexual harassment.
Social norms and traditions make their lives harder. Most of the women working in agriculture have to go back home to start cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children without taking care of their health or getting the required rest. Society sees that when women are helping their families, they are undermining the man’s masculinity and diminishing their prestige. Qamar said, “me and my brother work in agriculture. We come back home in the evening, and I have to start cooking and cleaning, but he rests. It feels unjust but I can’t complain”.
Social specialist, Wadha Othman, said, “in some societies, working in agriculture for women outside the family is not familiar, it is considered a duty for the family”.
she added, “We see men having drinks and having fun, and their women are harvesting and working in the field. In the end the men get the income from this work and don’t pay the women any of the money. This is a masculine inheritance which sees the women as servants to the males in the family”.
Wadha mentioned that the current situation has put the women in vulnerable positions, either socially, economically, or even sexually, because of the need for an income. She said, “letting the women carry all the responsibilities financially and in terms of taking care of the family, severely damages their mental health and could lead to social isolation and depression”.
Women farmers are the future
Many civil society organizations have given grants for women aiming to fund small projects, many of them were agricultural projects, especially in the countryside where agriculture is the only source of income.
Mostafa Abdullbaki a project coordinator in Assistance coordination Unit, explains to us the agricultural projects which have been implemented in Northern Syria. The most important ones’ fund vital material and resources such as seeds, fertilizers, agricultural tools, and pesticides and they have been implemented through distributing kits to the farmers.
Abdullbaki said, “irrigation projects have been implemented, with farmers being supported by drip irrigation equipment or other irrigation methods”.
Most of these projects have targeted female farmers, especially the women in the agricultural areas of whom many of them are working with their families or they are the owners of the land.
Globally, women participation in agriculture is a leading factor for food security around the world and a major source of income in the suburban and rural areas.
Michel Patchilli, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Executive Director of UN-Women, said, “empowering women to claim their rights and access leadership opportunities will improve food security and raise expectations for current and future generations”.
According to officials in the Syrian Regime’s Ministry of Agriculture in 2012, 70% of Syrian women work in agriculture, and in large areas that has increased because hundreds of women have lost their husbands due to the war.