Globalization and Gender has remained an important research theme at SDPI. ‘Weakest Link in the Textile Chain’ is one of the research studies carried out to highlight the dynamics of employment in cotton-picking in Pakistan. Based on fieldwork carried out in the cotton-growing belts of the Punjab and Sindh provinces, the study revealed that millions of tons of cotton is handpicked by women every year.
The study discusses the economic and social position of the pickers and reveals that there is very little improvement in the lives of those pickers over time. The majority of them work as unpaid family helpers, with no control over land and cash income. The prevalent poverty, cultural restrictions and lack of education limit the options of women cotton pickers to engage in any alternative employment. The paper also discusses health concerns related to female cotton-pickers. Access to food is low and is also affected by gender. This leads to low immunity, which is particularly dangerous because of the exposure to poisonous pesticides. Precautions, when taken, are not enough to prevent chronic pesticide poisoning that can have symptoms ranging from headaches to skin cancer.
After providing an insight into the system, the study argues for greater empowerment of female cotton pickers. It uses a market-based approach to explain how and why their role as economic stakeholders is important, and makes recommendations to bring sustainable change in the plight of this marginalized community.