Islamabad - The day starts for her even before sunrise and she continues to stretch her to her limits till late evening - still she remains unable to complete the long list of tasks.

Noreen feeds domestic animals, removes the cow dung, prepares breakfast for her family and sends her children to school, fetches water from a well, and does other household chores. Additionally she makes dunk cakes for household fuel and also works in the fields during the harvesting season. However, this is not all she does.

Thirty-five-year-old Noreen lives in a small village called Choi in the Attock district of Punjab. Life has been a challenge and she has to work more than many men every day. But despite all the hard work, her efforts remain invisible in the male-dominated society.

Noreen, a mother of three, apart from household tasks performs harvesting, threshing and post-harvest work manually in the fields with her husband, - a labourer - during harvesting season. She also plants different seasonal vegetables at home with the training support of a nongovernmental organisation to run her kitchen.

“I work in the fields during harvesting season, stitch clothes, grow vegetables but get nothing in return,” she complained. “I do everything so that I can save something to spend on the education of my children who have started primary schooling. I don’t want them to suffer the same fate as I do.”

She says that she tried hard to find work in schools or get some government job but they all demanded at least secondary school certificate while she had left the school at the eighth standard.

“The government should also announce a programme for uneducated rural women like me who have no opportunities but want to get ahead,” she suggested.  

In the neighborhood lives Zakia, 50, a widow. She raised her five children alone as her husband had died when they all were too young. She worked in the fields all her life along with other home-based works but her daily income could not exceed Rs 300 to 400.

“I cannot give good education to my children because the income I get is hardly enough to make both ends meet,” she regrets.

The plight of rural women remain persistent as their work is not accounted into census or Gross Domestic Product (GDP), said Sameena Nazir, executive director of Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA) - a nongovernmental organisation working for the promotion and protection of rights of rural women of Pakistan. Consequently, they do not get any services to which other workers are entitled.

PODA estimates that over 60 percent of women in Pakistan live in rural areas; however, there is no documentation of the work they have been doing for years in different fields including farming and home-based work. Thus, lack of documentation obscures their reality.

It is believed the rural women engaged in farming or other sectors are helpers but in contrast rural women in Pakistan spend more time in economic activities than rural men and urban men and women, she quoting a time-use survey 2009 of Finance Ministry and the Federal Bureau of Statistics said that rural women spend 89 percent their time in productive activity while men spend about 63 percent of their time in productivity. Still, there is no clear policy for the development of rural women to address the issues and needs of women that make the largest segment of society, said Sameena.

“The problems of education of rural women are different from the urban women. Their issues of health and are of different kind because they have added problems of accessibility, limited opportunities and family support and conservative settings. Many of them die on the way to hospitals during child births.”

Then women engaged in farming or home-based work face different health and work issues, she said. There is a need to document and analyze their work, she said, and announce a development policy on the basis of their needs.

Last year more than 1,600 rural women from 107 districts gathered in Islamabad at a rural women’s conference and they had demanded acknowledgement of their efforts and reflection of their contribution in the policies and budgets.

They had proposed allotment of one acre of free land to landless women farmers all over Pakistan with enforced measures to guarantee inheritance rights to women. It was also suggested that agricultural extension (advisory) services must be made available to women farmers.

But all the proposals seemingly fall on deaf ear as the powers that never took up their issues seriously leaving them to continue with their hectic but unrewarded jobs.