On Saturday, Rozina Ghulam Mustafa arrived at the market in Tando Allahyar city, Pakistan’s Sindh province, to sell the goats she had raised, milked and fed.
Usually her brother sells the animals, but he sold them too cheaply because he didn’t know their true value. “He has always sold our goats at a much lower price,” she says, standing inside an enclosure with 15 of them.
For Mustafa, joining hundreds of women to trade animals at Marui livestock market – believed to be Pakistan’s first women-led livestock market – was a big moment.
By the afternoon, she had yet to sell any animals, but was unperturbed. “That’s OK; it’s my first time and I will learn how to trade,” she says. “For the first time I felt free, I could make the decision of buying and selling myself.”
Women in rural Pakistan have always reared animals, taking care of nutrition, milking and vaccinations and keeping their barns and sheds clean. But when the time comes for them to be sold, women are excluded. Taking the animals to market is considered a man’s job.
Mustafa’s 65-year-old mother, Rehmat, who accompanied her to the market with Mustafa’s brother, says that when she was younger “it was unthinkable for a woman to come to the market and sell; it was a man’s job”.
“I think this change is in the right direction. If women can rear, women can buy and sell, like men. What is so complicated about it?”
The market is busy. Children run between the animal enclosures and stalls selling homemade ghee (clarified butter), eggs, chickens, animal fodder and ornaments. Other stalls sell food, tea and hand-embroidered women’s clothing. The local government has a stall showcasing veterinary medicines.
Perween Panhwar has just bought her first goat for 19,000 PKR (£80) to start her livestock farm. “When I heard there was a women-led livestock market, I wanted the first animal I buy for the farm to be from this market,” she says.
Lakshmi Phuto has travelled 12 miles (20km) from her village to the market. She has been given 30,000 PRK from a local NGO to buy livestock to help set up her farm. By the end of the day, Phuto has bought a lactating goat for 20,000 PKR. “Just the kind we wanted, with big ears and this big in height,” she says, raising her hand about three feet from the ground. The rest of her money will be spent on “good quality food”.
It is hoped that the market, organised by Tando Allahyar district government and local NGO the Research and Development Foundation (RDF), will encourage more women into the livestock sector. It is part of a six-year Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable Progress project to strengthen small-scale agribusinesses and reduce poverty in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, run in partnership with the International Trade Centre and the World Trade Organization.
“This is a great idea!” says Mustafa Talpur, regional advocacy and campaigns lead at Oxfam Asia, who has worked in the water and agriculture sector for more than 10 years. “Having separate women’s markets or a share in existing agriculture markets will help them to engage.”
Dr Mazhar Ali Rind, deputy director of the government’s livestock department, hopes similar markets will be organised across the country.
“To my knowledge, this is the first of its kind in Pakistan,” he says. “Many women-led households depend on the village men with business acumen for negotiating with strangers. They allow them to take their animals to the market, and pay a fee of up to 2,000 PKR for each animal sold. But now that they have learned the process, they can do it on their own. The middlemen’s role can be eliminated.”
Ashfaque Soomro, chief executive at RDF, plans to run the market at Tando Allahyar every month. “Now that these women are familiar with this place, getting here will be easier for them; many can now come on their own or in groups and will not need men to accompany them,” he says. Soomro is confident the market will grow and attract many more women. “Now we need to bring in buyers from cities like Karachi and Hyderabad.”