They need a fair share

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Tue, 01, 18

This week, You! takes a look at the efforts made in 2017 in a bid to improve overall situation of the working women in Pakistan...

This week, You! takes a look at the efforts made in 2017 in a bid to improve overall situation of the working women in Pakistan...

There is no second thought that women in Pakistan have to face endless hurdles when it comes to their participation in labour force. Either they get involved in low paid, informal and hazardous work condition or if they somehow manage to find a job at an executive level, they are hardly given any decision-making powers. There are very few exceptions where they have been able to break the glass ceiling and reverse the trend.

It is also a common practice that they do not have control on their wages that are collected by the male members of their family. A relevant example here is that of the women working in the agricultural sector, who do all the hard manual work while the men mainly operate machines. But when it is time to decide and collect wages, it is the men who are at the front.

Over the years, there have been efforts made at state level to improve this situation and to come up with supportive laws, policies and practices. As a result, some things have improved while others have remained the same due to multiple reasons. On some fronts, things are in process with the hope of a positive outcome. In year 2017, there were similar efforts made in this context some of which are being shared below. Read on...

Literacy and empowerment

It is a fact that literacy rates for women, school enrolment and completion rates for girls remain significantly below those of men and boys respectively. Two years ago, an economic empowerment survey was conducted, which illustrates the large economic disparity between men and women throughout the country, with the Province of Punjab showing the lowest economic disparity followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. The government sources claim that initiatives like the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) - helping women in skill development and earning for livelihood - have played a strong role in the encouragement and empowerment of over 5.8 million women, especially in rural areas. However, in this regard, a proper assessment is yet to be done.

Discrimination at workplace

Unfortunately, discrimination against women at workplace continues to be a major concern. As the European Union’s assessment related to GSP Plus Status awarded to Pakistan, the wage gap is significant and some estimate that women receive, on average, less than 60 per cent of the salary of men for equal work. The labour market participation of women (24 per cent) is significantly lower than that of men (81 per cent). The assessment report states that 2017 Labour Force Survey is expected to provide updated information on this gap while adding that women are also reportedly discriminated against when it comes to promotions, often face sexual harassment, and have difficulty receiving maternity benefits and lack basic facilities in the workplace.

“There are reports that provinces are taking some action, that includes sensitising labour inspectors and actively enforcing anti-discrimination provisions, but the scope and intensity is unclear. There are also quotas for women in certain public positions, but they are sometimes unfilled, ostensibly due to a lack of qualified candidates. The low number of complaints, including to the Ombudsman, is sometimes pointed out, but this is more likely a reflection of a lack of empowerment, rather than an absence of problems,” the report adds.

Sensitisation on gender issues

It is heartening to note that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan is working to bring gender equality in mainstream business and media curricula of universities. During the year, trainings were carried out for journalists and media workers on gender sensitive reporting and issues of women in the workplace. Trainings have also been carried out on sexual harassment laws.

Protection of women

To bring women into workforce, ensuring their protection and eliminating acts of violence against them are must. If these things are taken care of, women will feel comfortable while stepping outside their houses for work. The province of Punjab has adopted a Protection of Women against Violence Act, criminalising all forms of violence against women, addressing weaknesses in the prosecution of offenders and providing assistance to victims. Sindh and Balochistan already have laws against domestic violence while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is reportedly in the process of finalising a similar legislation. However, a law at federal level on violence against women is still being considered.


Mobility of working women is a big issue and the biggest reason for this is that the public transport system in our country is very poor. This is a big hindrance for the women who have to go out for their jobs. They mostly have to use public transport and are therefore vulnerable to harassment. Taxis and rickshaws are too expensive and not many women can afford them.

This year, a study titled, ‘Women’s Safety Audit in Public Transport in Lahore’, was conducted under a collaboration of Women’s Development Department (WDD), Punjab, UN Women Pakistan, Aurat Foundation (AF) and the Australian government. Though the area selected was Lahore, a city with latest and modern mass transit systems, the findings are relevant to other cities as well. The study came up with on how to make public transport conducive for women and help them participate in economic activity. These recommendations have been forwarded to the government for incorporation into its policies and rules.

Another project called Women on Wheels (WoWs) also aims at increasing women’s mobility by training them on how to ride a motorbike and providing them with customised and subsidised motorbikes through balloting. Punjab government is accepting invitations at the moment and this project is likely to be materialised quite soon.

Formality of labour

One of the biggest issues for women workers is that their overwhelming majority works in the informal sector and that they are not covered under the country’s labour laws. Women as The Home Based Workers (HBWs) and agricultural workers are the highest among the other informal sector workers. All the four provinces are at different stages of formulating HBWs policies and bringing these workers into the mainstream business.

Last year, the HBWs policies of Sindh and Punjab were in process that will lead to vetting and approval. The KP has agreed to a table bill, whereas the task force formed to devise such policy for Balochistan has been renotified. There is a likelihood of development in this regard. Such policies are important as they talk about minimum wage, social security, health and safety etc of women HBWs.

In agriculture, the situation is challenging but a good development is that unions of agricultural sector have been registered in Sindh. The other provinces are yet to follow suit and set up structures, where their labour rights can be ensured.