Let women earn

Governments should take measures needed to promote labour force participation of women

Let women earn


n ancient times, the division of labour between genders in family and society begot relations of dominance and subordination between men and women. Until the end of the 19th Century, it was not possible for women to be equal partners with men. Instead, they were relegated to domestic work.

Over the recent decades, some feminist scholars have advanced the argument that women’s emancipation requires the acknowledgment of the right to be commodified and nuclear families need a two-earner model. The integration of women into the labour market is not merely a question of social equality and women’s independence; female labour market participation has increasingly been justified in economic terms.

More women in the labour market will increase the number of taxpayers, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the welfare state. In a world often defined by difference, the concept of gender has long been a focal point of discussion, debate and contention. However, men and women share a common humanity. Biologically, despite the variance in anatomy and physiology, the fundamental building blocks of life are consistent. They experience emotions, aspirations and challenges irrespective of gender. In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Steven Pinker writes that the human experience transcends gender boundaries.

The participation of women in the labour force is not only crucial for economic growth but also plays a pivotal role in fostering sustainable peace and prosperity in a society. As women increasingly join the workforce, their contributions extend beyond mere economic output. They serve as catalysts for higher productivity levels, actively contributing to poverty alleviation efforts and playing a significant role in the reduction of gender-based violence.

By engaging in gainful employment, women gain financial independence and decision-making power, leading to greater autonomy and empowerment. Women participation in the labour force is essential for building thriving economies, fostering inclusive societies and advancing towards a more equitable and peaceful world.

In her research on the effect of women participation in the labour force in the United States over nine decades (1890-1980), Harvard economist Claudia Goldin estimated that “the labour force participation rate of prime-aged females (15-64 years old) rose from 19.6 percent in 1890 to 59.9 percent in 1980. She estimated the effect of this increase on economic activity and concluded that “had the female labour force not expanded over this period, national income per capita would probably have been 14 percent lower than it actually was.”

There is no denying the fact that the lack of women participation in the labour force constitutes the biggest hurdle to our economic growth, hindering macroeconomic development and perpetuating dependency on aid. Misogyny, hyper-masculinity and deep-rooted patriarchy erode individual identity and agency of women. Consequently, their contributions are often difficult to enumerate and acknowledge.

By replacing patriarchal tendencies with values of plurality, empathy, tolerance and inclusivity, Pakistan can unlock the full potential of its female population. 

Myopic approaches toward women’s work relegate it to a secondary status, posing a challenge for a country seeking to overcome socio-economic precarity by recognising women’s work as vital to economic progress.

Cultural norms, social values and indoctrination have rendered some Pakistani men incapable of rational thought. They cannot consider women equal partners and humans or recognise their contribution to production and societal well-being.

Labour force participation rates of women in Pakistan are amongst the lowest in the world. In 2023, the female labour force participation rate was 24 percent, compared to the male labour force rate of 81 percent. The International Labour Organisation has been tracking this indicator since 1990. In the past 30 years, women’s participation in the workforce has increased by only 13 percent.

Most women are engaged in domestic chores, including cooking, cleaning, dishwashing and caring for children from dawn to dusk. The work remains unpaid for.

Women have a crucial role in harvesting, contributing to the steady and steep feminisation of the agriculture sector. However, their contributions are often unremunerated in family businesses and on family farms.

Activities such as managing livestock and producing agricultural goods for local consumption are frequently excluded from surveys and GDP calculations. This diminishes the recognition of women’s labour. Research conducted by the Asian Development Bank reveals that almost 40 percent of women who are not working report that the main reason for this is that male family members do not permit them to work outside the home. This is due to patriarchal norms, entrenched traditional customs, social stigma and the cognitive inflexibility of parents.

Another workplace problem is sexual abuse, intimidation and harassment from colleagues. This directly affects the psychological well-being of women workers and their ambition to work and contribute to the economy.

To address these challenges, it is imperative for governments to take measures needed to promote labour force participation of women. This involves recognising and encouraging their contributions through effective policies and initiatives.

One key aspect is improving transportation and city infrastructure to enhance women’s mobility. This can significantly stimulate economic growth. Additionally, strict penalties should be enforced for workplace harassment. There is an urgent need for the government to invest in quality education and provide technical training to children, regardless of gender. This is essential to address educational inequalities and promote gender equality in the workforce.

Overcoming the barriers to women labour force participation in Pakistan requires a fundamental shift in societal attitudes and government policies. By replacing patriarchal values with plurality, empathy, tolerance and inclusivity, Pakistan can unlock the full potential of its female population.

The writer is a researcher and columnist based in Mardan. He can be reached at zakiir9669@gmail.com.

Let women earn