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Female Labour Participation in Pakistan – I – Daily Times

by Arifa Rana

Daily Times
Your right to know Sunday, October 31, 2021

Ghania Usman and Saud Bin Ahsen

The International Day of Girls is celebrated on October 11 every year. International Day of Girl Child was declared by the UN to amplify the voices of young girls around the world and increase awareness of issues faced by them. In 1995, at the World Conference on Women in Beijing, the need for an event focused on young and vulnerable girls was identified. The initiative began as a non-government international plan of action to address the challenge faced by young women.
Women around the world were confined to the role of household management and bearing and upbringing children. With the process of industrialisation and development in western countries, the number of women in formal jobs steadily increased. Although Female Labor Force Participation (FLFP) has progressed in many parts of the world, there are still issues to contend with in developed countries, like wage inequality and restrictive paths to top jobs. Pakistan, being a traditional society, also grappled with these issues experienced in most societies. The traditionalists conceive that their society gives more respect and a more important role to women than manual/formal jobs, as they are cradles for new generations. They consider women’s jobs in the formal sector as disrespect to these women as well as overall societal structure. On contrary, economic processes have led to an increase in the number of women jobs.
However, this increase has also been skewed at several levels. In urban areas, the jobs opportunities for women are concentrated in a few women-only sectors like education and health and in rural areas women are an unpaid workforce where their labour force participation is hardly recognised.
In a country like Pakistan, with a high population growth rate where a number of people, due to youth bulge, enter the job market amidst a low economic growth rate, there is a generally high level of unemployment, even for males. How to provide better employment opportunities to the female population through favourable cultural discourse and legal enactments remains a big challenge.
In the male-dominated Pakistani society, working women are circumscribed by cultural and social norms.
The labour force participation of women is the outcome of various economic and social factors. Most important factors affecting female participation decisions are the level of education, household income and its size/structure and the motivation in terms of other workers in the family. Females comprise half of the world population, but their participation in the job market is far below males. In Pakistan, women are 49 per cent of the country’s total population but their participation in the job market is around 25 per cent as against 75 per cent of developed countries. This percentage of female participation in Pakistan has further declined in recent years due to the COVID-19 that has badly hit the education and health sectors-the prime choices for Pakistani women.
The pandemic led to an uneven increase in females’ unpaid care work which suggests that impacts resulting from it may lead to a further decline in females’ participation in the country’s economy, where females’ labour force participation is already amongst the world’s lowest. Pakistan has developed a road map “Vision 2025,” which sets a target of 45 per cent increase in female labour force participation. Before indulging in the debate whether such an ambitious target can be achieved or not, it would be appropriate to look into the issues faced by women in the job market. This opinion piece focuses on the direction where economic theory and the socio-cultural aspects will be the central point concerning the female labour force.
Pakistan is knitted by cultural values and norms. Therefore, traditional beliefs and cultural attitudes define the role and status of women in society. In the male-dominated Pakistani society, working women are always under the microscope and circumscribed by cultural and social norms.
As per the Pakistan Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology research, care of elderly family members, joint family system, interference of relatives, children’s upbringing, social isolation and inter-family challenges are the main barriers. A survey reveals that a quarter of women belonging to rural and urban areas including conservative provinces showed a willingness to find a job but they insisted on the term ‘suitable jobs’, meaning thereby that women labour participation can be ensured by providing suitable employment opportunitie.
(To be Continued).
Ghania Usman was formerly associated with Army Public School (Bahawalpur) and can be reached at ghaniausman93@gmail.com.
Saud Bin Ahsen is a freelance columnist and can be reached at saudzafar5@gmail.com.

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