Currently, the female labour force participation in Pakistan is below 30% as compared to other countries with the same level of income. After reviewing the Pakistan Labour Force Survey for the year 2017-18, Gallup concluded that six out of 10 women holding a postgraduate degree remained unemployed in Pakistan. The report stated that 78% of females were not part of the labour force compared to 33% of males. Social biases, cultural restraints, political incompetency and gender discrimination are some of the common reasons for low female labour force participation. Women in Pakistan have comparatively less employment and earning opportunities. Even when they have an opportunity, it is still difficult for them to balance work and family life so most of them sacrifice their careers to look after their families. However, gig work and/or freelancing is a positive trend and is gaining relevance in Pakistan for women who want to work from home as it opens new doors for them. Freelancing means self-employment where an individual works for themselves. They carry out temporary jobs, projects, contracts, assignments, or tasks usually related to professions such as IT, design, marketing, writing, and social media to provide services in-country and globally.
The ‘Gig Economy’ has grown enormously and has made a significant influence by altering workforce dynamics over the past few years in Pakistan. According to a report published by digital payment company platform, Payoneer’s Global Gig Economy Index, published in Forbes, Pakistan ranked as the fourth fastest growing freelance market with 47% growth in freelance earning in 2019. In Pakistan, the number of freelancers under the age of 35 is above the global average of 70%. Moreover, female freelancers in Pakistan are earning $22 an hour, 10% more than men who earn $20 an hour per global average. This is the most optimistic finding that show the earnings of Pakistani female freelancers are greater than the global average. These statistics are a good indication for the development and prosperity of the gig economy of Pakistan.
Gig work is a new dimension that is paving a new way for women to participate in the economy while staying at home. It is shaping a new future for female labour force participation. It is observed as a saving grace particularly for married women and/or single parents. There are many digital platforms locally and globally that are motivating women to take up gig work and be their own boss, set their own working hours and wages, and marketing their skills. It is not only providing easy access to employment opportunities but is also eliminating gender inequality. From time flexibility, fast and affordable way of earning, more rewarded career to the environment, gig work comes with many upsides. Moreover, it offers a desired alternative to the traditional over-burdening and underpaying jobs. It helps them earn a livelihood while working from home and taking care of their children. Gig economy is promising a more inclusive labour market for women by enabling them to balance work and home. The key factors enabling women to succeed in freelancing includes work-life balance, independence, self-identification, carving social status, building a brighter future and enhancing decision-making power.
The digital gig economy of the country is the fastest growing in Asia, which is playing a significant role in economic and development goals. Female participation is also gaining momentum in the gig economy. But, in this age of technology and innovation, certain steps need to be taken to enhance the development of human capital. In this light, a positive step has been taken by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoIT) to provide a ‘National Freelance Training Program’ to freelancers to achieve sustainable economic development through female empowerment, gender balance and reduced inequality across the country. In 2018, Pakistan also launched the world’s first government-backed program, DigiSkills, to train 1 million freelancers across the country. DigiSkills offers free online courses to learn skills and earn a living. Individuals can choose to select a course such as Digital Marketing, E-Commerce Management, WordPress, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Graphic design, AutoCAD and creative writing. Similarly, the E-Rozgar program launched by the Government of Punjab in 36 districts aims to increase the digital learning skills and capabilities of freelancers. Through this initiative, the Government of Punjab will assist youth in earning sustainable income. One of the major objectives of this project is to provide training opportunities for self-employment using internet based freelancing. The draft of National Freelancing Facilitation Policy 2021, is also a promising step to facilitate freelancers by financial inclusion, female empowerment, intellectual property policy, facilitation for the differently-abled community, empowerment of remote areas, fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for freelancers.
Women are a significant part of the workforce and uplifting them in education/skills, health and politics is key to grow our female labour force participation. Efforts have been made to provide more opportunities to females by reducing financial and digital divides. Continued efforts by the government, NGOs and private sector should help to increase the participation rate of women in the gig economy. Digital awareness programs and training sessions in remote areas will prove to be beneficial as it will provide opportunities for women in remote areas. Digital Pakistan is a positive step in this regard to help empower the youth and women by granting them equal access to ICT. Basic digital literacy in schools can also help the youth become more aware of information technology. Lastly, public-private partnership arrangements should also consider to boost employment prospects for gig employees. The increased participation of women in gig economy will not only help them to earn will also bridge the gender gap. HH
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