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Hilal Her

Issues of Working Women in Pakistan

June 2022

In 2021, 20.16% women participated in the Pakistani labor force as reported in the World Bank development indicators. This number is indicative of excessive hurdles that inhibit a more impassioned involvement of women in the workforce, but also implies that problems faced by women in the work force are likely to remain underrepresented. It would be ignorant to generalize the predicaments that arise in working women’s daily lives for the quandary of each woman is defined by her individual identity. Women from different socio-economic strata and cultural or familial backgrounds fall into various crises and have diverse options to deal with those problems. What is common, however, is that each dilemma is outrageously stressful and needs to be highlighted so that grounds for redressal are set in motion at the earliest.
Women belonging to the lower substratum of society who, due to unfortunate circumstances, are unable to educate themselves mostly end up as house help. Most of us remain forever indebted to these kind people who ease our daily lives, allowing us time to pamper ourselves or manage our executive jobs without having to worry about everyday chores. These women who undoubtedly contribute towards making us happier and more carefree encounter innumerable work related problems. Menial jobs, sadly, do not have pre-set terms and conditions making the workers vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the employers. This could include long working hours, lack of formally assigned paid leaves, low wages, and excessive labor for meagre returns. Add to this unquestioned sexual or physical abuse that they are subject to, often with them lacking any awareness about how something might be counted as abuse. Because these women are often unaware of their rights, they do not speak up for themselves. For extremely low pays, they continue to work in abusive environments. Their grueling work stays unrecognized and thereby, their challenges unheard. The voices of these workers are drowned by louder “Inn k maslay nahi khatam hote” (their problems are never-ending) rants held over cups of coffee brewed by these very workers.
The stress from work does not only affect women in their workplaces but also affects them in other sphere of lives. Consider, for instance, a mentally strained woman going back to her children after a day of suppressing her voice. Naturally, the anger will be displaced in multiple ways. Either it’s the children who become the victim of the lashing, or the house help in case of those who can afford to hire one. This holds true for every Pakistani woman who must fulfill the cultural expectations that come with being a woman in our society. Whether a woman has an executive job or is employed for domestic chores, she is required to fulfill the traditionally defined gender roles. Thus, women go back home to their children after long, tiring days with their minds fretting over all the leftover work to do. For mothers, add to this the constant tugging of their dupattas by their overexcited children who are unaware of the day their mother has had. The frustrations are likely to make women feel that they are failing at everything. In fact, this has been one of the reasons of increasing frustrations and lack of motivation among women. Thus, the female labor force participation remains very low in Pakistan. 
Lack of motivation to work is furthered by setbacks like low pays. Prejudiced attitude towards women has resulted in lower income. The bias is encouraged by a general misconception that women are less capable than men and thus, deserve lower compensation. Moreover, the prejudice is also fueled by the general misapprehension that women lack focus because of their excessive responsibilities. The Global Wage Report 2018/19 reported that women earn 34% less than men. Lower pay scales are bound to create job dissatisfaction and lesser productivity. Lack of benefits also leads to reduced job satisfaction. For example, paid maternity leave is less common in Pakistan, which means that most women have to sacrifice either family life or career orientation. Such reasons can also become major hurdles in women’s participation in the workforce.
While the reasons of lack of female labor force participation vary according to their individual identity and context, most women also face sexual harassment, which they keep a secret from their families and friends most of the time. As many women are not allowed to work, a lot of women decide to maintain silence over sexual abuse for the fear that this may add to the pressures of staying at home. Unfortunately, one of the reasons is victim blaming and shaming, which is also what forces most women to remain silent over cases of sexual harassment. Not only does this make the victims more vulnerable to instances of continual abuse, but also strengthens the victimizers who believe that their acts will go unnoticed and unquestioned. A lot of women face harassment, and another lot remains at home because their families do not want them to go through the sexual abuse that they witness around them. 
These problems that women face outside of home need serious attention. Women are facing these problems irrespective of their social or economic status. We urgently need to address these problems because the progress of our country is dependent on the participation of women. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his address in 1944 stated: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.” We need to make sure that women in our country are working alongside men. For that dream of Jinnah to be materialize, we need to address these problems at grassroots level. We need to make sure that all these problems are eradicated, so that we can walk shoulder to shoulder with men. It is only with the collaborative efforts of both men and women that we can ensure that our country reaches the height of success. HH

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