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Hilal Her

Career Women and the Value of Support Systems

November 2023

Sarah was born in Lahore, a bustling and vibrant city of Pakistan. Her aspirations were boundless, and she was determined to become a successful fashion designer. Sarah navigated a sea of demanding assignments, dedicating endless hours to designing and sketching and frequently forgoing peaceful evenings. She eventually obtained her degree in fashion designing. But, upon entering the professional field, Sarah found herself in a maze of complexities. From gender disparities and lack of career counseling to the struggle of balancing work and family, thriving in her chosen career was no small feat. Regrettably, Sarah’s story mirrors the experiences of many Pakistani women who diligently pursue careers, only to be confronted by barriers that cast shadows on their progress.

Career navigation is about finding the right path and making the right choices to achieve your desired career outcomes. This includes choosing a college major, seeking job opportunities, gaining new skills, and making decisions about your career as you progress in your professional life. Professional choices for women in Pakistan are very limited. Fields like teaching and medicine are considered noble and socially accepted for Pakistani women; the rest are dubbed as ‘unconventional’. It is no secret that parents decide what is best for their kids. Parents are stricter and exert an even stronger influence over girls than boys. So, if girls are to express their inclination to study fields, they are bombarded with comments like “Oh! You have such good grades, why don’t you choose medicine?” or “Business is for boys, with these marks you could totally ace the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).” Comments such as these make young girls rethink their choices, undermining their abilities and talents. 
The job market is constantly evolving, as new industries emerge and others become obsolete. Relying solely on outdated perceptions of success can have a detrimental impact on the growth and potential of young girls. The notion that a single career path can suit everyone is no longer valid in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world. It is imperative for parents to place trust in their girls’ capabilities and provide them the freedom to select their career path based on their own personal preferences and abilities, thereby facilitating the potential for a rewarding and satisfying career. Moreover, it is essential that career counseling be available to girls so that they can choose a career path that is most compatible with their interests in addition to being financially rewarding. 
Women in Pakistan are often expected to uphold the family’s honor by conforming to societal norms, behaving modestly, and observing parda. Any deviation from these norms can be perceived as damaging to the family’s reputation. All these cultural norms and traditions are misrepresented as religious guidance that leads to negative stereotypes around working women.
There is a common belief that a woman who works outside the home may struggle to excel as a homemaker, as her time and attention are divided between her career and personal life. For example, in many instances, young female doctors find themselves getting married immediately after graduation, but unfortunately, they lack support from their husbands and in-laws in the pursuit of their chosen profession because of how demanding it is. A survey jointly conducted by Gallup Pakistan and the think tank PRIDE revealed that approximately 35% of female medical doctors in Pakistan are unemployed. This is a staggering loss. Besides the loss of talent, the nation has suffered a significant financial setback. The analysis report claims Pakistan has lost Rs 200 billion of investment on training 50,000 female medical doctors who decide against entering their field after completing their education. Women are expected to prioritize their roles as wives and mothers after marriage. They are seen as caregivers, responsible for household chores and raising children. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be the primary breadwinners and heads of households. Such traditional gender roles are deeply entrenched in Pakistan. In some conservative communities, women’s mobility is restricted. They may be discouraged from traveling alone, particularly long distances, which limits their access to education and employment opportunities. Due to this factor, a lot of women make sacrifices just like Ayesha did. Ayesha was presented with an offer for a prestigious BPS-scale teaching job. But this meant leaving her two children behind and traveling to a distant district in Punjab. Ayesha felt she had no choice but to forgo this tempting opportunity. Currently, she has a successful home baking business where she sells cakes that leave her clients spellbound. She is happy and believes this career to be her true calling. Although, this career shift worked in Ayesha’s favor, that is not always the case. 
Given the close-knit family system prevalent within Pakistani society, the support system provided by families plays a crucial role in facilitating the pursuit of professional vocations by women. Support systems are extremely important in helping women break the barriers in their careers and pursue their professional goals. These support systems can take various forms, from family and friends to mentorship programs and women’s networks. Navigating a career path in Pakistan, where societal expectations and gender biases restrict opportunities for women at times, can be intimidating. But with the aid of a support system, a woman feels empowered and her confidence instantly increases. 
Support systems enable women to pursue education, enter the workforce, and excel in their chosen fields. This also gives opportunity to women to connect with experienced professionals who can guide them regarding their careers. Having a big support system can result in a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce in Pakistan leading to increased innovation, economic growth, and social progress. 
Let us delve into the various ways in which support systems and societal initiatives can contribute to the advancement of women’s careers in Pakistan.
Supportive Family
First and foremost, a supportive family is a woman’s greatest asset in her career journey. Families that encourage their daughters and daughters-in-law to pursue their passions and ambitions boost their self-esteem. Supportive families should respect women’s career choices whether it is a traditional or an offbeat career option. Moreover, tiny gestures like understanding and showing empathy are beneficial in a situation when women need to make career-related decisions or go through work-related stress. Family support can involve sharing responsibilities more equitably, giving women more time and energy to focus on their careers. Additionally, family members like grandparents or other extended family members play a significant role in childcare. This support is invaluable for working mothers, allowing them to balance their career responsibilities with family commitments.
Encouraging and Helpful Spouse
In many Pakistani households, traditional gender roles assign women the majority of household chores and caregiving duties. A husband’s support can include being flexible around work timings or business trips without making his wife guilty. Believing in his wife’s skills and capabilities can be source of encouragement for her. Also, men participating in household and childcare responsibilities can relieve a great deal of burden for women.
Empowering Close-Knit Groups
The presence of a close-knit group of female friends holds significant importance as an inherent source of support for women, whether within the context of their familial relationships or in professional settings. The aforementioned support network functions as a fundamental support system, aiding women in navigating obstacles, commemorating achievements, and collaboratively influencing their futures. 
Whether it is providing a shoulder to lean on during tough times or celebrating each other’s successes, this network of support helps women overcome obstacles and thrive progressively. It is a reminder that when women empower one another, they create a powerful force for positive change in their families and professions. 
Paternity Leave
The journey of motherhood comes with a unique set of workplace challenges that women face head-on. On account of this, employers tend to sideline and replace them in the blink of an eye because they consider a child as a distraction for the women. They are not entirely off base here because of the prevalent societal attitudes that make the brought-up of a child wholly the mother’s responsibility, and if she is not available at all times, she is considered a bad mother, women tend to take on all the responsibility of their children. But this leads to some women hiding their pregnancies out of fear of discrimination.
Paternity leave from office can significantly support Pakistani women’s careers by ensuring job security and allowing for postpartum recovery. The process of childbirth necessitates that a father assumes a multitude of tasks. If fathers are not exempted from their professional responsibilities during this period, it can have detrimental effects on both the familial relationships and work performance. In the Pakistani context, it is imperative to emphasize the significance of paternity leave, since it would enable husbands/fathers to contribute to the obligations typically borne solely by women.
Childcare Centers at Workplaces
Having accessible and affordable daycare facilities at or near workplaces can be a game-changer for Pakistani women. These facilities allow them to balance their professional responsibilities while ensuring the well-being and care of their children. The outcomes of creating family-friendly workplaces include increased employee productivity, low absenteeism, and increased profitability. 
Career Navigation Programs
Career navigation programs encompass a range of activities such as workshops, seminars, mentorship, and networking opportunities, which are crucial in facilitating the professional growth and progression of women. Participating at conferences and engaging in industry-related events can facilitate the establishment of significant professional networks and enable women to remain informed about prevailing industry developments.
Establishment of a robust and accomplished female workforce is contingent upon the presence and utilization of various support systems. The acquisition of employment by women not only serves as a means of generating cash and fostering independence, but also contributes to an elevation of their social standing within both familial and societal context. In addition, to enhance women’s financial autonomy, a substantial social engineering initiative is necessary, which should involve the transformation of regressive cultural and societal norms pertaining to women’s responsibilities, ultimately positioning them inside the high-skilled labour force. HH

The writer is a broadcast journalist and also holds the position of Media and PR Manager at Shifa International Hospital
Email:[email protected]