Women and Work in Pakistan

Women and Work in Pakistan

The female sphere of influence in public and the possibility of employment for Pakistani women is to a large extent dependent on the gender segregation (‘Purdah’). However, there are also major differences in terms of professional opportunities depending on social class and the income levels of the entire family. In addition, the starting position for women in the urban as opposed to the rural population is completely different. In Beluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is little industrial development and hardly any training opportunities for women due to the sporadic urban centers. In Sindh and Punjab there are social systems based on agriculture. However, with the urban centers and the greatest industrial development in these two provinces, a greater number of women have the opportunity to receive schooling and vocational training. But belonging to the respective ethnic group can also influence a woman’s career prospects. Due to the tribal orientation of the Belutches and Pakhtuns, women play a minor role in public and are sparsely represented in professional life.

Little is reported about the contribution of women to economic production in the country and it is not adequately taken into account in the statistics. This is also due to the fact that most women are employed in the informal sector or in the agricultural sector. For this reason, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has initiated a project that aims to change the perception of working women in the media.

According to mathgeneral, the percentage of women in employment in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world and only a very small percentage of women in employment have the opportunity to work in prestigious professions such as teachers or doctors. The chance to pursue a job is usually offered to them at the lower end and only – to a very small extent – at the upper end of the socio-economic scale. In Pakistan there are such different images side by side as that of the street sweeper, that of the woman living in Purdah who confines herself to her own house with homework, and that of the women from important families who are brought into the Step out in public and become famous. The most famous names are Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, the wife of Pakistan’s first prime minister, who was one of the very first female ambassadors in 1954. Or Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, sister of the state founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was run as a presidential candidate in 1965. And Benazir Bhutto, former leader of the Pakistani People Party (PPP) and two-time Prime Minister of the country, could only achieve this success as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter.

Women from the intellectual urban middle and upper class have the best educational and professional prospects. Their living conditions are more similar in all parts of the country than the living conditions of women from poorer classes or the rural areas of the same province. The middle and upper classes are most likely to find innovative behavior with regard to female schooling. The way family members are brought up and employed increases the family’s prestige and status. Women from these privileged classes have access to university education and can usually choose a career of their own. At this level of the socio-economic scale, there has been a large increase in the teaching and medical professions. About a third of all teachers and a fifth of all doctors are women. The need for teachers and doctors is explained by the gender segregation in Pakistani society. Even in the extremely conservative province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, most women are restricted to medical or teaching professions, but at least there are some practicing lawyers.

The “Purdah door” opens a crack to economic necessity: According to one estimate, 25 percent of women from economically weaker backgrounds work in the service industry in urban centers. Most of them as sweepers in hospitals, offices and on the streets; as servants in schools, hotels and hospitals as well as personnel in various domestic areas of activity. The number of factory workers is increasing, especially in the areas of textile production, pharmaceutical production and packing, in Karachi also in the fish industry. These jobs can all be classified in the traditional jobs for women, but are associated with little prestige, because they are carried out outside the own house for strangers and when they are carried out the separation from male employees cannot be maintained. These working women do not have the opportunity to choose employment according to the degree of reputation associated with it; they have to pursue the profession out of economic necessity. The economic pressures are stronger than the cultural restrictions that relegate women to their own homes and impose on men the duty to look after their families alone. High household costs, also due to the large number of children, have to be covered by additional income for the women and, in some cases, for the children.

With the liberalization of the media, women are increasingly finding jobs in the media sector, even though it is male-dominated and the conditions are not necessarily positive (low pay, irregular working hours, threats to critical media representatives from conservative forces, etc.). Nevertheless, the number of women working in the media sector is increasing. Many would like to contribute, for example, to reporting on topics such as violence against women or women in conflict zones and giving their opinion a voice. In order to support one another, Pakistani journalists also network with their colleagues in neighboring countries.

In the big cities of Pakistan, women work in a wide variety of sectors, including media and service sectors, health and educational institutions, but also art, culture, fashion and sports, and most recently the Pakistani Air Force. There are also many women activists, especially in the big cities, who take care of the social and political issues of women.

Women and Work in Pakistan

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