Challenging the engrained mentality of ‘chaddar and chaar diwaari’ in the society, women in Pakistan have begun overstepping socially constructed barriers to join the mainstream workforce as equal stakeholders and contributors towards the national economy.
In the past, women were generally limited to the informal sector where they would have to wok arduous hours in fields as labourers, domestic helpers and daily-wage workers in factories, and still be paid less than their male counterparts. A female domestic worker and her 9-year old daughter were raped by their employer in Faisalabad only yesterday. However they went to the police and lodged a complaint and the rapist has been arrested.
Data collected by the Human Rights Commission revealed that a woman is raped after every two hours and gang-raped after every eight hours. Reports have revealed that most incidents of sexual harassment take place on the job and most go unreported because these women fear loss of employment. Absence of workplace harassment legislation had been a major barrier to female entry in the job market in the past, however many of these fears have now begun to fade.
Social attitudes towards working women have also begun to change for the better. People have become more aware about the need to educate females and the rise in female literacy has also led to more women entering the job market to put their skills to test. “I am proud that my daughter has a university degree and works in a prestigious firm,” said Amin Shaikh, a father of three.
The global economic recession has hit every household and as family finances shrink, women are gradually stepping forward to shoulder their share of the financial burden. Social definitions of the singular bread earner have become more diffused as women work alongside their husbands to raise families.
Fatimah Ali, who runs a catering business from home, said, “I couldn’t continue my education after marriage but my husband lost his job two years ago and since I could cook well I started my own business from home to make ends meet.”
Women in rural areas have traditionally been equal partners with men in tiling fields and harvesting crops. Their contribution to the economy however is abysmally underrepresented as laws of land ownership do not take their input into consideration and women in the country still own only two percent of all fertile land.
The increase in enrolment of females in primary and secondary schools has played a major role in changing attitudes and encouraging a percentage of these women to continue their education to join professional circles.
“My daughter is very intelligent and while we couldn’t afford higher education, she won a scholarship and is becoming a doctor,” said Salma.
While women are still far from being treated as equals and many are still subject to chilling archaic traditions in certain areas, a gradual but sure shift from the ‘chaddar and chaar diwaari’ mentality has been observed. Society evolves according to the times and women have achieved remarkable laurels for themselves over the past years.
The National Assembly successfully passed laws against harassment of women in workplace, anti-women practices and passed another act to establish the National Commission on the Status of Women. Equal Employment Opportunity laws and anti-discriminatory regulations have also helped ease women into the formal sector, where they enjoy key private, corporate and public offices.
These women also set an example for younger females aspiring to join the workforce. Remarkable success stories like Lakshan’s, the first female pilot from Kalash, Asma Jehangir, Namira Saleem Ayesha Jalal, Fareiha Altaf and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy among thousands of others have set excellent examples for women from all socio-economic circles.
National Day for Rights of Working Women today
The National Working Women’s Day will be observed today (Saturday) to acknowledge the economic contributions made by women to the country. The day has been observed annually for the last two years due to initiatives taken by the former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. The objective of observing the day is to recognise the contributions made by working women in social uplift and to urge policy-makers to uphold their rights. December 20 was designated the National Working Women’s Day in 2010 in recognition of the struggle of working women to secure a dignified and respectful working environment. The number of women joining the workforce has increased exponentially in the last few years. Women work as human resource managers, police officers, directors, business executives, journalists, lawyers, and pilots in the public and private sectors. Pakistan is the only Islamic country that has extended top government posts to women. The government has shown its commitment to the cause of women by promulgating the `Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009’. Despite an improvement in their socio-economic status, a lot more needs to be done for female emancipation. Women’s participation in the formal workforce is still low, as around 80 to 85 percent women work in the informal sector as labourers and agriculture workers.