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Socio economic profile of women in Pakistan

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5478 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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From the total 1.3 billion people who live in poverty in the whole world, the majority are women. 70% of the total poverty is women (CARE, 2005) not only because of lacking access to the basic necessities of life but because they are being denied from their rights and opportunities.

Women empowerment has become popular as a development factor because it is crucial for eliminating poverty and sustaining economic growth. From Pakistan’s total population of 156 million, the female population is almost 75 million (Pakistan: Country Gender Profile, 2007-08) which shows approximately 50% of our population is women, which means that women progress is an imperative part of the development process but this provides a lot of challenges for different countries as each of them have their own religious and cultural boundaries.

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Pakistan’s country gender profile shows that females’ crude labor force participation rate has increased to 9% in 1996-7 to 13.3% in 2005-6 which is because of the major increase in rural female labor force participation rate from 10.5% in 1996-7 to 16% in 2005-6 whereas female employment has only increased from 4.58 million to 9.13 million from 1996-7 to 2005-6. The female informal sector employment has only increased by 1% from 1996 to 2006. (Pakistan: Country Gender Profile, 2007-08)

The Labor Force Survey of 2005-06 shows 46.2% of the female employees are living below an average monthly income of 1500 rupees from which 55% of these females are from the rural areas while 34% are from the urban area. Only 24% of the total female employees live above an average monthly income of 4000 rupees from which 38% are from the urban area and 14% from the rural. (Labor Force Survey, 2005-06)

The Labor Force Survey of 2005-06 shows that 45% of the female employees work for an average of 35-48 hours a week and 24% work for an average of 21-30 hours a week. The total adult literacy rate of population 15 years and older is 52% of the total population, of which 38% are females and 65% males. The female primary education enrollment rate is 79%, the middle education enrollment rate is 44% and secondary education enrollment rate is 44%. (Labor Force Survey, 2005-06)

The number of women as elected members of the National Assembly has increased from 0.9% in 1990-91 to 22.2% in 2008-09. (HDR, 2009)

Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals emphasizes on removing gender inequality and improving women empowerment through efforts being started by NGOs and the Government. ( Chaudhry and Nosheen, 2002)

Even though Pakistan being an Islamic state should give equal rights to women and men in the country but this is rarely the case as shown by the Gender Equality Measure (GEM), which according to the UNDP’s human development report which for South Asia has the lowest value of 0.235 in the world. Among the 93 countries registered with the UN, the GEM rank of Pakistan is 82 which show how high Pakistan’s gender inequality is with respect to control over earned economic resources, participation in political decision making and economic decision making. (Pakistan: Country Gender Profile, 2007-08)

According to the Human Development Report 2007-08, the Gender Development Index of Pakistan is the lowest among all South Asian Countries having a value of 0.179 compared to the average of 0.225. Since the GEM is directly linked with the Human Development Indicator (HDI), it shows that according to the Human Development Report 2007-08 that the HDI for Pakistan is 0.551 which ranks Pakistan on 136th out of 177 countries which shows how low Pakistan’s life expectancy, educational status and income of country is. (HDR 2007-08)

Female participation by type of economic activity in Pakistan

Lopez-Claros and Zahidi (2005) define ‘economic participation of women as lowering the disproportionate levels of poverty among women, but also as an important step toward raising household income and encouraging economic development in countries as a whole.’

Amartya Sen states ‘that societies need to see women less as passive recipients of help, and more as dynamic promoters of social transformation’ which means that the education, employment and ownership rights of women will have a powerful influence on their ability to contribute to economic development. (Lopez-Claros and Zahidi, 2005)

Globalization has increased gender inequality since it has increased opportunities for local producers and entrepreneurs for the highly educated and technically advanced employees which are a majority of men in Pakistan leaving poorer women jobless and with greater insecurities.

As mentioned earlier, a large proportion of women work in the informal sector so 70% of the agricultural labor and 90% of the agricultural output is produced by women.

Lopez-Claros and Zahidi (2005) define ‘economic opportunity as the quality of women’s economic involvement, beyond their mere presence as workers.’ This is a problem because of the low paid unskilled demanding jobs that the women are employed for to serve as a penalty for their maternity and domestic issues such as child birth and family care, especially in developing countries where women are lacking mobility and opportunities.

Recent research has shown that in sectors such as telecom, insurance banking and real estate women’s participation has dropped and has increased in public services such as health and education which are much less rewarding and expanding. Even though women nowadays are getting more education than men they are still worse off when it comes to getting hired and getting a paid employment as part of the labor workforce. (Ruminksa-Zimny, 1999)

Women therefore, normally are employed for jobs in the education sector or nursing, since they are more adjustable according to their needs and the less working hours better suits their routine, these intensively undermine the economic opportunities for women since they are the lowest paid jobs and have a very limited scope for advancement and progress.

Social change, structural transformation and gender mainstreaming in Pakistan: Key issues and challenges

The wealth of nations is not totally dependent on financial assets. Physical and natural capital will definitely contribute to the wealth of a nation but a bigger share, approximately 64 percent is attributed to human and social capital (Haq, 1997).

Since the rise of the feminist revolution, the notion of women empowerment has been approached from many dimensions. In the last decade, this diverse notion has become a well debated and has become a mature legitimized concept. A considerable lot of studies were published in Pakistan reviewing the question of women empowerment with regional contexts.

A notable percentage i.e. 51% of the poverty burden is on the account of female population in Pakistan. In further addition, women were neglected and under-nourished. Different socio-cultural factors have contributed in the slow progress of this large portion of national asset, despite of decades of efforts on the governmental levels. To ensure a meaningful and sustainable economic development a social harmony on the grounds of gender must be guaranteed. The ideology of growth with equality is the right way towards poverty alleviation, social development and thus the overall national development. (Women empowerment in Pakistan)

A low level of female labor force participation rate is not seen as a genuine problem by many countries. This is a factor that is being neglected in developing countries like Pakistan because of social, cultural and economic constraints.

Reducing gender inequality by increasing participation and power of women is crucial for eliminating poverty which results in improved economic growth as it reduces the infant mortality rate and the fertility rate and improves the health conditions, literacy rate and hence the productivity of a country.

The development sector is deepening its analysis and is shifting from a process of addressing surface level issues to grappling with the deeper, root causes of poverty, marginalization and low status of and violence against women. (Pakistan: Country Gender Profile, 2007-08)

Awareness needs to be created amongst men to stop the violence against women and to encourage women’s empowerment through their productivity by giving them their rights and freedom of speech. The Natural White Ribbon Campaign is an organization lead by men to discourage violence against women in Pakistan.

In rural Pakistan, households operate as part of activities at different levels which depend on the sex of the household member, the man of the household or spouse would do the labor work and provide the main source of income for the family while other members will work under his influence and less in terms of earning income. Daughter in laws always do more of the domestic work over daughters and an educated person will carry out less labor and enjoy more leisure. (Fafschamps and Quisumbing, 2003)

A woman who is likely not able to leave the house for work is more vulnerable to abuse and torture at her home. If her household’s income is dependent on the women’s work she may be forced to work in poor working conditions and suffer sexual harassment. Parents are more likely to educate their sons than their daughters if they discover that women earn less than men and are likely to be victims of discrimination at their working place. For a woman to have a good position in her society and to stand up with pride it is important for her to be well-educated, be well nourished to deal with child birth, be able to make decisions in her life and be free from violence. (Progress of the Worlds Women, 2000)

In Pakistan: County Gender Profile 2007-08 mentions the social and structural changes that are leading to changes in the status of women which are mainly because of donors and NGOs increasing interaction and participation of communities, television media liberalization, increase in budgetary expenditure of social spending and improvement on official commitment to social development indicators and the structural changes which are shifting to women progress are state failure to deliver on services and entitlements, local economies fixed on traditional forms of governance, concepts of rights perceived as “western” are viewed with contempt and resentment. These shifts lead to the government facilitating changes such as official endorsement of women’s rights by state institutions, more value is being given to receiving an education and so education policies are increasing, old orthodox views are being negated and awareness against them is being established in both men and women. Transformations already included are drop in the fertility rates and early pregnancies, minimum age of marriage for girls has risen, majority public opinion on early marriages and pregnancies and women’s representation in the parliament; changes are still being worked on to improve the public profile of women in media and politics, condemnation of violence against women, public discourse of alternative interpretations of religion, high costs of living reshaping economic opportunities, political economy of customary forms of violence against women and its public perceptions, diverse meanings of veiling and its correlation with mobility. Some significant changes which still need to be considered are pending such as the social protection mechanisms, women’s low possession of assets and property rights, laws governing violence against women and registration of births, marriages and divorces. (Pakistan: Country Gender Profile, 2007-08)

Improving women empowerment does not only increase the welfare of the women but also has a constructive influence on her family as the confidence that builds up encourages her to participate more in domestic household decisions which would include the education of her children and a healthier lifestyle which would lead to better household incomes in the future.

1.2 Keywords and definitions

Women empowerment: A process whereby women become able to organize themselves to increase their own self-reliance, to assert their independent right to make choices and to control resources which will assist in challenging and eliminating their own subordination (Rowlands, 1995)

Household empowerment: Participation in domestic decision-making; control over cash and spending and knowledge of legal and marital rights.

Political participation: Knowledge of political system and means of access to it; domestic support for political engagement; exercising the right to vote. (Malhotra, Schuler, Boender, 2002)

Socio-cultural: Women’s literacy, freedom of mobility and speech, lack of discrimination against daughters, commitment to educating daughters. (Malhotra, Schuler, Boender, 2002)

Study Objectives

To test the proposition that women’s educational attainment of women has an impact on economic women empowerment

To test the proposition that women’s control over personal income has an impact on economic women empowerment

To test the proposition that women’s freedom of speech has an impact on economic women empowerment

To test the proposition that women’s freedom of mobility has an impact on economic women empowerment

To test the proposition that women’s participation in political activities has an impact on economic women empowerment

To test the proposition that a woman’s limited working opportunities due to matrimony has an impact on economic women empowerment.

To test the proposition that a woman’s job satisfaction has an impact on economic women empowerment.


2.1 Women’s status and well being in developing and developed countries

“Women hold half the sky”. Those were the words of Mao Zedong, one of the great revolutionaries to brace Asia. Mao, like most of leftist leaders, was very clear about the important role women play in shaping a prosperous society. Mao was very right in concluding that no revolution is successful without the active participation of women. In the civil war against Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT, Women’s Associations were formed in hundreds of villages throughout the Communist controlled areas of China. The Communist Party supported the revolts of the women; they gave leadership to women meetings and assisted them in organizing and extending their struggles. But that was not just a mere support winning tactics. This practice continues till now as China is tipped to replace America as the economic power of the world.

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According to All-China Women’s Federation, in 2007, women contributed to 40% of GDP of the country (c). While the stats above don’t include the contribution made by the unpaid women labor, but surely one can judge that how far Chinese women have come since the revolution. From just being house wives and concubines in the Feudal China, the modern Chinese women contribute not only in the economy of the People’s Republic, but in its defense as well.

The women’s role in China is essentially a great example of how women’s empowerment can contribute to a society. One aspect of the freedom and status women enjoy in China is that it does not replicate western feminism as their ideal. That is not to suggest that there is something wrong with what feminism has achieved in west, but Chinese women have defined their own feminism one which makes them contribute to the society as equals. Although it won’t be wrong to suggest that Chinese feminists takes some its principles from Western Feminists but the Chinese Feminism has kept its Asian outlook as well.

The status which women enjoy in west, or to put in terms economics, the developed countries, has a long feminist struggle behind it. In countries like United States of America, where democratic principles have been practiced since its independence from Britain, women got the right for voting only in 1918 after hard fought struggle. Movements such as Temperance Movement were phenomenal in passing the women’s suffrage bill. In this respects, their British sisters had to wait till 1928 before the British parliament allowed all women over the age of 21 to vote. The incidents of Hyde Park, where 250,000 people shouted “Votes for Women,” are one of the many examples where western women have had to take militant stances to get their message across to male dominated society.

No historian can argue that without the political struggle women in west would have achieved this freedom that they enjoy now.

In developing countries, likes of India, Pakistan women have come long way also in achieving a respectable status in mostly conservative societies. Though these developing countries give an outlook where women rights are significantly less as compared to west, women had a significant role to play in the political discourse of shaping up society. Not only in the independence movements of both the countries but also after independence, have women played an active role in the politics of Sub continent. Names of Indra Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Khaleda Zia have commanded the highest statuses of power in their respective countries, a feat yet to be achieved by their American sisters.

However these political achievements, true as they maybe, do not present the true picture of Pakistani women and their plight in society. In Pakistan, where the general discourse of Pakistani Middle Class is conservative, women have to go a long way in achieving equal status. This male dominated society has yet to see feminist movements that Western or Chinese society witnessed in early and mid 1900’s.

According to the Pakistan: Country Gender Profile 2007-08, Pakistan is in line with the discourse of most of the Islamic countries, in being amongst the top 10 worst places for women to live. Although how much role religion has to play in this is fairly debatable, most of the laws that are an insult to women’s right are passed under the umbrella of religion (doc: Blasphemy law and Huddod ordinance). The situation is even worse in the rural areas where black laws of “honor killing” and “Jirga ordered rape” is considered part of old traditions.

According to Article 37 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which clearly states that education is right of every man and woman and government will do its utmost to promote it, women education is still a rather controversial and debated topic in the middle and lower middle class. Plus the lack of interest showed by the Pakistani State towards the education is clearly shown by the percentage of budget allocated to education, according to the research conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 2007, which shows that it less than 2.5% of the total GDP even in 2006-2007. (Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2006-07)

The plight of women gets even worst as we discuss the employment condition and status. The lack of information bars from providing a clear and detailed picture of Pakistani women. In order to analyze this situation, one must bear in mind that age demographic of male and female population of Pakistan, between 15 and 64 years, is 59.1% (male 53,658,173/female 49,500,786). This is nothing but sheer disaster for a developing country as it undermines the World Bank key indicators of progress and development. (Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2006-07)

2.2 Gender norms of productivity and employment

According to the Women’s Progress Report of 2000, female share of paid employment in industry and services is 8% in Pakistan. The female participation rate has increased in 1985 compared to 1997 when it was lower for all developing countries.

The past two decades have witnessed the emergence of ‘non-standard’ forms of work in some sectors, which used to be characterized by regular wage employment. Among these, the most important numerically have been part-time employment and temporary work. They usually offer lower levels of social security coverage and of employment rights than regular jobs. Part-time and temporary work is also usually associated with lower wages and limited training opportunities or career prospects. Many forms of non-standard jobs…pose a real risk of marginalization in the labor market (UN 1999d).

Work is defined as the participation in the market and with the public; this has lead to an underrepresentation of the female total economic activity since women in most developing countries neither work in the market nor with the public but work privately which is with their family and being a part of the household work. According to statistical agencies, in the definition of the labor force, the domestic production is not taken in account which means that it does not incorporate all productive activity which deals with the quality of life of families and the operation of market economy. Negligence of these activates causes severe implications for the study of women empowerment and the development of policies. (Peterson, 1993)

Peterson (1993) and Patkar (1995) states that the national accounts include nonmonetary items to measure national output of the country but do not include the nonmarket activities performed by women which include activities such as the transportation of water which is essential to the well-being of any population is not taken into account as part of economic activity. As Kathleen Newland reports, in certain regions of Kenya, “water carrying is explicitly excluded from national accounting because it is done by women, yet if the same work in the same area was done by men, it would be assigned an economic value.” This shows that the work carried out by women have little economic value and is not considered important, so all nonmarket activities performed by women are not considered in the definition of work, as well as labor done by women. (Peterson, 1993)

Women do not participate in the market activities through full time wage labor but it’s a mix of part time wage labor and domestic labor which are conducted by women in developing countries in many ways for example the production of goods and services at homes which they sell off or through providing unpaid labor in family enterprises. Even though some of these activities are included in the definition of work but they are counted as much lesser compared to full time wage labor. This becomes a problem in the developing world where production for the household’s consumption and production for exchange become integrated. All unpaid work done by a woman at her home is put under the category of housework which is not considered as proper economic work and part time labor work is also undercounted while production of goods and services at home by the women in the family especially in villages such as traditional ornaments and agricultural food is overlooked. Women who work inside the house and contribute to part time labor are also put under the category of housewives. Due to cultural belief women’s part time labor work is often underreported since it will be an issue of prestige for the men of the household that the women of the house is also going outside for work to earn an income became then men’s earning might not be sufficient. (Peterson, 1993)

According to Mies (1986), women’s paid labor is characterized by unskilled and sporadic work such as petty commodity production and domestic work which is based in the house.

As Beneria demands, the definition of active labor should contribute to the satisfaction of the basic needs of the household through either exchange or use value. Hence, all domestic activities such as cleaning, cooking and child care should be taken as the labor force participation. (Patkar, 1995)

Raju (1993) states, that main workers are defined as those who are taking part in an economically productive activity for 183 days or six months or more during the preceding year of starting, which shows why there is undercounting in the female labor force participation. Another reason for the underestimation is that even though the total proportion of girls and women working in casual labor is more than the male population in developing countries but since these activities are normally seasonal and irregular therefore they are very rarely taken into account. (Patkar, 1995)

2.3 Sources and types of gender gaps and discrimination

‘Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness.’ – Karl Marx

The marginalized role in our history books has led to permanent stigmatization of female sex being a weaker sex. This stigmatization is further strengthened by the role monolithic religion plays which have been phenomenal in shaping up post capitalist society.

In the beginning, pagan religions offered a glorified role to women in the religious theology. There were male gods and then there were female goddess i.e Aphrodite, Athena etc in the Greek Mythology were some of the prominent and powerful goddess. However that didn’t necessarily contributed women to respectable position in a pagan society as they had to play a second fiddle role to man. However, with the emergence of monolithic religion, that theological respect was also taken away from them as women were confined to household through religious revelation. This still plays a major role in the mindset of societies dominated by religion. i.e Middle East. Although Islam talked about women rights way before the west talked about renaissance but as the religion expanded, it had to adapt to more male dominated ideas rather than the egalitarian concepts it preached about the sexes. Hence even religion could not break the hegemony men possessed over the human society.

In describing discriminations faced by women, one cannot help but notice the difference of plight of women in developed countries and developing countries. Pakistan would be a good example in representing the plights of women in developing countries. We can categorize discrimination faced by women in three ways:-

The first type of discrimination is education discrimination; the education and empowerment of women has been stressed as a key factor in bringing a country out of poverty. According to UN fact sheet, women empowerment is very critical for a country’s development because by providing women with access to economic and educational opportunities, you provide access to resources to their whole family which helps in overcoming the obstacles of poverty and hunger.

However this doesn’t seem to be priority in Pakistan where social norms backed by, somewhat, religious mind set of society has hindered the task further. According the Social Development in Pakistan, Annual Review, 1998, the Government of Pakistan’s Report in 2006, speaks about the growing gender gap as it says that the literacy rate for female was 52.2% while 74.3% for male in urban areas while female literacy was 19.1% against literacy rate of male 48.6% in rural areas. Recent insurgency in the North West of Pakistan has led to the either closing down or blowing up of numerous schools.

Educational discrimination of women is not contributing to the gender gap but also a counterproductive act for the society as a whole. As emphasized by Z.Azam, 2000, in Pakistan’s total population 50-52% comprise of female, therefore it is logical to mention that a country cannot progress when half of its population is being deprived of literacy and are not participating in its social change, human development and social progress. (Women in Pakistan: Country Briefing Paper, 2000). However in contrast to Pakistan, the developed economies have totally gotten rid of this problem.

The second type of discrimination is social discrimination; the Asian development bank described very accurately the social status of women in Pakistan. According to the report which states that, in Pakistan women lack social value and status since they are not considered the provider for the family, the man being the source of income automatically things he’s superior to the women in the household. Male members of the family are spent more on and more resources are given to them including better education and hence are equipped with skills, while female members of the house are rarely provided with an education and are only taught how to make good mothers and obedient wives, hence because of lack of education, skills, limited opportunities in job experiences and social and cultural restrictions limit women’s chances to compete for resources in the public arena. This has led to the social and economic dependency of women on the male members of the house that becomes the basis for male power over women in all social relationships and gives the men an edge to dominate the women. These trends are more common in the rural and local areas to establish male authority and power over women’s lives. In villages, where there is no judicial power, women are even exchanged, sold, and bought in marriages. (Women in Pakistan: Country Briefing Paper, 2000)

However Pakistani state also doesn’t offer much help in elevating social status of women. Hudood Ordinance, Blasphemy law are some of the most draconian laws shackling women. Only recently has the government passed a bill that describes proper action taken in case of sexual harassment, otherwise there wasn’t a single word mentioned in the 6 labor policies since the creation of Pakistan. In a report presented by human rights commission of Pakistan: – “….1100 women were killed in 2008. Of these 183 were axed to death, 30 were brutally tortured. Nearly a quarter of the women belonged to minority groups and was particularly targeted for this reason and about 80 of them were minors”. (Asian Conflict Reports, 2009) The report also admits that the states mentioned here are the ones that were reported and openly says that most of the acts of crimes against women go unreported.

The third type of discrimination is work place discrimination which is mentioned below.

2.4 Workplace environment for women employees

Women often face different forms of subordination in their workplaces. The access and rights that are being given to women in their working places are decreasing even though the percentage of women getting hired and being part of the paid sector are increasing. UNICEF has reported incidents showing from women’s experience that paid jobs do not always spare women from coercion in their families, they also do not give women control over their working conditions.

Despite an increase in women’s rights in the workplace, several studies show that employers continue to use gender roles and gender identity in making decisions. (Avery, 1992; Brenner, Tornkiewicz, & Schein,1989; Heilman, Block, Martel, & Simon, 1989), this is because increasing evidence shows that women in business environments are more ethically sensitive than men (Ferrell & Skinner, 1998; Beltramini et al.,1984; Ricklets, 1983) , women and men also differ in their ethical orientation. (Gilligan, 1982) The gender discrimination in the workplace is expressed through hiring, promotion and paying, which leads to gender gaps with respect to their earning and incomes. (Stanley & Jarrell, 1998)

Researchers have reported that women earn 60% of the wage than a man earns for the same economic activity which is mainly because of women spending most of their time in house work and raising children and therefore because of their obligations have to be less career oriented and their progress is also relatively slower compared to men in their same field. (Blau and Khan, 1994; O’Neill and Polachek 1993, Stanley & Jarrell, 1998)

Rigg and Sparrow (1994) suggested that since women have mostly worked in areas such as clerical and personnel, therefore they are dismissed as to have inadequate experience when they want to be hired for management positions or want to be promoted to top senior le


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