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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Women’s Mobility and Labor Force Participation in Karachi: Some Preliminary Observations

By Natasha Ansari


Women working in a garment factory in Korangi's industrial area
Photo credit: Waseem Gazdar


Pakistan has the lowest female labor-force participation rates in South Asia[1] and urban areas perform especially poorly[2]. Distinct patriarchal norms interlinked with migrant status can affect women’s autonomy and thus labor-force participation in different ways. Recently the Collective for Social Science Research conducted fieldwork for the IGC supported project ‘Women's Mobility, Agency and Labour-Force Participation in the Mega-city of Karachi’ at three ethnically purposive sites. Many female respondents mentioned instances, relative to patriarchal norms and structures of their communities, which informed their ability to work in the city. In this blog, we attempt to present a current snapshot of some of the diversity of women’s experiences with regards to labor force participation in relation to their community norms and migrant status in Karachi.

Lyari

Lyari is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods in Karachi, and pre-dominantly consists of Baloch and Katchi populations that have long assimilated here. Most young Baloch and Katchi women we interviewed preferred to work and complete their education.[3] Two-thirds of younger women have at least completed Intermediate exams and nearly all aspired to hold undergraduate degrees if they didn’t already. In terms of mobility, our female Balochi respondents within Lyari did not report restrictions on mobility from patriarchal figures in the household or street harassment by strangers to the same degree as in other sites where this study was conducted. One respondent who works as a teacher noted that her community respected her a lot for her job, and that when she is walking to work, men actively move out of her way. The extent of mobility and the relative lack of restrictions described by some of the Balochi women around issues of respectability and safety, strictly in a comparative sense with other localities in Karachi, have been surprising for us to learn and are indicative of norms improving overtime, in conjunction with length of the migration period.

In terms of hindrance to employment, an issue most women noted was labor-market discrimination pertaining to ethnicity rather than gender. Nearly all of our respondents complained about rampant racism in the rest of the city against Lyari residents and its adverse effects on their employability. Being Baloch in addition to being a Lyari resident compounded the problem more so.

Baldia

Baldia was selected as a site because it consists of predominantly Pashtun migrants. For women, earning was considered disgraceful and dishonorable because it implied that the household was running on the woman’s income instead of the man’s and the sense of emasculation is a major cause of disrepute for the men in the community. Despite income issues, prospects of poverty still do not seem to mobilize women or let men from their household to relent and let them work or earn. The only instances women resorted to working were in the face of extreme destitution as a result of the absence of a male patriarchal figure and bread-winner in the household, at the expense of disrepute in the community. Older women also hardly held jobs – not even cleaning jobs in households, unlike the other two sites we investigated. Similarly, in terms of education households frequently stopped their daughter’s education after primary school or once they reached puberty, and cited ‘azaad mahol’ (permissive environment), which points towards future potential constraints to labor-force participation.

Korangi

Korangi was chosen due to the ethnically heterogeneous nature of the community and the prevalence of Urdu-speaking and Sindhi populations in the area.

In terms of employment, similar to Lyari, the long assimilated Urdu-speaking and Sindhi women did low-paying private school teaching jobs. If they had income issues they took up better paying, but far more demanding, company or factory jobs. Working in the nearby garment factories was commonly reported by some of the respondents. Older uneducated women usually took up work as cleaners in other households but this was not considered respectful work by them. In contrast, newer Sindhi migrant women were not allowed to work at all, especially if they were young, due to anxieties pertaining to the strangeness of the new and unfamiliar city.

Conclusion

There is indication that patriarchal arrangements relative to migrant status and cultural notions of respectability, determine the extent of women’s participation in the labor market. The relegation of women’s labor force participation only to certain acceptable occupations or by keeping women at home entirely, unquestioningly indicate that gender norms play a role in shaping women’s labor force participation in Pakistan. In an urban context, mobility is complicated by distinct norms pertaining to patriarchy within their communities, geographic and spatial anxieties due to migrant status, and histories of conflict within the city. Our preliminary findings suggest a differentiated employment strategy concerning women’s labor-force participation, underpinned by social-policy that is context-specific to communities within Karachi is needed.


[1] 57 percent in Bangladesh (ILO 2014), 29 percent in India (ILO 2014), and 22 percent in Pakistan (PLFPS 2015)

[2] 10 percent for urban areas in Pakistan in 2015 (PLFPS 2015) , as compared to 15.5 percent for urban areas in India in 2011 (ILO 2014) and 14.7 percent for Bangladesh in 2016 (QLFS 2017)

[3] The jobs many women hold are low-paying teaching jobs at local private schools because they are a walking distance from their homes, which indicates that many young women do struggle with family restrictions on their mobility

References

Chaudhary, R., & Verick, S. (2014). Female labor force participation in India and beyond ILO Asia-Pacific Working Paper Series: International Labour Organization.

Labor Force Survey 2014-15. (2015): Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Quarterly Labor Force Survey 2015-16. (2017): Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.


*This blog was originally published in "Pakistan's Growth Story

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Making the most out of democracy

By Ali Ahmad

Photo credit: flickr.com
2018 has been a significant year for Pakistan’s democratic transition. In July, general elections took place, and the country made a historic decision by electing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan for the first time. The PTI’s election campaign revolved around slogans of ‘accountability for all’ and removal of corruption with many arguing that we must celebrate the success of democracy and the rise of a new government.

What are the underlying factors that help voters choose public representatives and form perceptions about politicians? What role does the media play in ensuring the functioning of democracy? How can we, as voters, become more critical evaluators of our representatives?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Women agricultural workers and their rights

By Saba Aslam

Consultative discussion on Rights and Well-being of Women Agricultural Workers in Pakistan
Photo credit: Waseem Gazdar

The National Commission on the Status of Women and Collective for Social Science Research hosted a consultation on the rights and wellbeing of women agricultural workers and their children in Pakistan. It was held on 29th August 2018 at the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi. The consultation acted as a platform to bring together activists, lawyers, researchers, parliamentarians, women agricultural workers, members from the National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women, and policy makers who discussed the issues faced by women agricultural workers in Pakistan, and debated potential ways of moving forward in recognizing and protecting rights of women agricultural workers at local, provincial and national levels.

Dr. Yasmin Zaidi, Director of Center of Gender and Policy studies (CGaPs) presented key findings of UN Women’s recent report on status of rural women in Pakistan. Citing secondary data, Dr. Zaidi provided insights on women’s extensive contribution in the agriculture sector. She said that 53 percent of women involved in agriculture do unpaid work out of which 60 percent belong to the rural areas. Their work is often considered informal, and hence they are not counted as workers. This makes them virtually absent across public policy design and discourse. They are denied basic rights such as public health services, and social security. She suggested that policies and programmes must focus on improving women’s economic empowerment, their participation in politics and their right to access justice against violence.

Mr. Haris Gazdar, Director of Collective for Social Science Research presented findings from a LANSA study on “Women’s Work and Nutrition” stressing the link between women’s work, their health and the health of their children. He discussed associations between women’s work and other exogenous factors such as household food insecurity, mother’s education and household wealth status that could be potential drivers of women’s work in agriculture. His presentation revealed that the nutritional status of women agricultural workers and health of their children was negatively linked to their status of work. For example, women who undertook strenuous work during pregnancy and after giving birth had poor nutritional outcomes.  

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Which is worse: corruption or misogyny?

By Ayesha Khan

Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman in Abbotabad
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Naya Pakistan’ we find ourselves in will be filled with unknowns and new opportunities. One of them will be the chance for women voters to decide which is more inimical to their interests: corruption or misogyny?

Pakistan will have a Prime Minister with a strong view on the question. He is personally not corrupt, in the sense that no accusations have ever been wielded against him for illegally making or giving payments or ill-gotten gains. He has made incorruptibility the backbone of his credibility as a politician, and the masthead of his party.  (However, his selection of ‘electables’ in the allocation of tickets, including many old-guard figures whose reputations are more questionable, led to protests from PTI workers before the elections.)

Misogyny, on the other hand, is a badge he wears with pride. As a recovered playboy, he is at great pains to distance himself not only from his past but any whiff that may remain from his considerable time spent in the west. Comfortable, at last, with a pious and curiously shrouded wife, he said in an interview before the elections, “I totally disagree with the western concept and the role of the feminist movement, which has completely degraded the role of mother.” He then waxed on about having been brought up by his mother, etc.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

“Slaves” and “Bondsmen” after Abolition: Grey Areas and Missed Opportunities

by Mishal Khan

Agricultural worker in India
Photo credit: The British Library, page 485 of 'The History of China & India, pictorial & descriptive

The conviction that slavery is an institution that belongs in the dustbin of history is a view that has moved from consensus to consensus as a matter of international law – the lowest common denominator that nations agree upon. In Pakistan, and indeed in South Asia in general, bonded labour has become synonymous with “modern slavery,” the most blatant violation of this now sacred international principal. Bonded labour entered the spotlight during the 1990 Darshan Masih case, often hailed as a watershed moment leading to the passage of the Bonded Labour Systems (Abolition) Act of 1992. In light of the persistence of the practice today, the solution is usually to be found in enhanced enforcement of legislation, in greater legal penetration of the court system, and increased alignment with international law.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Of Market Queens and Women’s Empowerment

by Ayesha Mysorewala

Street market in Accra, Ghana
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

I recently visited Ghana for the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health conference 2018 (ANH 2018) to present the findings of our LANSA research paper on the potential of agricultural asset transfers to improve nutrition in Pakistan.

What really struck me about Ghana was the overwhelming presence of women on the streets. In Makola, the largest open-air market in Accra, women and ‘market queens’ dominated the selling space – loudly marketing everything from clothes and jewellery to freshly obtained snails and vegetables.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

In the midst of a crisis

by Asad Sayeed

Photo credit:Wikipedia 

Pakistan appears to be in the midst of an economic crisis as the rupee seems to be in free fall with foreign exchange reserves depleting in the backdrop of a high and unsustainable current account deficit.