A recent event organised by the Sustainable Social Development Organisation and the Women Workers Alliance at the National Press Club Islamabad pointed out that only 25% of women with university degrees are part of the labour force. This sets a bad precedent for women empowerment and has paved the way for discriminatory policies in the workplace. The event also highlighted that the majority of women are employed in the informal sector under poor working conditions.
Although there are several labour laws and legislations to protect female workers, these are seldom implemented or followed. This coupled with the low number of women in the workforce has impeded women’s ability to collectively improve their prospects and move up the social ladder. Most families discourage girls from seeking employment after completing their education as they either fear for their safety or succumb to patriarchal norms. Even employers prefer hiring male employees over female ones and usually prioritise male employees for competitive positions and growth opportunities. Most workplaces do not have proper policies for workplace harassment and abuse; maternal leaves are absent; and women are usually paid lower compared to their male counterparts. All that leaves women with little choice but to work in the informal sector, which reduces their ability to utilise their potential and threatens their safety.
The gender disparity in the labour force is not just harming women but the country at large. The Women Workers Alliance has sought government support to improve minimum wage and social security for women, which should be considered in earnest by relevant quarters. Countries with greater gender equality have enjoyed economic development and growth as they have a diverse labour force, which has increased productivity and innovation. Without welcoming women into the labour force and increasing their participation in different spheres, Pakistan will remain unable to achieve both societal and economic progress.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2022.