Home-based workers of the city held a protest on Sunday calling for an end to workplace harassment and demanding equal wages as their male counterparts.
The rally was held outside the Karachi Press Club as part of the ongoing worldwide campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Speakers highlighted the problems home-based women workers face, including getting inadequate wages – considerably lower than what men get for the same work – as well as having to face discrimination and harassment.
In a statement released by the Home-Based Women Workers Federation which organised the rally, General Secretary Zehra Khan said that although the Pakistani constitution gives equal rights to all citizens, regardless of their gender, race, belief and ethnicity, the state has still not implemented it completely.
She termed the silence of the government and society on violence and discrimination against women a serious problem. “The occurrence of these incidents is increasing rapidly and no practical steps are seen to end this menace,” she said. “Though the National Assembly had passed a bill against harassment of women at the workplace in 2010, its practical implementation is yet to be seen.”
She added: “Today, maltreatment of women at workplaces is still in vogue and not only this but women workers are also given lower wages as compared to male workers. Mostly women workers work under contractor system and hence they are deprived of all legal and constitutional rights, which they deserve in the capacity of a worker.”
United Home-based Garments Workers Union General Secretary Saira Feroze said that the informal sector was swelling and the women who make up the majority of the workforce were deliberately deprived of their rights. She said that there was no law to govern wages and they were only determined by the contractors and the middle men.
Citing an International Labour Organization report, Feroze said the number of women workers in the garments sector alone has risen by 33 per cent. “Sadly the women workers are also facing violence and discriminatory attitude, which is affecting their social and economic life. In Pakistan, gender-based violence is a reality, and society overall justifies it on the basis of traditions, culture, beliefs and morality,” she added.
The protesters demanded that wages of male and female workers be made equal and both should be paid the same amount for the same work. They said harassment of women workers at workplaces should be stopped, day care centres should be established in factories, women workers should be given paid three-month maternity leave and all discriminatory laws against women should be abolished.