By: Shazia Mirza
Pakistan’s female population is estimated to be 48.65 percent of the total, the majority of which lives in the country’s rural areas. In rural Pakistan opportunities for women are still lower than those the limited ones for their sisters in the urban centres. According to Labour Force Statistics (LFS) 2012-2013, of the estimated 180 million people, only 12.51 million Pakistani females of various ages are in employment of some sort.
For a better understanding of the situation related to female employment in the country, let us place it in a 11-year timeframe (2001-02 to 2012-13), taking into consideration their age-specific activity roles, their educational levels (or lack of them) and their overall employment status. A look at Pakistani females’ distribution in major industrial divisions and occupational groups for the corresponding years would help us get a clearer picture.
This graph represents an overall increase in the participation of females in economic activity observed across all age groups over the past decade, which is a positive sign. According to the LFS, the unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in 2001-02, but the rate for females it was 16.5 percent. That declined to 9 percent in 2012-13, which was higher than the 6.2 percent for male employees which is another positive point.
However, while this shows that female participation in economic activities gradually increased over the period in question, there is little room for self-congratulation: we still have to go a very long way before we achieve the goal of male-female parity in employment, and that can only result from full female participation in economic activities at all levels.
Employed persons, including females, are grouped into four major categories of employment: employers, self-employed individuals, and unpaid family helpers and employees. However, the major distinction is between those in paid employment and in self-employment. Women employers were just 0.3 percent of the 0.8 percent in 2001-02, but in 2012-13 their ratio declined, and they remained just 0.1 percent of the total 1.3 percent. Which means that there was a declining trend in this status category and more women get out of it, probably pushed to lower categories. The self-employed were 15.7 percent and 33.6 percent, respectively, of the total 38.5 percent and 15 percent.
Similarly, as unpaid family helpers, females were 46.9 percent of the total of 20.8 percent in 2001-02. The number of unpaid family helpers followed a rising trend, reaching 60.5 percent of the total of 26.3 percent in 2012-13. This indicates that more females were pushed, or forced, into this category. This is a confirmation of the discrimination against female employees in the Pakistani job market, and of fewer opportunities available to them in white-collar jobs.
In the employees’ group, females were 37.1 percent of the total 39.9 percent in 2001-02. However, 2012-13 witnessed a decline in this category to 24.2 percent of the total 38.8 percent.
Employees’ educational level is a critical factor in any country. The graph represents a picture of the level of female education in Pakistan over the 11 years in discussion. LFS statistics show that from 36.9 percent in 2001-02, the figures rose to 48.1 percent in 2012-13. Trends of acquiring degree-level education amongst women remained significantly low. In 2012-13, only 3.8 percent of women received degree-level education, which is one of the most crucial causes for the low job opportunities for women and of low-status jobs for them.
The major factors contributing to poor employment trends for females in Pakistan include low literacy rates, and social and cultural taboos and norms that impede their active participation in national economic activity. The situation calls for immediate action from both organised and unorganised sectors of employment. The government’s taking the lead by reviewing its labour policies and by offering incentives to women who due to numerous factors remain out of jobs can address the problem and set an example for others. For an effective workforce, the capacity of the women workers should be enhanced through creation of more vocational training institutions and through on-the-job trainings. Since it is the key to the success and economic growth of a country, education must be made compulsory and free at least at the primary level for all girls.
In addition to the high rate of female unemployment and the low job opportunities in major occupational groups, there is the factor of lower wages for female employees. Low female representation in professional jobs and senior positions is a result of social injustice, socio-economic conditions, low educational levels and persistent discrimination against women in our society. In 2001-02 women managers and officials at senior levels were only 1.9 percent, of the total 11.6 percent in the group. Of the total 11.5 percent, the number of women in the same group declined to 1.6 percent by 2012-13.
The comparison of available data helps determination of some facts about the situation of female employment, which did not improve despite the decades of half-hearted efforts for their betterment. For the corresponding years, the major occupational groups where females were seen as contributors still remained “skilled agricultural and fisheries workers.” This is where more women were engaged as part of the economic activity during the years under discussion. This group, with 44.3 percent females of the total of 34.7 percent employed in 2001-02, became the largest occupational group which accommodated the highest number of female workers. The same trend was seen in 2012-13, when females were 63.8 percent of the total 37.6 percent workforce in this group. This emphasises the unfortunate fact that female workers continue to be forced into low-paid and low-status jobs.
The category most accommodative of female workers was “elementary (unskilled) occupations,” where their ratio was 25.1 percent of the total number of workers employed.
The low presence of women as professionals in the national workforce is a matter of still greater concern. Whereas women professionals were 2.5 percent of the total of 2.1 percent in 2001-02, the figure dropped to 1.5 percent of the 1.7 percent of professionals in 2012-13. After ten years, professionals groups witnessed an overall decrease in women’s ratio as well.
Gender discrimination, social injustice and the low literacy rate are the root causes of the dismaying employment situation for female workers and professionals in the country. Unless these problems are effectively addressed,
Pakistani society will remain under the tremendous pressure that it finds itself. Once these issues are resolved or, for a start, at least given the attention they deserve, female representation at all levels of economic activity is bound to increase. The government needs to review its policies pertaining to these issues. At the same time, it should introduce more effective laws. Implementation of these laws will be a key to success.
Enhancement of international cooperation through ratification of international declarations of the United Nations and other international organisations could assist the government in achieving the desired results. It is the government’s prime responsibility to ensure social justice, education and equal opportunities for everyone to work and excel in their fields careers and of choice.
Overall female participation in labour and professions is minimal, and it needs no reminder or emphasis that this factor will continue to be a drag on Pakistan’s economic growth and development for as long as the present conditions of gender disparity continue. After all, women are half the population of the country, and we cannot continue to ignore this fact, which is not much different from denial of it.
The present situation remains extremely discouraging. Both national data and independent studies confirm that employment opportunities for women remained persistently low from 2002 to 2013. The low contribution of female workers and professionals is attributed to many factors, including low literacy rate, cultural and social taboos and norms set up by the society. During this period, discrimination against females was on the rise in the job market.
Women continued to be forced to remain out of the job market, or were pushed into low-paid or low-status jobs where their abilities and productive potentials remain untapped. Most of those employed are in the unorganised sector, where low productivity, lower income stability and greater job insecurity are the chief problems women suffer day in and day out.
Being half the population of the country, women could be the most decisive force in national efforts for putting the country on the path of economic growth and development. But that will be possible only if the key issues are addressed and sincere efforts are made to resolve the crisis of gender disparity which is keeping Pakistani women lagging behind, and thus being a huge drag on the country’s progress and development.
If Pakistan decides to take effective measures for removal of the discrimination against women in the field of employment and most other fields of life, there is certainly a way forward. Without the creation of opportunities for women in mainstream occupations, Pakistan’s dream of joining the club of developed countries will remain only a dream.