Photo by author
Photo by author

Parveen has spent nearly a decade stitching footballs in Roras village, Sialkot at only Rs. 75 per day.

The football industry, which does a yearly business of nearly 30 million, is being run by thousands of home based workers, primarily women.

The shockingly low wage scale is not limited to the football industry alone; women labourers have faced a setback in terms of both salary and employment opportunities in other industries as well.

Muneera Bibi has been working in Kahuta-Rawalpindi as a hawker, by selling utensils in villages or bartering them in exchange for raw materials such as rubber and metallic goods that can be recycled.

“I make Rs. 200 a day and at times nothing at all. When my items don't sell I often take off the basket from my head with only one thought; how will I feed my children?”

 Muneera Bibi comes home late in the evening after a day spent in bartering goods.— Photo by author
Muneera Bibi comes home late in the evening after a day spent in bartering goods.— Photo by author

Tahir Manzoor, Gender Focal Person and Deputy Director Labour, Department of Labour, Punjab, said that female 'Home-Based Workers' are not recognised in the labour laws, because of this no regulations and benefits apply to them.

“Their work is not organised and they don’t have any union to present their issue at the government level,” said Manzoor adding that, “Female vendors have no wage standard. The social welfare department needs to support them financially. They don’t get any assistance in case of sexual harassment either.”

Hurmat Bibi has spent her entire life as a labourer, but her experiences in the past were comparatively better than the working conditions now.

“In the past, it was much better; there was warmth, affection and sympathy in the society.” She expressed contentment and satisfaction during her time vending and said, "Now, to venture out for earning one’s livelihood is becoming difficult for our young vending women. They get abused, pestered and frequently manhandled and sadly this has become an attitude of the general public too.”

Apart from the attitude of the employees and society, women are often forced to work by their unemployed husbands.

 Sonia,12, works at brick kilns near Khanna Pull Rawalpindi. — Photo by Ehtisham Ahmed
Sonia,12, works at brick kilns near Khanna Pull Rawalpindi. — Photo by Ehtisham Ahmed

Zahida, 45, is a brick kiln labourer who works with a group of eight women and girls. Her husband, a drug addict, would often beat her. She asked him for a divorce and found employment in a brick kiln factory in Kasur and has been doing it for the last six years.

“My employer gives me Rs. 100 per day but he sometimes doesn't pay me at all. He provides food and shelter but there is no fixed pay,” said Zahida.

Zahida working at brick kilns in Kasur. — Photo by author
Zahida working at brick kilns in Kasur. — Photo by author


Slum population may reach 2 billion


 A squatter settlement in Rawalpindi. — Photo by author
A squatter settlement in Rawalpindi. — Photo by author

In major cities, there are colonies of slums and shanty towns that co-exist at the peripheries of affluent neighborhoods with their posh concrete houses presenting a stark image of class divide.

United Nations Development Programme estimates that nearly 35 per cent of the urban population in Pakistan exists in slums, and squatter settlements.

The living conditions in these squatter settlements speak appalling stories of deprivation, which do not conform to the most basic requirements for a healthy human existence.

According to United Nations Agency for Human Settlement (UN-HABITAT), the global slum population may grow to two billion by 2030 with increasing livelihood and labour issues, particularly for women.

The World Bank and UN-HABITAT have estimated that over 80 per cent of the new jobs in urban parts of the developing countries will likely be low-paying jobs in the informal and unorganized sectors given that no significant economic reforms are taken. If all factors remain same, a high growth in the informal sector will be accompanied by a rapid growth of slums.

In the absence of skills and little to no education, unemployment rates will continue to rise for slum dwellers, and particularly for the women.


Deploring health conditions


The close proximity to factories and industrial waste put slum dwellers in danger of developing respiratory diseases such as whooping and chronic cough. The treatment that is opted is usually self-medication with no consultation from doctors.

Nutritional deficiencies are also common which contribute to the high infant mortality rate.

Muneera Bibi, who is also a brick kin labourer spoke about her sick child, "My five-year-old son was malnourished since childhood, he now has polio. I can’t give him all of my time because of my work; I can neither earn money for his treatment or be on his side."

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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