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Inclusive growth?

Published Mar 20, 2017 01:24am

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PAKISTAN’S Vision 2025 echoes the same commitment to inclusive and sustainable growth as is stated in the Sustainable Development Goals. Inclusive growth carries with it the promise that the material prosperity of high economic growth will be shared evenly among various groups.

For the vast majority, a paid job is the primary means to access many of growth’s benefits. Moreover, differences in pay structure, contracts, and even prestige mean that the sector of work matters. In particular, paid work in the formal sector and status as a permanent employee carries with it the greatest possibility of having a real impact on economic and social outcomes. Especially for women, such employment has been linked with weakening restrictive gender stereotypes.

The growth performance of the three main sectors of the economy — agriculture, industry, and services — since 1990, and the associated changes in male and female employment, provide useful insights into the differentiated manner in which the genders have benefited from growth in Pakistan. Some key patterns immediately stand out.

Female industrial workers seem to be bearing the brunt of recessionary forces. While the first half of the turn of the millennium saw remarkable spikes in industry growth owing in part to a rise in demand due to increases in consumer credit services and reduced quota restrictions in textiles and clothing, the subsequent energy, financial, and law and order crises resulted in a substantial slump after 2007.


Women’s employment responses reveal that their status is typically inferior to that of men.


This slump saw women exiting industrial employment faster than men, suggesting that employers tend to lay off female workers before letting male workers go. This, along with the high percentage of women in casual contracts in manufacturing — 89pc for women as opposed to 47pc for men — that offer no social security, old-age, or health benefits, speaks about the inferior status of female workers in Pakistan’s manufacturing sector.

This secondary status of female workers is reflected in services as well. Rapid urbanisation and overall lower investment requirements have seen services command an increasingly larger share of Pakistan’s GDP over the years. Additionally, given the plethora of activities under the sector — from transport to communications to recreation — services, unlike manufacturing, demand not just skilled but unskilled and semi-skilled workers as well. It is perhaps unsurprising that there are more women concentrated in services as opposed to manufacturing.

Aside from the larger range of skill requirement, dominant gender roles also have a part to play. Services include occupations deemed more appropriate for women’s employment, ie those perceived as extensions of ‘caring’ roles such as teaching, nursing, and domestic work. When it comes to gendered employment responses to growth, not only did men see larger increases in their employment fortunes when services’ growth picked up after the turn of the millennium, but women witnessed a much steeper fall-off in employment when the sector’s growth began to decline in 2007.

Interestingly, around the mid-1990s, when structural adjustment likely saw employment losses in the formal sector, services witnessed a boost in women’s employment. This is consistent with women’s work serving as a buffer during times of crises, supplementing fledgling household income. Such sale of labour signals vulnerability rather than long-term engagement with the labour market.

Turning finally to agriculture, despite the highest concentration of women in the sector — nearly 75pc of all employed women work in agriculture — as well as the larger share of female workers relative to male, post-2007 still witnessed a greater reduction in women’s employment relative to men. Yet we also see that, as agriculture growth rates picked up in 2009, it was women who saw a sharper increase in their employment.

While this feminisation of agriculture means that there are more women working outside their homes, it is worrisome. Not only does agriculture typically have the lowest wage rates amongst the three major sectors, 76pc of women work as unpaid family help, ie they do not get paid at all.

Overall, although there have been positive gains in women’s participation rates — that today are 85pc higher than they were in 1990 — we are still unlikely to reach the 45pc target for women’s labour force participation included in Vision 2025. Moreover, a closer look at women’s employment responses reveals that their status within the labour market is typically inferior to that of men.

None of this augurs well for employment as a means for socioeconomic empowerment for women.

It could be argued that lower educational achievement, and by extension the skill level of women relative to men, could be a reason for their lower standing. Indeed, the incidence of casual contracts reduces as education attainment increases. Human capital accumulation of the labour force may allow both men and women to reap the benefits of increased material prosperity. However, this investment needs to set in far earlier than vocational skills’ development. The provision of school meals, stipends for girls, safe transport and more flexible school hours are all attractive policy options.

But education alone is unlikely to address the root causes of the differences in growth’s dividends. Increasing the visibility of women and their various contributions to the economy and wider society may be a crucial step. This concerns a role for the media, government and private sectors. Affirmative action, but also the provision of childcare facilities, are relevant policy options.

Finally, access to paid employment alone is not enough to ensure improvements in women’s status both within and outside the home. Employment must be coupled with guarantees of a minimum income, and affordable and quality public services. While the establishment of income support programmes such as the Benazir Income Support Programme are a step in the right direction, paradigm shifts regarding social protection in Pakistan are yet to come.

The writer is an assistant professor in economics at Lums.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (6) Closed



Alba Mar 20, 2017 03:42am

Women are not a group. In Pakistan Families Are Groups. "Women’s employment responses reveal that their status is typically inferior to that of men." TYPICALLY is the operative word here. As Richard Sharpe told his men when the Duke of Wellington rode by, "Heads down." Most women can't take a breath without asking their husbands if it's OK. "For the vast majority, a paid job is the primary means to access many of growth’s benefits." Because all people born without wealth must sell their labor. _ "You Can Have Anything You Want In This World, But Nobody Is Going To Give It To You." - NBA coach, Pat Riley. No one gave anything to the Irish in America. They earned it for themselves.

Alba Mar 20, 2017 03:56am

" None of this augurs well for employment as a means for socioeconomic empowerment for women." _ There is so much violence in Pakistan that poor women do not have a snowflakes chance in Hell. As you are aware women who want to change things in Pakistan can become easy targets for assassination. Factor in violence, frustrated males, criminality and the power of the gun.

saddam hassain Mar 20, 2017 05:55am

there is the safe side of Pakistan as well but nobody is willing to show that face. that is why most of the people say that Pakistani news makes you reactive, they are so true. After all reading and hearing, such stuff everyday which is not in favor of the country is definitely going to make a person reactive. most of the channels are too busy in showing that women are deprived of their basic rights in Pakistan which is a violation of human, and we give the examples of highly developed countries like US, RUSSIA etc. but we are forgetting the facts that the US is number one in rapes but nobody notices that. it is my request to the entire nation of the country that women are not deprived in this country they are privileged in Islam and in Pakistan as well. our minds are rusted after watching Hollywood movies where women are shown to be equal to men, but these movies have nothing to do with the reality, those who have been to aboard will definitely get my point.

Tahir tanveer Mar 20, 2017 07:05am

Very informative, well-researched piece. Please keep writing on these issues. Women should be paid on equal basis and should have equal job protection. If we can raise women's participation and their income levels in the next decade or so, it would be a tremendous achievement. Therein lies the future prosperity of people of Pakistan.

AYZA Mar 20, 2017 09:54am

Hadia's well outlined info re female employment challenges is in line with the general belief that gender imbalance is alive and well in all sectors of the country. In regards to this line, "paradigm shifts regarding social protection in Pakistan are yet to come." Employee-friendly laws for career females trying to break the glass ceiling - whether in politics or corporate careers can only be successful if workplace laws are enforced across the board at all socio-economic levels.

There needs to be a specific government body which is run by females who are well versed in workplace ethics and codes of conduct which then is reinforced with regular training programs in both private and govt. offices. Ongoing training for all employees should be standard operating procedure which if done correctly will have long term benefits for both employer and employees.

wellwisher Mar 20, 2017 10:03am

on one side we talk of discrimination, and on the other side, merely being invited to chamber for discussion is insult.