Across the globe, women’s empowerment is being pursued by public and private sectors as a route to socio-economic uplift; the bottlenecks which hinder women’s progress are being identified for swift and effective resolution. This wave of change began to sweep across Pakistan in recent years, and has now gained considerable momentum.
Considering Pakistan has held the second-to-last spot on the Global Gender Gap Index for five years in a row (2012-17), there is a long uphill battle to be fought to ensure greater economic empowerment and deeper inclusion for women.
Though women constitute 49% of Pakistan’s population, they constitute only 24% of the labour force. Even when women want to become active parts of the labour force, they are unable to find employment; this is reflected in the urban female unemployment rate, which is 20% while that of males is 6%.
With the tremendous potential that women empowerment and employment offers Pakistan’s economy, there should be greater impetus to clear hurdles for strengthening women’s participation in the workforce; hurdles which include access, educational attainment, transportation, childcare, work-life balance, maternity leaves, and working environment to name a few.
While many women have exemplified resilience and determination, and forged forward in the face of these hurdles, the real focus should be unlocking the potential of women by addressing roadblocks to greater economic inclusion and increasing women’s representation across roles and hierarchies.
Here's a look at these resilient women:
K-Electric’s (KE) initiative to hire Women Meter Data Maintenance Officers (MDMO, or meter readers as generally known) as part of its field force is a monumental step towards increasing women’s representation in roles which have previously been considered exclusive to men.
In this industry-first initiative, women have been recruited, trained and deployed by the power utility in the area of Lyari.
In contrast to its notoriety, Lyari has also been the catalyst for arts and sports including the Balochi rap band, Lyari Underground, women’s boxing and women’s freestyle football. As a place that truly typifies Karachi’s social diversity and has been a catalyst for #BreakingDownBarriers for women in sports, it somehow makes sense that these Balochi-speaking, women meter readers hail from Lyari, boldly going from house to house in densely populated streets, reading electricity meters through their hand-held meter-reading devices.
Shahida is one of KE’s Meter Data Maintenance Officers, challenging social beliefs on what women can and cannot do. Part of a conventional joint family, Shahida is mother to a 6-year-old daughter and has worked as both an entrepreneur and an employee in various industries. Today she confidently navigates her way through the crowded streets of Lyari and manages the demands of her job, making time for family and home like a true specimen of an empowered woman. She is uncompromising about her daughter’s education and ensures personally escorting the 6-year-old to and from her madrassah.
Shahida says, “When I first applied for this job, I was not certain I would be able to manage. It required long hours in the field, on the streets of Lyari, and interacting with strangers every day. But this changed, when I got so much encouragement from not only my husband but also from all my male colleagues, who treat us with the utmost respect. Now, I feel very confident.”
Farzana is another great example of a woman working hard to break stereotypes.
Farzana’s brother states, “I am proud of the fact that she is my sister. I have always encouraged her to excel and give her best in whichever field of work she chooses to pursue. It is a very proud feeling to see my sister proving herself right and doing her job with honesty and dignity”.
Here Farzana adds in “It is this type of encouragement that is required by all the women. If we have the confidence of our families and the determination to do our jobs with sincerity and honesty, we (women) can accomplish anything”. She further added, “When we started working as meter readers, we were doubtful about how people might behave with us on the streets. On the contrary, people come to us and tell us that they trust us with our job”.
With the induction of women meter readers in K-Electric’s workforce, the organisation has been at the forefront of encouraging women to come forward in all the competitive fields and promoting equal opportunities.
The women meter readers of K-Electric highlighted common factors which led to successfully adapt to the new role, such as support of their families and friends who encouraged them to take up the challenge.
Stories like these are a positive sign of Pakistan’s socio-economic growth and highlight the country as progressive; where women are encouraged to take on roles typically perceived as opportunities only for men.
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