ISLAMABAD: Results from Quetta urban household survey carried out by the World Bank reveals that only 16 percent of working-age women in the area participate in the labour market, compared to 72pc men.
The ‘Women in the Workforce in Quetta’ survey shows that along with experiencing low levels of labour market participation, women employed in urban Quetta mostly work in low-value-added activities, with a high prevalence of own-account, informal, and home-based work.
At the same time, they perform jobs in line with socially accepted occupations.
Working women are mainly employed in the manufacturing industry as garment and handicraft workers. Only a minority (the highly educated) perform more skilled jobs such as teachers or health professionals. Representation in other nontraditional sectors is very low.
The survey pointed out that social norms seem to be the most powerful factor in determining women’s interactions with the public sphere and workforce. Household attitudes and behaviour and social norms play an important role in determining whether, when, and how women can work for pay.
World Bank study shows 78.6pc employed women are home-based workers with low upward mobility
In this context, steady long-term policy efforts are needed to influence social norms to encourage women’s empowerment. Research indicates that possible interventions to influence norms include strategic use of positive messaging about strong female role models.
As demonstrated by a large body of evidence and the Peshawar and Quetta household surveys, women are more likely to be involved in the labour force if they are more educated. Addressing both demand and supply constraints that limit girls’ education remains a key priority. Similarly, a lack of marketable skills can discourage women from seeking jobs.
In a recent systematic review of skills-based interventions in South Asia, researchers concluded that interventions sensitised to the prevailing social and logistical barriers for women —household work, family obligations, childcare, and gendered norms against travel — had larger impacts.
Most employed women (78.6pc) in urban Quetta are home-based workers (HBWs) who are largely employed in informal jobs of low upward mobility. For women, working from home is an alternative used to work around existing social norms. Effective implementation of recent legislation to recognize the status of HBWs can improve women’s economic participation in the province.
In April last year, the Balochistan Assembly passed the Home-Based Workers Bill, aimed at protecting the rights of women and other workers involved in home-based work in the province.
Information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to provide women with increased access to better markets while allowing them to circumvent obstacles related to mobility and social norms. The Quetta survey shows that 55pc of working-age women in urban Quetta do not have internet access and 13pc do not know about the internet (versus 32pc and 2pc, respectively, among men).
These shares are much higher among women with low education. Emerging ICT jobs could provide new opportunities for women, especially women living in urban areas.
Pakistan’s female labour force participation, particularly in urban areas, remains one of the lowest in the world, not just in South Asia. According to the ILO database, only nine countries in 2019 had lower female labour force participation (FLFP) rates than Pakistan, where the rate was 22.6pc. Official figures from the labour force survey indicate that FLFP fell about 2 percentage points between 2014 and 2018.
The World Bank’s Women in the Workforce study in Pakistan started in 2019 is a multi-method study to investigate urban FLFP and gain a nuanced understanding of the patterns of and constraints on women’s work.
The qualitative component of the study analysed the labour market experiences of women in Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2023
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