KARACHI: “Weak unionisation and extremely poor participation of women in trade unions is the fundamental reason of the decline in work conditions and access to fair wages for women,” these views were expressed in a dialogue on the subject of ‘Labour Market Dualism in Pakistan’ marked with International Women’s Day lately organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research and the Wage Indicator Foundation at the PMA House Karachi.
Pakistan has one of the poorest rates of participation for women at 24% compared to men at 82%, out of close to 6 million labour force in the country, as per Pakistan economic survey. A large majority of women are informally employed in the agriculture sector of the country. In 2010-11, 74.2 per cent of working women aged 15 and above were working in the agricultural sector. In comparison, the share of men in agriculture stood at a much lower rate 34.9 per cent. The labour Force Survey 2010-11 reveals that the literacy rate for women was just 46.3 per cent. At the same time, the fertility rate remained high, at 3.3 children per women, which reduces the options for women to participate in work.
Apart from poor labour force participation, women also face a range of discrimination at work place. Of all the women in the labour force only 24.3 per cent have access to wage/salary work. Moreover, large proportion of women is underemployed (working less than forty hours a week). Data also reflects that women are on higher side of the risk of being unemployed if they are economically active. For women who were able to secure a salaried job, their monthly earnings on average were three-fifths that for men.
Labour activist Kaneez Fatima, labour leader Rehana Yasmeen, labour and women’s rights activist Shakeela Asghar, youth activist Naghma Sheikh, social and activist development professional Farhat Fatima, and Ms Sobia Ahmed of Wage Indicator Foundation, spoke at the Dialogue.
Kaneez Fatima pointed out weak unionisation and poor mobilisation of women undermines women’s position in the workforce. The patriarchal and male dominated order of the economic sector as well as the labour market seek to exclude women from social, cultural and economic life. Women will have to mobilise and organise at the workers level to strengthen their position, said Kaneez Fatima. Pakistan has the world’s poorest unionisation rates with less that 3% of the entire labour force of Pakistan (nearly 60 million) is unionised.
According to the official statistics, more than 75 percent of labour force is employed in the informal sector. However, some economists suggest the figure is over 90 percent. Fatima pointed out that women are mostly employed informally in the agriculture sector and as home based workers. She also observed that sexual harassment is a major issue for women participating in work force. With the recent sexual harassment legislation, women have received a channel for recourse to justice. However, due to their majority in the informal sector, women remain unprotected by any positive legislation or action on sexual harassment.
Naghma Sheikh talked about the culutral marginalisation of women. She said that women, especially in rural areas are denied forums to voice their opinions due to cultural and social taboos. In a class-based society, women are discriminated against as a group as well as in their respective social classes.
Elaborating the objective of a strong information base on labour market, Sobia Ahmed of Wage Indicator Foundation said that there is a lack of coherent, easy to access and understand, and an independent labour market information system in many countries worldwide.
Rehana Yasmin said the women’s rights and the protection of women workers has never been a part of the political agenda of any political party. It has therefore never gone beyond the usual manifesto promises during elections. She said that strong representation of women in political parties will pave the way for stronger participation and representation of women in workforce.
Syeda Tehseen Abidi from the MQM also participated in the seminar. She observed that women’s self agency plays a critical role in moving towards their rights. She said that lack of information and understanding of their position in the system undermines women’s struggle to equality and empowerment.
The dialogue was followed by a vigil at the Karachi Press Club to honour the contribution and significance of working women in Pakistan.
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