by Raheela Nazir
ISLAMABAD, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Tahmina Fatima works as a human resources manager in a large multinational pharmaceutical company in Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad. Despite a number of challenges inside and outside the workplace, she likes her job.
"The company I work for gave me the strength to be tough and independent and I am perfectly capable of handling my own finances, shopping, travel, wardrobe and everything else. I stand on my own two feet and I am not dependent on anyone," Fatima told Xinhua.
She further said that "my workplace is dominated by men like most other organizations. There are men who do not like to be subordinate to women and sometimes they do not take me seriously. I have to be very strict with them because of the prevailing male culture in our country."
Fatima is among the millions of hard working and dedicated women valiantly contributing to the growing economy of Pakistan, but still women in the country are mostly confined to the inner boundaries of household and the duties of keeping the house in order.
Labor force data from the Pakistan bureau of statistics and the World Bank suggested that the labor force participation of women in Pakistan as a percentage of the total women's workforce and percentage of total countries' workforce is below par when compared to international standard and developed countries.
According to the latest statistics of the World Bank, the average value of Pakistan's female labor force participation rate from 1990 to 2017 was 18.43 percent, hitting a minimum of 12.5 percent in 1995 and a maximum of 24.93 percent in 2017.
Professor Syed Abdul Siraj, chairman of the Mass Communication department at the Allama Iqbal Open University, said that in Pakistan, women work primarily at home or are associated with the informal sector which is mostly agricultural work in rural areas, which is considered as their cultural duty and part of their gender specific role, which largely remains unpaid and isn't considered as contributing to the nation's economy.
"Although women play an active role in Pakistan's economy, their contribution has been grossly underreported in some censuses and surveys," Siraj said, adding that Pakistan has a significant number of females in judiciary, education, medical, military, business, politics and other important fields of life.
However, successful female entrepreneurs in Pakistan admit that the discrimination against their gender is still high, which is responsible for such a low participation of women in the workforce.
Sidra Batool, a young entrepreneur who is the co-founder of one of the best shoe selling companies in Pakistan, told Xinhua that most of the women in Pakistan work informally and are viciously exploited. They get less pay than men for doing the same job and are not respected or facilitated. Rural working women particularly suffer more than urban female workers.
Women in Pakistan comprise half of the population, yet they constitute one-fourth of the total labor-force, Batool lamented, adding that "there is a need to be realistic and be aware of the barriers that women face at almost every stage of their life, such as a lack of equal education opportunities and technical skills, limited mobility, lack of safe and affordable transport, and vulnerability to sexual harassment in public spaces and in the workplace."
Batool believed that the Pakistani government should introduce laws to increase women's participation in the workforce and remove barriers to women's access to businesses and all kinds of work to earn and own their share in the country's growing economy.
Pakistan's employment and equal employment opportunities laws are well established. The constitution of Pakistan specifically mentions human working conditions and equal employment opportunities regardless of sex and banning gender discrimination in employment related decisions, said an official from the government.
The recent economic growth and serious efforts by the government to empower women have improved women's status within and outside homes. Now, greater numbers of women are getting education and opting for the employment of their choice.
Fatima, while packing her things to leave for home, said, "My family has been very supportive. In my opinion, every woman should work despite social and cultural barriers. If women in our society come out of their homes and see the professional world, they will get to know much more about life and themselves. Also, with this, they will be able to provide a helping hand to their families and support in running their homes."
"As a society, we need to help women to thrive because when women thrive, the whole of society benefits and as we have just recently celebrated the International Women's Day. Let us advocate for freedom to work for all Pakistani women," she added.