Despite hurdles, women aim to participate in labour force

82% of females in a survey express desire to work after graduation

Existing initiatives to provide amenities, particularly making it mandatory for public offices to provide daycare facility, are important steps and can be used by women to convince their families to let them work. PHOTO: FILE

The inclusion of educated women into Pakistan's labour force can prove to be a major catalyst for improving the overall economic productivity in the country.

Pakistan can equally harness the potential of its gender divide because half of the 110 million population in the country's largest province - Punjab - is female and one-third of them fall in the 15-29 years' age bracket.

Timely investment in females at a younger age can turn them into an asset for the country, which can realise additional human capital benefits by helping these women become economically active.

This was the crux of a policy paper prepared by the Lahore School of Economics (LSE) titled "Undergraduate Female Students in Lahore: Perceived Constraints to Female Labour Force Participation".

The paper examines both external and internal factors impeding young and educated women in Punjab from participating in the labour force.

Taking a sample of 1,600 final-year undergraduate students from women-only colleges of Lahore, the paper said a large number of them successfully made it to the colleges with a total of 166,808 women currently enrolled in government degree and postgraduate colleges in Punjab.

However, the labour force participation rate of females in Punjab remains low with only 31% of them entering the market.

The overall female labour force participation rate in Pakistan is even lower at 15%, which is less than a third of the male labour force rate and much lower than the ratios in comparable countries such as Bangladesh and Turkey.

The research found that many women aimed to actively participate in the labour market in the future as 82% of those included in the sample expressed a desire to work after graduation. However, at the same time, they also saw considerable barriers in the job market.

For instance, 55% of women reported lack of support and approval from spouses and 65% perceived gender discrimination in promotions at work to be significant constraints hindering their success as professionals.

In the sample, one-third of the women who were acquiring higher education had at least one parent who was devoid of formal education.

The paper, however, appreciated that the uneducated parents realised the value of education and were ensuring that their children, even girls, acquired higher education.

According to the paper, effects of gender dividend can be substantial provided that the government engages timely and makes well-targeted interventions aimed at promoting participation of young and educated women in the workforce. This approach could also yield significant positive spillovers for human capital development and could emerge as a crucial driver of medium and long-term economic growth, the paper noted.

It concluded that a large proportion of the current undergraduate students in Lahore expressed the desire to work following the completion of their degree programmes.

At the same time, the research stressed that it was important to have policies geared towards enabling these women to realise their desire.

Government initiatives such as increasing workplace safety for women as well as awareness campaigns targeted towards raising family support for working women can help overcome the hindrances. This can be done through innovative means such as leveraging social media and digital technology.

Existing initiatives to provide amenities, particularly making it mandatory for public offices to provide daycare facility, are important steps and can be used by women to convince their families to let them work. However, it is crucial that these daycare facilities are extended to the private sector as well. The paper highlighted that only 6% of women were working mothers. A detailed focus on group discussions with students revealed that most respondents (31%) identified their mothers as their role model.

However, with only 6% of the mothers participating in the labour force themselves, they could not guide young graduates on how to navigate through the labour market.

As a result, such students lack exposure to women from similar backgrounds who have successfully overcome hindrances to securing and sustaining jobs.

"Since most of the women in the sample look up to their mothers as role models who may or may not be working, exposure to other women who can act as role models may be an effective tool to alter career aspirations and promote labour force participation," it said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2020.

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