Representatives of several government departments, trade unions and civil society on Tuesday highlighted the problems and challenges facing working women in the private sector.
They were speaking at a consultation organised by the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), at the Punjab Civil Secretariat.
PCSW chairperson Fauzia Viqar said the meeting had been convened with the objective of jumpstarting research on the status of women in the private sector and identifying challenges facing them.
Viqar shared a working paper written for the commission’s research on women working in private sector in the Punjab.
The ratio of women’s population in the country is 49.19 per cent. Female labour-force participation stands at 21.5 per cent, as per Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2012-13.
The survey points out that more males than females are engaged as employees (52.4 percent, 27.5 percent) and own bank accounts (38.3 percent, 20.9 percent) while more females than males work as contributing family workers (51.6 percent, 6.3 percent).
The working paper states that it is difficult to promote women’s employment and decent work due to serious gaps in information available on the number, working conditions, access to social protection, and enforcement of adequate labour standards for women in Pakistan.
National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said the PCSW should evaluate emerging industries, including sales and customer service, the electronic media and the tertiary sector, for creating employment opportunities for women.
Mumtaz said the architecture of Pakistan’s labour market required extensive study including the rising trend of contract and sub-contract workers, and the interface between the manufacturing sector and women workers.
The NCSW chairperson dismissed claims that society was unwilling to let women work in offices and factories, and said economic necessity made all such considerations irrelevant.
The Working Women Organisation’s Aima Mehmood said laws that discriminated against women and denied contract workers entitlement to social security benefits needed to be scrutinised.
Mehmood said the private sector also employed female domestic workers. She said linking the informal industry with the formal sector was significant. She said only those workers who were registered under the Industrial Relations Act were eligible to apply for housing as per Ashiana Housing Scheme.
The reasons for the invisibility of some industrial units employing women required explanation, said Mehmood.
Aurat Foundation’s Anjum Raza said Sialkot’s surgical and sports industry was undergoing revitalisation after meeting international labour standards of the European Union and International Labour Organisation.
Raza said women workers in such factories were being paid regularly for their work.
“However, problems still remain as out of the 1,000 women working in Renala Khurd farms, only 180 are registered.”
Strengthening Participatory Organisation regional head Salman Abid said employers in the private sector should also be consulted to learn the reasons for low female recruitment.
Viqar concluded the consultation with a promise to set up a research working group of experts to study the plight of women working in the private sector.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2014.