Women make up 50% of the total population of Pakistan yet there are only 23.31% women in the labor force, as per the
Pakistan Labor Force Survey. Women in Pakistan are living a subjugated life and are deprived of economic opportunities
thus have low access to and control over resources. This situation leaves women vulnerable to various challenges
including (but not limited to) violence, economic independence and vulnerability to violence. Violence against Women
(VAW) and Women’s Economic Independence are closely knitted and one (economic independence) may help reduce the
vulnerability to the other i.e., violence.
In Pakistan, economic policies are not in favour of women. Moreover, the governments and legislatures are continuously failing to create and maintain a system that would facilitate women’s inclusion in the mainstream economy. Although the federal and provincial governments have made several laws, however, the implementation and operationalization of those laws are still a dream yet to be realized. The laws on maternity leaves and benefits, the facility of a crèche at workplaces, and the anti-sexual harassment committees at the workplace under the law against the sexual harassment of women at the workplace 2010. The law against domestic violence, the Early Child Marriage Restrain Act, the Home-based workers law,
Civil society in Pakistan especially in Sindh has been playing a very important role in engaging with legislatures and pushing forward to design and implement pro-women and pro-labor laws. Organizations and networks are working on different causes. In a similar effort, 12 Women’s Rights Organizations have formed a collective named FEM-Consortia. The FEM-Consortia aims to increase the enjoyment of the human rights of women and girls and advance gender equality in Pakistan. The national launch took place in March 2023. Whereas a simultaneous provincial launch took place in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, and KPK in the cities of Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, and Peshawar respectively.
In Karachi, the National Organization for Working Communities (Secretariat of FEM-Consortia) - Karachi, Advocacy, Research, Training, and Services, Foundation – Mirpur Khas, and Awaz-e-Niswan – Karachi Chapter organized the launch of the Sindh Chapter. Similarly, Pakistan Rural Workers Social Workers Organization - Bahawalpur, Roshni Welfare Organization – Multan, and Women in Struggle for Empowerment – Lahore, organized the launch of the Punjab Chapter. In Balochistan and KPK, Breaking Barriers Women – Quetta, Society for Human Advancement and Disadvantaged Empowerment - Jafarabad, and Ujala Sahar Organization – Mardan, Saiban Development Organization – Mardan, Association of Business, Professional, and Agricultural Women – Peshawar organized the launch of Balochistan and KPK chapters respectively. In Karachi, Ms Farhat Parveen (Convener, FEM-Consortia and Executive Director, NOWCommunities – Karachi) along with the women, human, and labour rights activists present at the launch event emphasized the need for urgent action for both policy level and institutional interventions to ensure equal participation of women in the economy of Pakistan so that the vulnerability of women towards economic crisis, climate change, and societal pressures and issues such as violence against women, early child marriages, forced conversions, harassment, rape, and even murder, can be reduced.
Ms Urooj Obaid (WVL-P lead, Awaz-e-Niswan – AAN, and Member, FEM-Consortia) shared her opinion that economic empowerment of women is crucial to attaining the independence of women and thus reducing vulnerability to violence. She shared the work of AAN which is to increase the political participation of women, all over Pakistan, and pointed out how women in decision-making positions can help bring in policies, laws, and structures to support the economic empowerment of women and prevent violence against women. Mr. Shehzado Malik (Executive Director, Advocacy, Research, Training, and Services Foundation – Mirpur Khas and Member, FEM-Consortia) added that women’s economic empowerment is a single solution to more than one problem faced by women in our country. He, however, pointed out that our federal and local policies and laws are not particularly in support nor do our social structures accept women’s role in the economy. He pointed out that attention is needed at all ends either its policy level, institutional level, or the society. Ms. Farhat Parveen (Executive Director, National Organization for Working Communities – NOWCommunities Karachi and Convener, FEM-Consortia) appreciated the partner organization for the collaboration in the launch event. She remarked that on the situation of women’s participation in the labour force. She called for swift action to increase women’s participation in the labour force and mainstream economy and facilitate the existing female workforce as per international standards and laws. She urged all stakeholders to join hands and play their part in the struggle towards an inclusive economy so that the challenges faced by women due to economic dependence could be reduced. She asked civil society organizations to advocate for the right to work for women and for the authorities to provide facilities, job security, and social security for all workforce, especially women.
Ms. Mahtab Akbar Rashidi chaired the conference as the Chief Guest. She concluded the program with her conclusive words. Asking the attendants and the activists who attended the conference to actively work towards the goal and appreciate the efforts of NOWCommunities and Ms. Farhat Parveen for the opportunity to discuss such sensitive topics with a large number of people who are stakeholders. She called upon the men especially those who attended the conference and in general, to play their role as they bear the responsibility because of the power they hold in their positions.
This effort is an example of the participatory approach that is rarely observed especially when it's about the issue of women. A majority of the decision makers are men, be it the assembly, the civil society organizations, trade unions and other concerned forums. Engagements like this one are particularly stimulating because they include the niche and provide a chance for true representatives (i.e., women), in the majority to share their work and opinions on the issues that directly affect them in all manner, therefore it is a heartful sight to see the organization from all over Pakistan and stakeholder join hands to support a marginalized group that makes half of the population of the country.