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  • Reasons for the Lack of Women’s Participation in Pakistan’s Workforce
  • Fahd Ali Raza


Pakistan has come a long way since 1947. The progress made in terms of industrialization and electronics has only been outdone by military research. However, there are still a few issues hindering further progress. One of the key issues that has been tackled numerous times is that of gender inequality and the causes of low female participation in the active workforce. Terms like "gender imbalance" and "lack of women's empowerment" have become attached to Pakistan, often tarnishing its image as a modern nation in the international community. According to UNDP reports on Human Development in South Asia, the active participation of women in Pakistan's workforce remains a debatable subject, despite numerous conferences and studies on the topic. The UNDP, ILO, UNESCO, and WHO have funded numerous research conferences on women in Pakistan, both locally and internationally.

The aim of this study is to review the status of gender inequality in Pakistan and to highlight the main causes of the lack of women's participation in Pakistan's active workforce.


This problem exists not only in Pakistan, but to some degree all over the world. Various international conventions related to women's rights and [End Page 99] involvement in societal development have worked to advance the cause of women. These include:

  1. 1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

  2. 2. Equal Remuneration Convention (1951).

  3. 3. Employment and Occupation Convention (1958).

  4. 4. Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women (1985).

  5. 5. Beijing Conference (1995).

Countries that are signatories to the above and other conventions like them showed their commitment to making sure that improvement in the status of women in society remained a priority for them. Pakistan is one of the signatories to these conventions.

The Constitution of Pakistan (1973) recognizes women as equal citizens under Articles 25, 27, 34, 35, and 37. Article 34 states, "Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life." Against the backdrop of these constitutional guarantees and other significant commitments, various initiatives have been taken to promote gender equality and to enable women to duly take part in national development. Numerous committees have been constituted, time and again, to formulate roadmaps and alleviate obstacles to gender equality in Pakistan. These include:

  1. 6. Commission on Marriage and Family Laws (1955).

  2. 7. Women's Rights Committee (1976).

  3. 8. Commission of Inquiry for Women (1977).

  4. 9. Pakistan Commission on the Status of Women (1985).

Despite the above initiatives, Pakistan still lacks the results needed to excel with other nations, not only in terms of human development indices, but also in the practical sphere of women in national development.

According to the Government of Pakistan, Statistics Division, at the time of independence in 1947 there were more than 15 million women and more than 17 million men in the country. The most recent census (1998) places the population of women at over 63 million, or nearly half of the country's total population. Even though, from an international perspective, the state of affairs of women in Pakistan appears dismal, a number of responsible steps have been taken since independence [End Page 100] to safeguard their interests. The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 is one such example. More recently, another positive step was taken in 2001, by reserving for women 33 per cent of the seats in local bodies and 17 per cent of the seats in the national and provincial assemblies. Overall, however, the gender gap still poses a challenge in many ways as yet insufficiently addressed by civil bodies. Research papers by various experts point toward numerous indicators:

1. Low level of socio-economic indicators.

2. Restriction of personal liberty and autonomy.

3. Insignificant public sector employment.

4. Gender-specific roles.

5. Social laws, customs, and practices that are anti-women.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women indicates that in Pakistan at present there is less than 10 per cent participation of women in the working-age group (15–60 years and above). Of these small numbers, up to 70 per cent are engaged in agriculture and support jobs...


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