By Tahzib Unnisa
Ours is a male dominated, conservative society. In this society the traditional role of male member of a family is to earn bread for the family while women are expected to keep the house in order.
Due to this traditional social outlook prevalent in our society the women are not encouraged to go out of the house and work. In strictly conservative societies such women are considered a deviant member of the family. So the first problem faced by a working woman is the resistance of the family to allow her to work.
This conflict is driven by conservative social outlook, commutation issues as well as workplace insecurity. However, economic compulsions are changing this outlook now and even some conservative families are forced to change their stance.
When a woman steps outside her home she comes across a host of problems. On top of that is the mobility issue.
Our transport system is overcrowded and it mainly caters to the need of male travelers. Women travelers usually have to wait for long hours to find a seat.
Even when they find a seat, it is not comfortable and commodious enough to allow her a pleasant journey. By reserving seats for women in public transport, and strictly implementing it this problem can be alleviated.
Moreover, as soon as sun sets and darkness spreads, a working woman in workplace feels insecure. She needs light, multi-human presence at streets and bus stops and reliable transport to take her home safely.
So women working into night needs to be given special official/company transport to take them home.
Another problem that working women face in Pakistan is the workplace harassment by male members. This harassment may range from rude or pointed remarks to pervert advances.
The women are vulnerable to them mainly because they do not want to disclose such objectionable behaviour to their kins for fear of ignominy or backlash from them. This problem is compounded by the fact, as some studies have found that women overtly distrust police and would be reluctant to file a complaint with police even when they experience an unpleasant incident.
This is due to the fact that the credibility of the Police System has eroded in our country due to rampant corruption pervading in Police. Moreover, Policemen are acting mostly like all powerful, arrogant entities rather than State functionaries.
There is a need to create secure, congenial and trustworthy environment for the women in police stations so that the women can register their complaints. Establishment of women police stations is a step in the right direction. However, there is a need that such stations are expanded further.
To make workplace environment safe, CCTV Cameras may also be installed in the offices in which women are working. Moreover, day care facilities for the children of working women may also be provided at affordable rates.
Some women also face wage discrimination in some sectors.
Their male counterpart get higher pay as compared to them. The policy of uniform pay structure could be enforced in all informal sectors.
Another problem faced by working women is to maintain a balance between dividing adequate time between their families and their jobs.
This is not easy as a woman is primarily a mother and his bread-earning role is secondary. But the demands of the job are exacting and she is expected to perform at par with her male colleagues.
This is a big challenge. In order to meet this challenge, the women have to shoulder extra workload. If they do not maintain this balance, their children would miss their attention and become deficient in education and good manners or their earning would stop.
The condition of women in unorganized sector is even worse. Women work in brick kilns, do cleaning duties in various houses, mind children of wealthy families, weave carpets etc. Such women are generally employed as contract laborers and work on part time basis. Such women are more at the mercy of their employers. These women are paid low wages, are forced to work for long hours in insecure environment in which the command of the employer is equal to the law of the land.
Women working in unorganized/informal sector are often prone to exploitation or summary sacking. However, the women working in such sector have very weak economic base and they ignore the maltreatment meted out to them. The government must take steps to provide legal support system as well as social safe-guards to such marginalized women.
There is increasing evidence that with the passage of time the participation of women in our system is on the increase. Women are now taking up such challenging positions as pilots, In-charge of departments, Corporate Lawyers etc. In order to facilitate and speed up such change, the government should take more women-specific steps to create a secure and healthy environment for them so that they can play more active role in our society as equal partner.
There is need to empower women keeping in view Islamic tenets. There is no need to adopt western values in haste because such values are more likely to discord with our society. A developing country like Pakistan is in urgent need to integrate women in development sector as equal partner to men.
(The writer is the first female depty commissioner in Azad Jamu and Kashmir).