When you’re a woman
Gender differences in occupational employment are a reality and in Pakistan, a very small number of women are employed in the formal sector. But in the informal sector, the economic contribution of women is huge.
Development economics teaches us that women subsidise the economic activities of men. In their role as caregivers and homemakers, they are performing work that makes it easier for men to perform theirs, but there is an important distinction. Men are by and large the breadwinners, the ones with access to financial resources while women are financially dependent – their work leads to no financial remuneration whatsoever. As they do the hard work of caring for the elderly, the children and the sick, providing a safety net, and keeping the household together, clearly women make tangible economic contributions and are entitled to the financial and economic returns that flow from them. Why then don’t they get it? This is the question that my professor at university posed to a roomful of silent students.
She answered it herself: “Because, it is cheap.”
But the more I think about it, the more unsatisfactory the answer seems. So it is cheap, tasteless, vulgar to pay a woman for breastfeeding her baby, taking care of her family and keeping her house in order but it is not cheap to disregard a large swathe of population by not placing any value on its work. Apparently, the argument here is that familial love and job satisfaction should compensate.
This is a specific manifestation of the problem of the informal sector but one on which debate is unlikely to come for a very long time. However, the least we can do is divest the woman’s role of sentimentality and think of her work as something tangible that deserves more than mere ‘appreciation’. While efforts should be made to make all economic spheres inclusive of women, it is crucial to acknowledge the work that women already perform.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 18th, 2010.
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