Discrimination in the Pakistan Labour Market: Myth andReality

A general concern with equity in the economic developmentprocess and the focus on issues of poverty, population growth, andenvironmental degradation in recent years have both created an upsurgein the interest in women’s role in economic development. The women indevelopment (WID ) issue is closely related to the issue of sexdiscrimination. In economic terms, discrimination occurs whenever marketallocations are affected not by the criterion of productivity, but bynon-pecuniary or extraneous factors such as sex. Operationally, the mostcommon forms of discrimination in the labour market are wagediscrimination, whereby women are paid lower wages relative to men inall industries and occupations for work that is recognisably equal,l andoccupational or job discrimination, whereby women are segregated intocertain ‘female’ occupations which are generally low-paying. Both thesetypes of discrimination are fairly common and extensive in Europe andNorth America, especially in the U. S. In Pakistan, as in some otherThird World countries, there is another aspect of discrimination whichis even more fundamental than the other two. This refers to thedivergence between myth and reality about women’s participation in thelabour force, which is the most visible indicator of their contributionto economic activity, and hence to development. The reality is thatwomen’s labour force participation is high, measured either in terms ofthe percentage of adult women who work, or the proportion of the labourforce that is female, or the hours of work. The myth within Pakistan(especially among the middle class, urbanites, government officialsincluding planners and administrators, and even academicians) as well asoutside is that women do not work.

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