Female-headed Households and Urban Poverty in Pakistan

Publication Year : 1989

There is growing evidence not only of a substantial increase in woman-headed households all over the world but also of the severely disadvantaged economic condition of these households. These women are amongst the poorest of the Poor – belonging to what may be termed a “Fifth World”. In the urban areas, they are concentrated in the informal sector which serves as a catchment area and source of identification of such household heads. A household may be designated as women-headed, de/acto or dejure. or both, if the male spouse is absent (widows, divorcees, abandoned women); or is present but contributes marginally to the economic maintenance of the household either due to irregularity and uncertainty of his income (in turn due to old age, sickness or nature of job) or lack of women’s control over such income or gender specific differences in disposition of income. These woman-headed households are especially vulnerable to poverty because of the marital status of most of the household heads, their lack of access to productive resources and income as well as services, the decline of the traditional familial support system, size and composition of household, etc. They are also more vulnerable because they face the challenge of making market-oriented activities compa tible with domestic responsibilities. With the education and training at their disposal and their dual role as mothers and workers, the type of jobs available to them are the informal sector jobs. Within the informal sector, there are very few options for poor women since in the cultural setting of Pakistan females are confined to jobs where sex seclusion can be assured. One of such options is to work as a domestic servant It is the purpose of this paper to investigate the economic status of households headed by female domestics in Karachi, Pakistan.

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