Keynote address by Dr Jawad Syed at the 6th International Conference on Business Management (ICoBM), held at NUST Business School, Islamabad on 26-27 October 2016.
This paper argues that the project of gender equality in Pakistan may not be accomplished without taking into account the intersection of gender with ethnicity and other forms of identity. Indeed, notwithstanding recent strides in legislation protecting women’s rights within and outside the workplace, gender equality remains a sore area in Pakistan. The country has the second lowest slot at 144th position in the global gender gap report. WEF (2015) that measures gender gap across four key areas – health, education, economy and politics – ranks Pakistan at 143 (out of 145 countries assessed) in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women, 135 in terms of education attainment, 125 for health and survival, and 87 for political empowerment. In terms of labor force participation, only 24.6% of women (age 15 and older) are active in labor force while for men, this figure is 82.9% (UNDP, 2015). Drawing on a critical review of the literature and macro-economic data, this paper uses the intersectionality lens to examine gender equality or lack thereof in Pakistan. It argues that women’s experiences and issues greatly vary due to intersection of gender with other forms of identity including rural/urban background, ethnicity, religious practice, family role and social class. For example, women in urban areas have a relatively higher rate (6.08%) of college or university level qualification as compared to women in rural areas (1.18%). While majority of economically active women in informal sector are engaged in agriculture, their work is often undervalued and neglected. Urban areas are a hub of public sector and corporate employment. However, women there face much higher unemployment rate (19.4%) than men (6.4%) (PBS, 2015). There is also an element of intersectionality of gender and ethnicity. Ethnic identity in Pakistan is generally shaped by linguistic and cultural differences. For example, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, women’s unemployment rate in urban areas is 36.4% while for men, this figure is 8.5%. In contrast, in the Punjab province, unemployment rate for women and men is 18.4% and 6.9% respectively. In addition to urban/rural and ethnic differences, women’s participation in formal employment is also shaped by religious interpretation and practice (in terms of approach to female modesty and gender segregation), family role (in terms of expectations and commitments at home) and social class (in terms of socio-economic background).