FEMALE OCCUPATIONAL CHOICE: DETERMINANTS & CONSTRAINTS
Although female participation in the labour force of Pakistan has increased from 13.7% in 1999 to 21.7% in 2010, it is still much lower than male labour force participation (68.7% in 2010). The low figures of female participation remain a challenge that must be overcome, as an increase in female participation could lead to gender equity and could reduce poverty at the household level. Moreover, despite a stress on urbanization in the country, only 10% of the urban work force comprises of females, with a majority of females being employed in the rural areas (Labour Force Survey Reports, 2001-2010).
The gender empowerment measure highlights another alarming situation: compared to men, very few women are employed as skilled workers, technical workers or qualified professionals. The female labour force of Pakistan is largely concentrated in the agriculture sector with more than 70% of economically active women currently employed in this sector. As illustrated by the graph below, female labour force participation in manufacturing and services has decreased over time but increased in the agriculture sector.
The occupational choice of a worker is extremely important, as his or her wage bracket depends on the occupation and, accordingly, determines current income, future income and lifetime consumption patterns. A large part of the occupational decision depends on human capital characteristics such as education, experience and vocational training. Additionally, in Pakistan’s predominantly Muslim society, the concepts of ‘pardah’ (literally, veil) and ‘izzat’ (honour) come into play and are a significant constraint to occupational choices for a majority of women (Ferdos, 2005). Pardah promotes segregation between men and women and, in effect, allocates activities carried out inside the house to women and outside activities to men. The notion of izzat implies that women personify the ‘honour’ of the family and need to be protected at all times; this largely restricts their mobility and constrains their occupational choices (Roomi et al., 2012).
Many women in Pakistan tend to choose employment in sectors that employ a large number of females as this reduces any compulsory workplace interaction with men and allows them to observe pardah. Therefore, a large number of women prefer occupations that have been feminised. According to the theory of feminisation of occupation, certain occupations tend to be aligned with female characteristics such that the proportion of females employed in that particular occupation rises disproportionately (Standing, 1999). Such occupations –for instance, agricultural activities in the case of Pakistan – thus became more attractive to women as they match their abilities and allow them to observe pardah.
The female workforce in Pakistan is dominated by untrained and uneducated women from the rural regions. The agriculture sector (and its related activities) is largely concentrated in the rural sector and constitutes the largest part of the rural economy. The vast majority of women, therefore, tend to be employed in this sector. Women in rural areas face mobility constraints due to a pervasive patriarchal culture that prevents them from venturing too far from the household so that the male members of the household can easily supervise them in order to protect their izzat. This restricts their entry into other occupations and forces them to seek employment in the agricultural sector, which is easily accessible for them and their families.
The manufacturing sector, which is a dominant sector of the economy, requires labour with vocational training and a basic level of education. As very few females undergo any sort of training, this decreases their likelihood of being employed in the manufacturing sector. Although the upward trend in female employment in the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors has risen over time, the distribution of women across sectors will become less skewed only if they are able to attain better levels of education and the skills required for other sectors. Women with at least a matriculation certificate will have a greater chance of being employed and are much more likely to become part of the non-agriculture sector than uneducated women.
Pakistan’s policymakers need to take a multi-pronged approach to increasing the overall rate of female participation in the labour force and reducing the skewed distribution of female employment across all economic sectors. Such an approach should reflect the following:
First, there should be greater emphasis on compulsory education till the matriculation level for both genders in the country as, male and female productivity will rise in accordance with their educational attainment. This will also increase male awareness of the importance of female education and encourage greater acceptance of female labour force participation.
Second, the federal and provincial governments should ensure that there are fixed reserved quotas for female employees in all government sector jobs. These quotas should be based on the proportion of women with respect to the total population in their area of jurisdiction. The government should also encourage the private sector to maintain women’s job quotas and give firms incentive to do so through measures such as subsidising a percentage of female wages. Simultaneously, female employees should also be considered for other non-reserved vacancies in their firm or department.
Third, the government should increase the number of training programmes that specifically target females,ensuring that such programmes take place both in villages and cities so that both urban and rural women have an equal chance of being employed. This is extremely important as females who have undergone training are more likely to be employed in the non-agriculture sector than their untrained counterparts. In addition, basic training in computers, operating machinery and stitching should be introduced as co-curricular activities at the school level.
Finally, the government should make a considerable effort to make the public transport system safer and more female-friendly so that women’s families feel comfortable about letting them commute to workplaces that are far from their homes.
 Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Labor Force Survey Reports, 2001- 2010
 Ferdos A, Social Status Of Rural and Urban Working Women In Pakistan − A Comparative Study, Dessertation, am Fachbereich Sozial wissenschaften der Universität Osnabrück, (Nov,2005), pp 5-150
 Roomi et al, Gender and work-life balance a phenomenological study of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development ,Vol. 19 No. 2, 2012 pp. 209-228
 Standing G, Global Feminization Through Flexible Labor A Theme Revisited, World Development Vol. 27, No. 3, (1999)pp. 583-602
Ms. Zohra Sohail is a Research Associate at IDEAS. She has completed her MSc in Economics and BSc Economics from Lahore University of Management Sciences. Previously, she has worked as a Research Associate at PMIU of School Education Department and as a Research Assistant at IGC. Her research interests lie in the area of labor economics and education policy..
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives