More and more Pakistani women are being forced by economic need to get jobs outside the household, decisions which are necessary but also potentially dangerous because they openly flout their families’ religious and cultural conventions. The recent trend of lower-class women who have entered service-sector jobs is related to inflation, which has spiked to 12.7 percent from 1.4 percent over the past seven years.
As a result, it’s impossible for one salary to feed an entire family. This is transforming work environments like the fast-food industry; for example, female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent over the past five years.
Going to work, however, is not easy. Some restaurants have been forced to offer transit services for women to protect them from harassment and hostility; others are abused by customers or have their uniforms confiscated by family members. Women say that men assume that because they accepted jobs outside the home, they are sexually promiscuous, and others explain that their family members offered to pay them to stay at home. The extra services that employers have to offer their female employees make some reluctant to hire women.
“We’re a society in transition,” Zeenat Hisam, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, told the New York Times. “Men in Pakistan haven’t changed, and they’re not changing as fast as our women. Men want to keep their power in their hand. The majority of the people here believe in the traditional interpretation of Islam, and they get very upset because religious leaders tell them it’s not proper for women to go out and to work and to serve strange men.”
This trend has, unsurprisingly, mostly been confined to rural areas. Pakistan’s female work force, at around 20 percent, is among the lowest of Muslim countries, and even companies like KFC employ 90 percent men. It will be interesting, though, to see whether this new economic need starts to change gender norms, and whether it will start to become more socially acceptable for women to work.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.