In Pakistan, only about 22.5 percent of women are involved in economic activity, as compared to 67.8 percent of the men. This is one of the lowest rates of participation of the female labor force in the region, second only to Afghanistan.
The work that women do in terms of material resources and time spent is usually unpaid or underpaid. In a majority of the sectors, both inside and outside the home, the work of women is not recognized; and if it is recognized, then it is not paid; and if it is paid, then it is underpaid. This is why a large part of the female population of Pakistan faces economic exploitation, which results in an imbalance of power between one half of the population and the other.
This asymmetry in power results in various different injustices. Women are unable to make any decisions regarding their futures. They are neither consulted nor considered when decisions are made, from major legislation bills in court to simple decisions inside the home. The absence of a proper education system, coupled with retrogressive customs preventing girls’ education, also play a major role in the financial abuse that women and girls face from a young age. The custom of marrying off minor girls to settle disputes or as bargaining commodities is just one of the various manipulative ways women and girls exploited due to their inability to support themselves.
Economic exploitation has a very close connection with sexual exploitation.
Girls and women who are married off at a young age find themselves under pressure to conceive, most times against their will and when they are ill-prepared for the responsibility. They are also held responsible if the child is a girl, leading them to face further victimization at the hands of their in-laws and family members. In many cases, they are forced to undergo abortion.
Financial control is a major weapon in the fight against women’s bodily autonomy. During the time of Nikkah (marriage), the woman’s right to demand divorce is irrevocably crossed out; so is her right to demand Haq Mahar (money/property, etc that is gifted to the bride at the time of her wedding). Women are forced to forego their properties to their brothers or male relatives and are not consulted with regards to property matters. Many societies also do not allow women to rent properties on their name.
Without the future stability that financial independence brings, many girls and women find themselves unable to escape the serfdom that such familial hierarchies and marriages encompass. Due to self-entitled ownership many men – and society in general – feel over women, women and girls are seen more as commodities rather than individuals with the right to financial freedom, the right to choose and the right to say “No”, among other things.
Due to the social and cultural taboos with regards to financial independence, women themselves do not regard what they do as work; be it in the cotton-picking fields or inside the home. The female workforce is both underestimated and manipulated, in large part because the economy is greatly subsidized by one half of the population. If the women would unanimously stop working for just one day in any one city in Pakistan, be they inside the homes or in offices or worker’s fields, that city would come to a complete standstill.
Financial abuse is a strong weapon used by many patriarchal households in Pakistan, that can eventually set the stage for domestic and sexual violence and abuse.
A large portion of the female workforce in Pakistan is unable to use their own hard earned money, because they man, being the head of the house, takes full control of it. By airbrushing out the large contributions that women give to our society, the massive violations of women’s rights that take place inside the economy and society can be concealed. Many married working women are unable to spend their earnings, because their husband and in-laws forcibly take control of the money they earn. Women who do not earn and are dependent on their husband’s generosity, face a different kind of victimization, where their husbands do not give them enough money to pay for household expenses.
A woman who has no financial independence, who has to depend on her male relatives for support, is vulnerable to all kinds exploitation, violence and abuse.
At TABAAN, we work to help women become self-sufficient; so that they can become financially independent and support both themselves and their children, if need be.