This post was originally published here (Urban Institute Research)
A version of this post was originally published on Oxfam’s Views & Voices.
Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world, and at least two in five Pakistanis will live in urban areas by 2020. But, as in the rest of South Asia, rapid urbanization in Pakistan is “messy” and hidden. A large-scale informal economy and poor public service delivery is dampening the potential productivity benefits of agglomeration.
Seventy-eight percent of nationwide nonagricultural jobs are in the informal economy, and some 22 million people are in such roles, most of them women. Most of an estimated 8.5 million mostly unregulated domestic workers are also women.
Underdeveloped and unenforced work regulations make women disproportionately more susceptible to exploitive working conditions. They are poorly compensated and forced to work in hazardous circumstances without proper social or legal protections. Beyond the ambit of taxation, they are seldom considered productive economic agents and are relegated as secondary contributors to the economy.
These issues with urbanization and informal economies are not unique to Pakistan. All South Asian countries have similar problems. But overall gender disparities in Pakistan are considerably higher than the regional average, and the fact that more women are poor than men poses a particular challenge for women in Pakistan’s urban informal sector.
In a recent report we published for Oxfam, we explored these vulnerabilities in four of Pakistan’s major cities, focusing on identifying intervention opportunities based on voices heard on the ground. Although we found a need for diverse skills development and collective bargaining capacity, it was the lack of access to health care, education, energy, and public transportation above all else that women saw as mostly adversely affecting their economic security.
In particular, women lack access to public transportation, mainly because of fear of violent street crime and abuse. This directly hinders their ability to access jobs and reduces earning potential. A disproportionate share of women’s commuting in Lahore is on foot, which hampers access to jobs.
We propose three strategies for women in the informal economy to more effectively advocate for improved access to services and better bargain for collective interests.