By Zubeida Mustafa
For long, women have been an invisible force in Pakistan as they have sustained the family quietly while keeping a low profile. But the stark reality is now emerging that as workers in the informal sector their role is no less significant even though they continue to remain in the background. Ume-Laila Azhar, executive director of Homenet Pakistan, one of the organisers of the convention, informed participants in a media briefing that in 2007 a fifth of Pakistan’s GDP came from the informal sector comprising 20 million workers of which 12 million were women. With globalisation and liberalisation of international trade, the size of this sector has been growing over the years as has been the number of women who enter it. Their desperation, and with it, their exploitation has also been increasing. All this figures no where in official records because the home based worker is not counted as a member of the labour force by the government.
Without any social security or support but in need of resources to provide for their family, women turn to home based work as it is easier to access. It doesn’t demand stringent qualifications and education. They embroider and stitch garments, make bangles, roll incense sticks, make paper bags, process food and even make some items for the electrical goods industries. Their versatility is beyond belief.