Oct 18, 2018

Balochistan: The Struggle of Educated Women to Find Jobs

In Balochistan, educated women are having difficulties to find employment and provide for their families due to social and cultural barriers that remain hard to overcome. In addition to having to obtain approval to work from their families, or their husband’s family when it comes to widows, and although women increasingly have access to education, it is rare to see them in offices. Facing lack of protection and harassment at work, women have difficulties to find safe jobs and it was estimated that 96% of educated women in Balochistan are unemployed.

The article below was published by Global Times

Marzia Mohsin had married in 2010 and had been a wife for only two years and five months. Her husband who was the only breadwinner of the family died shortly after their marriage and the tragedy left her shaken.

Mohsin borrowed $1,625 from her relative to study for her master's degree in order to find a job after her husband's death.

After graduating in sociology from University of Balochistan, Quetta, in 2014, she had to strive for five years to get her husband's family's nod to put her skills to work, but she is still unemployed.

According to local custom, a widow has to spend all her life with the family of the deceased. Her dead husband's family is the guardian of the widow and its permission is needed to let the widow work.

"Though poor, I completed my degree hoping for a bright future," said Mohsin, 31. "Now I have the ability and experience but I am unable to get a job due to prevalent norms."

"I want to earn money for my children to provide them with food and education but social barriers are preventing me from finding a job. Working in a safe environment to provide basic necessities to children is not an immoral act," she said.

Unemployment is not only Mohsin's issue; it is one of the major problems faced by women in Pakistan's Balochistan. Cultural barriers have prevented a number of educated women who overcame financial challenges to receive higher education from finding employment.

More than 30 women Mohsin knows from her university have failed to get permissions to hunt for jobs.

It is blatant discrimination against women that they are not allowed to work and working women are not respected by society, she said. 

Access to education without the prospect of employment is frustrating for women in the Pakistani province. Though it is common to see female students at Balochistan's universities, they are rarely spotted at offices. 

The seven recognized universities in Balochistan graduate more than 10,000 female students annually. 

Balochistan is a tribal and conservative society where people are not ready to let women go out of the household and work. It is considered rather unethical. The men are not ready to work with women in many offices.

Fatima Atif, a Women rights and peace activist, estimates that 96 percent of educated women are jobless in Balochistan.

Only a few educated women appear in workplaces and even they suffer from discrimination and harassment.

"Lack of protection for women at work and harassment are among the factors that keep them out of the workplace and disappoint newly employed women," said Umera Saeed, an employee of the education department in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.

"I have seen over eight years that after facing harassment, their families compel the women to leave the job."

Some women believe thay can get family permission to work but can't find safe jobs. The atmosphere in many government offices is not conducive to women and compels them not to choose the job.

Saeed said that safe places to work in are vital for women.

"The government should make separate spaces for women in government offices since the current atmosphere in such places prevents women from seeking jobs there," she said.

People believe that it is a duty of men to protect families by having women to stay in the security of the house. It is considered a violation of cultural norms for unrelated men and women to mingle. The men feel dishonored if others even come to know the name of their sister and wife.

"We have our own centuries-old culture and consider it superior. We respect our culture since we feel happy in our social system. We don't want to bring a change to our lives," said Malak Aslam Khan, a tribal elder.

He said the roles of women are defined in his culture. "The culturally accepted values are for women to first fulfill their responsibility and serve the family home as a sister, wife, and mother," he said. "We cannot violate our custom and allow them to go for jobs." 

"Women are very interested in getting an education and are competitive when it comes to competing with men as most top ranks in the department are achieved  by women," Amir Bano, a chairperson of Balochistan University higher education department, said.

Although men's employment is a prerequisite to marriage, women's jobs often end when they tie the knot. For women, the university term means the last few years of freedom before they are restricted to the family.

Female students' marriages are fixed during or soon after they graduate, she said. "Most husbands don't give permission to their wives to work in offices with men."

Atif, a rights activist, said in their social structure, people dislike women who work in the fields. Sometimes women avoid pushing social boundaries as it could lead to a slur on their character.

"Working in offices is considered immoral," she said.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons