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Feminization of Poverty
in Pakistan

January 12, 2012



Feminization of Poverty in Pakistan

The Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) organized a public talk

under its Distinguished Lecture Series titled, Feminization of Poverty in
Pakistan on January 12 2012.

The speaker, a prominent human rights activist and development worker,

Tahira Abdullah, gave an insightful and comprehensive overview of the
deteriorating social effects of poverty within Pakistan, especially on
In his welcome address, the Director General of the Institute of Strategic
Studies, Islamabad, (ISSI) said that Ms Abdullah is a true fighter of human
rights in Pakistan, and the status quo holders abhor her efforts and that
societies live because of people like Ms Abdullah. He was of the view that
more and more people are recognizing the fact that poverty is a denial of
human rights, and that women are at the receiving end. Women are viewed
in terms of relationships and are not viewed in terms of their own identity
and in traditional societies, the situation is worse.
In her lecture, Ms. Tahira Abdullah began by saying that successive
governments in Pakistan have manoeuvred the poverty figures and a
census has not been carried out in Pakistan since 1998. In order to change
the poverty head counts, goal posts and definitions were changed, and also
the rupee-dollar exchange rate was changed. Ms. Abdullah was of the view
that the work done by Dr. Mehboob ul Haqs centre has greatly contributed
in undertaking very credible studies regarding poverty and socio economic

Ms Tahira Abdullah said that 75% of the population in Pakistan lives below
the poverty line and majority of this population comprises of women and
girls. She defined the term Feminization of Poverty as the increase in
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proportion and severity of poverty in women-headed households (WHHs)

and the rise in womens participation in low-paying, urban, informal sector
economic activities and agricultural non-remunerated work are indicators
of feminization of poverty. She was of the view that women experience
poverty differently, and are worse off than men in poverty. Womens
very real contribution to the national economy is still not counted in the
GDP of the country. The Federal Bureau of Statistics data on womens
employment (through Labour Force Surveys) does not accurately capture
rural womens work in agriculture, nor womens work in non-formal,
unorganized sector of urban economy. According to the Government of
Pakistan, over 70% of rural women work in agriculture & livestock and over
3/4th urban female labour force works in non-formal sector.
Ms Abdullah said that in Pakistan, hunger has a womans face. She stated
that women may be more impoverished due to societal biases and
incomprehensive governmental definitions of what constitutes productive
work. Societal biases include giving last portions to sons since they need
the energy for school work and, ultimately, breadwinning.
She criticized the government for ignoring womens contributions to the
Gross Domestic Product, saying that cotton, Pakistans largest cash crop, is
picked entirely by women but the government records make no such
mention. She said that women face a triple burden, the first is the domestic
work they do free of charge, which if quantified comes out in billions of
dollars. The second involves the numerous years lost in childbearing and
rearing which leads to a loss in income. Lastly, productive work such as
picking crops goes unaccounted for. Using statistics to validate her point,
Ms. Abdullah stated that women are disproportionately impacted by the
WTO, globalisation, liberalisation and deregulation. She enumerated the
causes as being the lack of fledgling social protection mechanisms and
removal of agriculture subsidies.
She was of the view that women have traditionally been seen as the seed
keepers. However, with multinational corporations and their monopoly on
seeds, women are no longer able to transfer the extensive knowledge
reserves on agriculture to subsequent generations. The result is a foregone
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conclusion: a reduction in food security and kitchen gardens. According to

Ms. Abdullah these acts are seen by as criminal neglect by the agriculture
industry, especially with the knowledge that it is the backbone of the
nations economy.
She said that women continue to suffer from inadequate remuneration,
skills training, legal protection, social protection & security, health &
maternity benefits under labour laws, right of unionization etc. She
highlighted that home-based women workers (64% of entire female work
force) are not counted; rather they are exploited by both contractor and
middleman, and are deprived of labour rights. She said that there was a
continuation of gendered division of labour and ghetto-ization of womens

She was of the view that there is an urgent need to address this alarming
feminization of poverty through social security and protection measures
and by asserting ownership such as land, property, livestock (through
inheritance, gifts and joint title deeds).
Responding to a question about the suffering of women in the society, Ms
Abdullah said that although guarantees are ensured in the constitution of
Pakistan, such as Articles 25, 27, 34, 35, 37 of the 1973 Constitution,
provisions ensuring gender equality and affirmative action for women,
recognizing need to redress existing inequalities as women continue to
suffer from poverty and continue to be victims of the patriarchy and
feudalism in the country. She spoke about how the Jirgas and Panchayats
continue to sanction and legitimize VAW and honour killings, and how
women have lack of access to justice and decision-making which leads to
the legislated inequality of women and minorities in the society.

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Responding to a question regarding the Benazir Income Support

Programme, Ms. Abdullah questioned the significance of this Poverty
Reduction and Alleviation Programme that gives Rs. 1,000 per month to
eligible candidates. She was of the view that the programme fosters
dependence, poverty, beggary and mostly serves as a vehicle to secure
votes for the next elections.
The public talk ended with final words by the Director General of the
ISSI who thanked the speaker and the audience for their participation in an
event focusing on an immensely important issue for Pakistan.

Prepared by: Amina Khan

Research Fellow

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