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Gender, work and development in northwest Pakistan: working environments of Pakistani female development practitioners


Grünenfelder, Julia. Gender, work and development in northwest Pakistan: working environments of Pakistani female development practitioners. 2012, University of Zurich, Faculty of Science.

Abstract

Even though women in Pakistan have attracted some interest among researchers and policymakers, they are often represented as oppressed and victimised members of a highly patriarchal society. What is lacking are nuanced approaches that recognise Pakistani women as active and diverse agents without neglecting the societal structures that limit their agency. This research thus aims to provide more detailed representations of Pakistani women. The study argues that a research perspective based on poststructuralist, feminist and postcolonial concepts of power, knowledge and subjects is helpful for analysing links between Pakistani women’s individual experiences and their implication in diverse social relations of power. Against this background, this study adopts just this kind of research perspective to explore how Pakistani female development practitioners working in Government of Pakistan projects in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province experience and negotiate their work environment, particularly in respect to gendered relations of power.

The four research papers present insights into this research problem. Each of the four papers discusses a specific aspect: the relations between women and non domestic work as constituted through state discourses (Paper I); the complex field realities in which Pakistani development practitioners work (Paper II); the labour market for social organisers – a type of development practitioner – in northwest Pakistan and its gendered nature (Paper III); and the challenges female development practitioners face in their work environment and the coping strategies they develop (Paper IV). Each of the papers is based on an individual set of primary and/or secondary data such as job announcements, observations and people’s narratives. Primary data was generated through qualitative methodologies between 2006 and 2008 during several periods of fieldwork in Pakistan.

The research identifies the development sector as a complex and often contested work environment. Many local residents perceive ‘development’ as an instrument of the ‘West’ for pursuing its interests, and they are thus generally wary of development practitioners and organisations. A rising number of verbal and physical attacks in the late 2000s have affected the work of many development practitioners. Besides the resistance to development as a ‘Western’ ideology, there is also a widespread need for and interest in material benefits, which complicates development practitioners’ work further. When social organisers go to communities, they are supposed to select and support villages, communities and individuals that need developing. In a village, however, there are usually different voices that claim the right to development. The findings of the present study show that villagers variably draw on social categories such as development status, clan membership or gender to convince (potential) development practitioners of their eligibility for material benefits. Furthermore, an analysis of job announcement for social organisers shows that job qualifications are high (e.g. for language skills and willingness to work in a mixed-gender working environment) and the rewards (e.g. wages and social recognition) are low. For women in particular, it is difficult to present the requisite skills, since social values and norms regarding gender discriminate against women in areas such as access to information, ability to travel, and eligibility for employment in general.

The study further elaborates on the fact that the development sector has become a growing work opportunity for (mainly middle class) Pakistani women. This is because of a growing demand for well-educated female employees in this sector, but also because of a growing dependency of many middle-class families on women’s income. While the female participation rate in the Pakistani labour force is generally low (21.7% in 2010/11), there have always been women in formal employment, although this has often been in traditional female occupations such as teaching and nursing. The study’s findings suggest that Pakistani women have been kept out of non-domestic work through social norms and values that were, for example, established in laws, directives and speeches by state representatives such as Zia ul-Haq. Even today, women who take up a job as development practitioners need to position themselves in relation to these norms and values. The study shows that female development practitioners therefore develop strategies to establish themselves as good Muslim women and good development workers. For example they establish fictive kinship relations with their male team colleagues in order to make the latter responsible for their well-being and modesty. Another strategy is to locate women’s room in the back part of the office in order to shield female employees from men’s gazes.

A conclusion based on this study’s empirical findings is that, in the work environments of development practitioners, competing discourses on gender relations and development complicate working women’s everyday lives, but also provide them with an opportunity to reconcile specific gender norms with their labour market engagements. Pakistani women’s lives are made harder by the fact that prevalent gender relations generally restrict their participation in formal labour markets (even though formal structural constraints on women’s employment have been substantially reduced). However, women have to negotiate gender relations to participate in formal employment relations, such as in the development sector. Since engaging in the labour market is per se highly unusual behaviour for many Pakistani women, Pakistani women’s involvement in the market economy often increases both men’s and women’s options to negotiate gender relations, either consciously or unconsciously.

The study contributes to research in three ways. First, it makes a conceptual contribution to debates on gender, work and development by applying poststructuralist, feminist and postcolonial methodologies to data analysis and representation, and this is fairly rare for empirical research in Pakistan and in this research field. Second, it contributes empirically to academic debates about gender and work by rendering professional Pakistani women visible, especially the complexities, ambivalences and multilayered nature of their working lives in the development sector. Third, the study makes an empirical contribution to debates on development interventions and how they operate on the ground in the context of Pakistan by discussing the impact of (women’s) work environments on development interventions.

Abstract

Even though women in Pakistan have attracted some interest among researchers and policymakers, they are often represented as oppressed and victimised members of a highly patriarchal society. What is lacking are nuanced approaches that recognise Pakistani women as active and diverse agents without neglecting the societal structures that limit their agency. This research thus aims to provide more detailed representations of Pakistani women. The study argues that a research perspective based on poststructuralist, feminist and postcolonial concepts of power, knowledge and subjects is helpful for analysing links between Pakistani women’s individual experiences and their implication in diverse social relations of power. Against this background, this study adopts just this kind of research perspective to explore how Pakistani female development practitioners working in Government of Pakistan projects in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province experience and negotiate their work environment, particularly in respect to gendered relations of power.

The four research papers present insights into this research problem. Each of the four papers discusses a specific aspect: the relations between women and non domestic work as constituted through state discourses (Paper I); the complex field realities in which Pakistani development practitioners work (Paper II); the labour market for social organisers – a type of development practitioner – in northwest Pakistan and its gendered nature (Paper III); and the challenges female development practitioners face in their work environment and the coping strategies they develop (Paper IV). Each of the papers is based on an individual set of primary and/or secondary data such as job announcements, observations and people’s narratives. Primary data was generated through qualitative methodologies between 2006 and 2008 during several periods of fieldwork in Pakistan.

The research identifies the development sector as a complex and often contested work environment. Many local residents perceive ‘development’ as an instrument of the ‘West’ for pursuing its interests, and they are thus generally wary of development practitioners and organisations. A rising number of verbal and physical attacks in the late 2000s have affected the work of many development practitioners. Besides the resistance to development as a ‘Western’ ideology, there is also a widespread need for and interest in material benefits, which complicates development practitioners’ work further. When social organisers go to communities, they are supposed to select and support villages, communities and individuals that need developing. In a village, however, there are usually different voices that claim the right to development. The findings of the present study show that villagers variably draw on social categories such as development status, clan membership or gender to convince (potential) development practitioners of their eligibility for material benefits. Furthermore, an analysis of job announcement for social organisers shows that job qualifications are high (e.g. for language skills and willingness to work in a mixed-gender working environment) and the rewards (e.g. wages and social recognition) are low. For women in particular, it is difficult to present the requisite skills, since social values and norms regarding gender discriminate against women in areas such as access to information, ability to travel, and eligibility for employment in general.

The study further elaborates on the fact that the development sector has become a growing work opportunity for (mainly middle class) Pakistani women. This is because of a growing demand for well-educated female employees in this sector, but also because of a growing dependency of many middle-class families on women’s income. While the female participation rate in the Pakistani labour force is generally low (21.7% in 2010/11), there have always been women in formal employment, although this has often been in traditional female occupations such as teaching and nursing. The study’s findings suggest that Pakistani women have been kept out of non-domestic work through social norms and values that were, for example, established in laws, directives and speeches by state representatives such as Zia ul-Haq. Even today, women who take up a job as development practitioners need to position themselves in relation to these norms and values. The study shows that female development practitioners therefore develop strategies to establish themselves as good Muslim women and good development workers. For example they establish fictive kinship relations with their male team colleagues in order to make the latter responsible for their well-being and modesty. Another strategy is to locate women’s room in the back part of the office in order to shield female employees from men’s gazes.

A conclusion based on this study’s empirical findings is that, in the work environments of development practitioners, competing discourses on gender relations and development complicate working women’s everyday lives, but also provide them with an opportunity to reconcile specific gender norms with their labour market engagements. Pakistani women’s lives are made harder by the fact that prevalent gender relations generally restrict their participation in formal labour markets (even though formal structural constraints on women’s employment have been substantially reduced). However, women have to negotiate gender relations to participate in formal employment relations, such as in the development sector. Since engaging in the labour market is per se highly unusual behaviour for many Pakistani women, Pakistani women’s involvement in the market economy often increases both men’s and women’s options to negotiate gender relations, either consciously or unconsciously.

The study contributes to research in three ways. First, it makes a conceptual contribution to debates on gender, work and development by applying poststructuralist, feminist and postcolonial methodologies to data analysis and representation, and this is fairly rare for empirical research in Pakistan and in this research field. Second, it contributes empirically to academic debates about gender and work by rendering professional Pakistani women visible, especially the complexities, ambivalences and multilayered nature of their working lives in the development sector. Third, the study makes an empirical contribution to debates on development interventions and how they operate on the ground in the context of Pakistan by discussing the impact of (women’s) work environments on development interventions.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Dissertation
Referees:Müller-Böker U, Geiser U, Korf B
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2012
Deposited On:11 Jul 2012 06:07
Last Modified:26 Jan 2017 08:52
Number of Pages:170
Additional Information:Paper IV is published by Wiley-Blackwell.

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