May 1st, 2021 

By Asra Haque, Hamid Riaz & Hassan Raza 


Domestic worker Fauzia cooks, cleans and mends clothes in several houses just to pay her monthly rent of five thousand Rupees (Rs5,000) and her electricity and water bills. Her husband is a daily wage laborer and his income is sporadic, meaning Fauzia has to shoulder nearly all of her household’s expenditures. She cannot afford to send her children to school and is forced to make the eldest among them work, to bring in whatever money they can make to alleviate some of the burden.

Nabila is a home-based worker who embroiders dupattas for a living. Her eldest daughter was pulled out from school in fifth grade to help her mother and other women with their daily work. Nabila says she normally makes between two hundred to two fifty Rupees (Rs200 to Rs250) on regular days, and up to three hundred Rupees (Rs300) on good days. Her husband remains ill most of the time, leaving much of the breadwinning to her. Amidst tending to her sick husband, raising her children and earning the lion’s share of the household income, she has no life outside the four walls of her rudimentary brick home.

Nazia set up shop with just eight hundred Rupees (Rs800) in her purse with which she bought and sold off some savory snacks for a nominal margin. She is able to make between fifty to one fifty Rupees (Rs50 to Rs150) in profit on good days with which she buys vegetables for dinner that day. But Nazia’s household income was significantly slashed when her husband was unable to work with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closure of many businesses and factories. Now, arguments have become a daily occurrence in her life, she says.

Parveen has been working as a cleaner or ‘aaya’ , at Jinnah Hospital in Lahore for the past 11 to 12 years, earning a paltry sum of twelve thousand Rupees (Rs12,000) a month on contract. Her salary has seen no real increase despite rampant inflation over the course of the past decade, making it difficult to manage her daily home expenditures. She was able to marry off one daughter, but is trying to scrounge up enough money to marry her second one. The COVID pandemic snatched one son’s job, leaving just her and her eldest son to feed their family.

According to the Labor Force Survey 2017-18, Pakistani women account for 77.7 percent of labor engaged in the rural informal economy and 31.4 percent in the urban rural economy, while the unemployment rate for women in the workforce is 17.5 percent as compared to just 5.6 percent for men.

Fauzia, Nabila, Nazia and Parveen are four such women struggling in a pandemic-hit world, amidst an economy in utter shambles.