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The BBC's Susannah Price in Karachi
"Women are finally making their mark in the workplace"
 real 56k

Friday, 27 April, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Pakistan women work for change
Karachi women postal workers
Women postal workers have proved a hit
By Susannah Price in Islamabad

Pakistan's military government has pledged to boost the number of women in the workforce, which currently stands at less than 20%.


Once you get a job you become more confident

Post office manager Farzana Nisar
Most of those are in labouring jobs in the fields or working with brick kilns.

There are several obstacles to increasing the number of working women, including the low rate of female literacy and the threat of a backlash from hard-line Islamic groups.

But in the cities, at least, there are some signs of change.

A postal first

Women are finally making their mark in the workplace in Pakistan.

The port city of Karachi boasts the only post office to be completely run by women.

Post office
Karachi's unique female post office
The government scheme, started a few months ago, is meant to provide a less intimidating atmosphere for women - although the clientele is mixed.

The female employees say they appreciate the new work opportunities. And the customers are supportive.

"Once you get a job you become more confident," says Aston Farzana Nisar, the post office manager.

"It means women can take charge of their own lives - why should we be dependent on our husbands when we can both contribute to the welfare of our families?"


Women are also air hostesses - so we are ground hostesses

Bus conductor Ruxanna Majid
It is not just the women workers who benefit.

The staff say their post office is attracting more female customers, too.

Many Pakistani women would never approach a strange man behind the counter. But the female employees are accessible to all.

Ticket to ride

Out in the city, women are also taking on new roles.

In Saddar bus station, in the heart of Karachi, large brightly coloured buses head out east.

Woman bus conductor
A high-profile role on the city's buses
There is the usual assortment of bus company touts, hawkers and breathless passengers, but there is also one new addition - a group of female bus conductors.

The female bus conductors have a high-profile role handing out tickets on one of the busiest bus routes in Karachi.

The bus company found that passengers are better behaved with a woman in charge.

Travellers are surprised to find a female conductor checking their ticket - but have created no problems so far.

The women say the work is hard but the money is good.

Ruxanna Majid took the job to support herself and her 10-year-old son.

"Every job is good and I think it's a nice job. The staff are very cooperative. Women are also air hostesses - so we are ground hostesses - so this is not a bad job," she says.

Opposition

Not everyone agrees that the female bus conductors are helping women's progress.

While professional women have more freedom to chose if and when they work, poorer women are sometimes forced to do so.


Doing a job is not obligatory upon women

Amine Murad, Jamaat-e-Islami
Tahrya Khan, assistant professor of gender studies at Agha Khan University, says it is economic pressure that drives the women to this type of employment.

Pakistan's Islamic groups have also expressed concern about the increasing work opportunities of women.

Some believe women should always stay at home with their families. Other moderate groups say if women have to work, they should not mix with men.

"To begin with, doing a job is not obligatory upon women," says Amina Murad of the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

"But if society needs her services and she can positively contribute, she should look for those areas where her sanctity, her honour and her grace are not broken," she says.

Pakistan remains a largely male-dominated society - but women are increasingly challenging the status quo, and those who do find they can be just as successful as the men.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pakistani women hail landmark ruling
29 Dec 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's women poised for power
02 Sep 00 | South Asia
Boost for Pakistan's women
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