Our theme of 'Empowering Work' came out of the ideas of getting in touch with what it is that can make work empowering for women and understanding better the shifts in women's work that have taken place to such dramatic effect in recent years. We want to explore how women mobilise to claim rights as workers, especially in poorly paid and stigmatised professions.
Our projects enquire into the conditions under which work and welfare can be empowering for women, and what it takes to realise them – whether in terms of mobilising women to claim their rights as workers, or designing cash transfer programmes with a more explicit feminist perspective.
A sample of our activities around this theme over the last year includes:
Ghana: Three Generations of Women
As part of their research into women's everyday lives to better understand their experiences of empowerment and disempowerment, Pathways West Africa have undertaken a research and communications project looking at three generations of women in Tamale and Korle-Gonno in Northern Ghana. The project involves interviewing families to find out about their experiences of growing up, learning and their lives now.
Capturing Everyday Moments: A Day in the Life of Three Generations of Women in Tamale
Life for Sakina and her grandmother starts early; as early as 5:30am, with housekeeping duties. Sakina works with an aunt as a roadside food vendor, cooking and selling food. Everyday, she goes out with her cousin to the market to buy ingredients.
Sakina’s mother, Hawa, however, is a seamstress. Hawa’s tailoring business may include an old-fashioned charcoal-heated iron but she stays in touch with her contacts via her mobile phone.
Photos taken in Tamale, Northern Ghana by Steve Ababio for Pathways of
Ayesha Khan from the Collective for Social Science Research, Karachi, led this study to explore the empowerment-related possibilities experienced by women in a major public sector community health initiative in Pakistan. The Lady Health Worker (LHW) scheme has engaged almost 100,000 women across Pakistan to work in their local communities as primary health and family planning service providers through visiting households door to door to document basic health indicators and offer selected services. The study attempted to identify whether the work had any transformative effect on LHWs themselves, and/or affected the views of communities regarding women’s paid work.
The research was conducted using qualitative research tools in one rural and one peri-urban community in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Informal fieldwork was also conducted in the North West Frontier Province, but due to security issues which were preventing LHWs from working, formal interviews were few there. Women were asked to discuss their personal histories, how and why they came to be selected as LHWs, and their views on how this work had affected them. Informal discussions with LHW family members and men and women in the communities also explored the impact of LHWs on them.
Many of the LHWs had a experienced a personal transformation. However, the trajectories of empowerment as mapped out in our analysis were shaped not only by the paid work, but how the circumstances in their homes and communities either limited or supported these trajectories.
Although collective action did not yet figure in the lives and work of LHWs, there were indications of how this may develop in future. For example, one of the most significant benefits of their jobs was the social interaction that LHWs began to enjoy. This was not just their exposure to different households during their rounds, but the training and monthly meetings with other LHWs and their supervisors. The resulting friendships and emotional support had a transformative effect on some women. Various newspaper reports the team collected indicated that in some small towns LHWs had gathered to protest the late payment of their salaries and also incidents of sexual harassment.
The scheme is one of the largest public sector employers of women. Since the research was conceived and conducted, the government of Pakistan has announced plans to double the number of LHWs, which underscores the importance of following the programme and tracking its effects on women’s lives.
The findings of this study can be used to assess how the boundaries of public and private can be traversed and weakened through state-sponsored measures. The LHW programme weakens the strong patriarchal structure of society which virtually excludes women from accessing the public sphere and in turn the rights due to them by virtue of citizenship. Not only do LHWs gain access to public spaces, even within their own villages, that were deemed out of bounds, but private spaces are being infringed upon by the public in the form of an LHW who enters a household. This may be termed the unintended consequences of a government programme.
The implications of this programme beyond its health benefits are slowly being uncovered through research such as this study. It is hoped that the findings of this study will enhance state-supported paid work programmes for women, and thereby help to mitigate the state’s history as a strong defender of rigid patriarchy in Pakistan.
Ayesha Khan (2008) 'Women's Empowerment and the Lady Health Worker Programme in Pakistan', at Collective for Social Science Research
'Women Health Workers act as Change Makers at Community Level: Study', The Daily Star May 2010 - details of a complementary study undertaken in Bangladesh by the Pathways Bangladesh Team based at BRAC