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International Women’s Day: The tough but unpaid work women do at home

 Published: March 8, 2018

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. PHOTO: ISTOCK

“So do you work or are you just a housewife?”

I remember being asked this question many times by people I was meeting for the first time. I also remember asking other women the same insensitive question, simply because I too, like so many of us, had been conditioned to only value work that gets remuneration in return.

Looking back, the years during which I took a hiatus from work as a journalist, because I was looking after a home and my family, were the years I perhaps worked the hardest. Even physically.

Imagine for a moment that the women all around us – the mothers, the wives, the daughters and daughters-in-law, the sisters and the sisters-in-law – demanded they be paid for the care and services they provide to their families. Imagine what their bank statement would look like at the end of the year!

Let’s look at the numbers. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work and domestic work than men – work that is not often counted in labour statistics. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15% and 39% of national GDP. Data shows that women often have a higher total work burden than men when paid and unpaid work is combined.

On March 7, 2018, Data2X launched a new report –“Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work” –  with 18 case studies of countries that have started harnessing time use (TU) surveys to measure unpaid work and generate policy change regarding many issues relevant to social development. This is, in turn, making the world look at the tangible value of unpaid care and household work.

The report defines unpaid care and household work as work done by people to take care of their households and others – everyday unsung chores like cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the ill, and the elderly, and many other important tasks.

So many women among us are super women, literally. They do the jobs of cooks, cleaners, drivers, nurses, tuition teachers, psychological counsellors. They manage homes, finances and relationships. Any study of geriatrics shows that it is mostly, if not always, daughters who can be seen serving old parents and even parents-in-law.

TU surveys are important tools to understand where we, as members of the society, spend our most valuable asset – time. TU surveys, as the aforementioned report states, are quantitative summaries of how people spend their time over a specific period and how much time is spent doing each activity. These surveys help collect data that can be used to improve economic and social policies and have been used to advocate for policies that reduce the care burden, including expanding care for preschool children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. They inform and promote child protection policies by highlighting child labour and promoting broader child welfare systems. They help countries better value the contribution of unpaid care work to an economy, relative to GDP. Once we know who is spending time doing what in a society, countries can drive public campaigns to promote shared responsibilities in the home.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. And these issues can no longer be avoided. In rural areas, the load of carrying water still disproportionately falls on the women of the world because men, traditionally, do work that gets financial support for the family. But imagine if the women in rural Pakistan started charging for carrying the water back home. After all, this disparity does not only cost women time but also energy, and caloric requirements of water-fetchers increase – a requirement which is often not met for women. This is why now emphasis is being placed on highlighting the importance of men sharing the load of household chores with their women.

But what happens practically? The lion’s share of the food is given to the man because, hey, he is the one who earns. Managing a home, giving birth to children and then feeding them – it is a lot of unsung heroic work – one that needs to be appreciated. It’s high time.

As the Data2X report mentions, it is encouraging to see that slowly but surely, measuring reliably and comprehensively the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women has risen in prominence as a major challenge for official statistics.

Last year, in an encouraging initiative, the government of Sindh stood poised to adopt a policy for home-based workers (HBWs), making it the first province in the country to implement such a policy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the list of home-based workers generally does not include the work women do at home.

Data2X’s new report mentions that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act recognising women’s time spent in care work, went into effect. Such policies are needed in all developing countries.

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. Every woman works, even though she may not get paid for it. So let’s not dismiss their contribution, for they are the axis around which a society revolves.

Do you think women should be paid for household chores and care work?

  •  Yes, about time
  •  No, it’s part of their responsibilities

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Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the fields of communications and media training. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at

14 Pakistani women who help us hold our heads up high

A woman is not just a mother, wife, sister or daughter but she is a bountiful entity who can bear enormous pressure and still remain poised and graceful.

Pakistan is in the grips of political turmoil, rampant corruption, fuel shortages and the threat of terrorism, yet the resilience and courage of its women are nothing short of remarkable and awe-inspiring.  

On International Women’s Day, I felt it was appropriate to commemorate these inspirational women who, despite adversity and hardship, strive hard to shine a positive light on Pakistan’s splintered image. They make Pakistani men and women proud and, in turn, teach us all how to stand tall in the face of troubles and strife.

Starting from bottom to top, my 10 most inspirational Pakistan women from 2014-15 are:

14) Ainy Jaffri

Photo: Twitter

The green-eyed beauty who graced our TV screens in 2010 with her stunning presence, is not only beautiful to look at but is also the voiceover for the Burka Avenger, a televised cartoon series that airs on Nickelodeon Pakistan. The show centres on a superhero, draped in a burka, who avenges those who commit criminal activities; a character who doesn’t take any nonsense despite being covered from head to toe.

In February 2015, the program was nominated for an International Emmy Kids Award, a huge accolade and one that no other Pakistan-based programme has been nominated before. Ainy looked stunning in a Sana Safinaz gown when she attended the ceremony and, despite missing out on the award, shone the light for Pakistan and its creative talent.

13) Shaheena Waqar

Born in Risalpur, Shaheena Waqar established an organisation known as the Women Aid Trust, along with two other friends, in 1997. Through this organisation, she has been able to help women in prisons by teaching them different skills and educating them so they may be able to sustain themselves once they return to the real world.

She believes that this exercise helps build a sense of community amongst these women, who have been convicted for some petty crime, thrown away in prison and now feel dejected and lost. By providing them computer classes, sewing centres and recreational institutes, Waqar is able to produce in them the motivation they need to rebuild their lives.

Photo: Shaheena Waqar

Her cause is not only noble, but effective as well and we all should be proud of having people like her in our midst.

12) Mahira Khan

Mahira Khan (L) and Shahrukh Khan

Just as it seemed as if the dust had settled on the Humsafar craze in Pakistan, our neighbours also became fanatics for the drama serial and it skyrocketed Mahira’s fame beyond our borders. After a highly publicised PR event in India, news emerged that Mahira would be starring opposite the maestro of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan, in a movie titled Raees.

It seems that her popularity has seeped through into India and we will be seeing a lot more of the starlet in the future. She will shine the beacon of light for Pakistan within India’s bustling entertainment industry.

11) Naila Jamall Aladin

Naila Jamall Aladin is known for her tireless work to establish The Learning Tree School, which found its roots in 2000. What is unique about this school is that it incorporates diversity – it doesn’t just focus on education, it helps children groom themselves for what’s coming ahead. The school caters for all students, including those who have special needs, and helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses so they may fare better.

Photo: Naila Jamall Aladin

This school instills in its students the idea of giving back, helping the community and benefiting more than just oneself, and all these traits are much needed for every individual in Pakistan today. Though just a drop right now, Aladin and her school are working towards creating substantial waves and they should be supported and appreciated.

10) Farahnaz Zahidi

Becoming a shining emblem for Pakistani female journalists, Farahnaz Zahidi was nominated by Women Deliver, a global organisation that works for women’s rights, as one of the 15 most powerful female journalists around the world, for her features on women’s rights. She is the only Pakistani woman to have made it to this list

Farahnaz has been able to bring pressing issues regarding women’s emancipation and health in the limelight and was able to inspire her co-workers and readers alike to strive for a better tomorrow  for everyone, especially women.

9) Aamina Jahangir

While beginning with just her A-levels security-deposit money as initial capital, Aamina Jahangir was able to establish the fact that Pakistani women can be great entrepreneurs too, if only they use their skills and resources smartly. Running her deliciously sweet business venture, aptly named The Cakery (since she specialises in baked items and cakes), Jahangir has been able to introduce herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Photo: Facebook

The entrepreneur has a diploma in law and she manages her venture by assistance from different companies who sponsor her delicacies – Proctor & Gamble being one of them.

The Cakery is making new waves for culinary minds to persevere and realise their own dreams, which is motivational as well as exceptional.

8) Salma Habib

Working with children who belong to the more destitute, slum areas of Karachi, Salma Habibhas been a positive force in helping children and harnessing their artistic skills. She works with them by providing the resources, stationary and place for these children to draw and showcase their talent.

Photo: Ali Haider Habib

By helping these children express through art, Habib is able to create a sense of individuality and self-esteem in them, which is often lacking in street children. Every week, she focuses on a band of children and assists them in addressing their qualities, which is inspirational to say the least. More people like Habib need to be present in our society, so that these children may be able to find some colour in their perpetually grey lives.

7) Shabina Mustafa

Shabina Mustafa is one of those people who aim towards a goal and do everything in their power to achieve it. While chasing her dream to disseminate education, Mustafa started a school in her own garage, which was later dubbed as The Garage School, where she helped underprivileged children receiving education. This school was formed in 1999 and she has been persevering with it ever since.

Today, even after so many years, the school still operates from a rented building in Neelum Colony, Karachi, and has helped hundreds of students over the years.

Photo: The Garage School website

6)  Ayesha Farooq

Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot is not a woman to be messed around with. Like a scene out of Top Gun, Ayesha dons her military attire and olive green hijab with aplomb and ease, even though she works in such a testosterone-fuelled profession.

Photo: Reuters

Ayesha has been involved in purging Waziristan off Taliban strongholds and is thus a hero in her own right for risking her life for the security and safety of Pakistan. She still maintains close links with her faith and culture yet is breaking taboos and cultural norms by pursuing this profession.

5) Reham Khan


This was a difficult choice for me because Reham Khan has been shrouded in controversy since her advent into the public eye. Imran Khan’s choice of marriage partner was bound to be just as questionable as his political choices, especially since Reham was a divorcee with three children and a BBC news presenter who wore controversial attire when she lived in Britain.

To add to this drama, it seemed that Imran Khan’s family were wholly against the nuptial and Reham’s former-husband even denied the domestic violence allegations made against him wholeheartedly.

I chose Reham because she remained poised and graceful despite all the ridiculously cruel comments made about her character. She continued to smile and remained very polite in her dealings with the media.

In a society which regards divorced women as tainted, it was very refreshing to see a single mother remarrying in a conservative society like Pakistan. It gave divorced women hope and Reham also set a high benchmark of how to behave when people make all kinds of libellous allegations against a divorcee.

A truly graceful lady!

4) Muniba Mazari

Photo: Twitter

I first came across Muniba on Instagram and was blown away by her encapsulating smile and positive energy which would often pale her wheelchair into insignificance. In a society which regards disability as some kind of curse, Muniba has risen as a phoenix amongst the ashes to become the face of dignity and refined determination. Not only is she an accomplished artist but she is often seen shedding light on the greyer areas of Pakistani society with elegance and grace.

She became a paraplegic following a tragic road traffic accident but instead of wallowing in perpetual grief, she showcases her paintings on her blog, Muniba’s Canvas and stands tall. She also visited the survivors of the APS tragedy in various hospitals and is a strong advocate of children’s rights and education.

I am expecting greater accolades from Muniba in the years to come and wish her success in her endeavours.

3) Baroness Syeda Warsi

Photo: AFP

Although Baroness Warsi was born and resides in the UK, she still shines the light for Pakistanis based overseas. Her name is mentioned here not because of her political or lawyerly prowess but the stance she took on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014.

Warsi sent a strongly-worded letter to David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, about how she could no longer partake in mainstream British politics because of the UK’s “morally indefensible” stance on Gaza. This was a slap in the face of quiet servitude within politics and proved that Pakistani women remain strong-willed.

2) Tahira Qazi

Photo: Online

Most principals throughout schools are known for their emphasis on discipline and decorum but Ms Tahira Qazi will always go down in the history of school leaders as being the bravest principal ever.

Her strong motherly instincts came into play on that heinous day when APS Peshawar was attacked and innocent lives were lost. Instead of absconding, Ms Qazi remained with her students whom she saw as her “children” and she made sure they reached safety and then she faced the sheer evil of the terrorists.

They prodded her for information about where the children were hidden but she remained stoic and said that she was the mother of those children. She lost her life protecting countless students and will always be revered for her heroic stance on that disastrous day.

Ms Qazi was a beautiful soul who once again showed how selfless and unselfish a mother’s love is.

1) The mothers of APS’ murdered children

When I think about that horrific day the epitome of innocence was shattered, it still raises a huge lump in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. The day that no Pakistani must ever forget: December 16, 2014. The day 145 innocent souls departed this world. It is unfathomable for any mother throughout the world to send her child to school only to find they have been brutally murdered in such a chilling and cold-blooded manner.

Those mothers who lost their sons on that tragic day are the true definition of resilience and bravery as they face the prospect of waking each day without being able to hug their children. Their children were taken from them by a war which had absolutely nothing to do with them and these mothers are now making the ultimate sacrifice; trying to move on.

While the rest of the country now tries to return to some form of normalcy, these mothers will always carry the gravest of burdens and heaviest of hearts. While they should be running their fingers through their sons’ hair to reassure them, they will be left wanting and wondering “what if” my son was alive today. The pain will never dissipate but remain like a dull ache forever.

These women are to be revered and respected for the tremendous loss they bear each and every day and they truly encapsulate everything about Women’s Day.

A woman is not just a mother, wife, sister or daughter but she is a bountiful entity who can bear enormous pressure and still remain poised and graceful. The women listed above are a testimony of that.

Happy Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day: On provincial stage, women issues still glossed over

Published: March 8, 2015

Rights activists note movement in legislation for gender equality, but say it is time to walk the talk.

KARACHI: Encouraging movement has been seen in women-friendly legislation across the country in 2014. Provincial legislators in Balochistan passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2014, while their counterparts in Sindh adopted the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which outlawed marriage below the age of 18.

Just two days before the International Women’s Day, amendments were made to the Punjab Muslim Family Laws Act 2015. The penalty for underage marriage has been increased, with offenders facing a prison term of up to six months and a Rs50,000 fine. The failure to pay alimony to a woman or a child will lead to enhancement of payment.

Why, then, are the women of Pakistan continuing to suffer? “There is too much emphasis on enactment of legislation but not enough stress on implementation of the laws,” said Fauzia Waqar, chairperson of Punjab’s Commission on Women.

Mahnaz Rehman, resident director of Aurat Foundation Karachi, agreed that implementation of laws is not satisfactory. “I suggest that the government and/or judiciary should make it mandatory that after the enactment of any law, rules of business and other necessary measures will be taken within three months. If concerned departments don’t do it, they should be summoned in the court,” she said. Rehman pointed out that though the Sindh Assembly enacted a law against domestic violence in 2013 it has not drawn up the rules of business or constituted protection committees yet.

Lawyer and human rights crusader Maliha Zia Lari believes that enforcement is sometimes held back by budget problems.

“There are only three to five medico-legal departments in all of Karachi, and none in Peshawar,” she said, sharing that medico-legal officers do not have basic facilities like a space to examine women. “We have heard cases where they had no electricity and had to examine rape victims in the light of cell phones. How can we have implementation, then?”

Women’s issues – a federal issue?

“Women are 50 per cent of the population. How can issues related to them be just provincial?” asks Lari. In her opinion, the 18th Amendment may have had a positive impact in other areas of development, but not when it comes to issues related to women. “We are happy about legislation regarding Child Marriage, but that is in Sindh and Punjab. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will not even look at it,” she said.

Lari also pointed out that it was unfortunate that the country no longer has a separate ministry for either women’s affairs or human rights.

Silver linings

The Punjab government, according to Waqar, has set up a helpline for women exclusively. “Call 080093372 and you get help of every kind if you are a woman in distress.” She expressed satisfaction over the improvement in data collection.

Activist and researcher Nazish Brohi said that this is “a time of huge possibilities, we have more space”. She said that it was encouraging that more Swara cases were being reported and more people were being arrested for crimes against women, showing a slow but stable improvement.

A changing Pakistan

As the dynamics of Pakistani society change, the lines between urban and rural culture continue to blur. “The massive scale of urbanisation has altered the demographic culture,” said Brohi.

Talking of provincial comparisons, Brohi said there is huge provincial variation. “What is true for Balochistan doesn’t resonate with the culture in Sindh.”

The situation is not bleak in Waqar’s opinion. However, proliferation of small arms in Pakistani society has affected the dynamics of violence against women (VAW) too. “In Punjab, from 161 cases in 2012 to 205 cases in 2014, there is a definite increase in the use of small arms,” she said.

“Religious extremism has increased the incidences of violence against women,” said Rehman. She added that justice and peace are prerequisites of women empowerment. For this, we have to “deweaponise society,” suggested Rehman.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2015.

Talking Taboo with Women of Khyber – On Women’s Day 2012

Multi-Media Feature published in Mushtari, aged 40, looked tired. It was 10 in the morning but it seemed as though she had just completed a day’s load of chores. As we walked towards a small room, where I wanted to sit down with her and record an interview in relative silence, she […]

“Women, like the flowers of spring, adorn our lives” – On Women’s Day, Imam Zaid Shakir – On Great Muslim Women


The Best of Women

By Imam Zaid on 04 March 2012
Category: Civility

March 8, 2012 has been designated as International Women’s Day. The day has been set aside to celebrate the social, economic and political accomplishments of women. March is a most appropriate month for such a celebration. In the Northern Hemisphere, March signals the arrival of spring and the blossoming flowers whose colors and fragrances announce the rebirth of the land. Women, like the flowers of spring, adorn our lives and have been chosen by Almighty God to deliver into the world the young souls whose presence marks the regeneration of our human family.

Usually, when western Muslims speak of women and Islam, we speak of the rights and opportunities Islam afforded women in the economic, social and political realms long before similar developments occurred in Christendom. There is nothing wrong with such a narrative and it helps to normalize Islam to people in the west, both converts and others who are seeking to better understand a sometimes controversial world religion.

Hence, we will begin by mentioning some famous Muslim women, whose exploits reflect the lofty social status Islam afforded to women. The accomplishments of women among the Companions of the Prophet, in this regard, are well-known. Khadija’s financial and moral support to the Prophet and his mission were critical to the success of the fledgling Muslim community. Aisha’s learning and leadership gave her a standing in the early community that rivals that of her male contemporaries. Umm Salama’s wisdom and decisiveness broke the impasse that confronted the believers at Hudaybiya. Nusayba’s heroic defense of the Prophet, peace upon him, during the height of the Battle of Uhad, is legendary. Hafsa, the daughter of Umar bin al-Khattab, at the time of her father’s death, was entrusted with the protection of the standardized rendition of the Qur’an, considered by some to have been the greatest trust ever vouchsafed to anyone in the history of the Muslim community.

The erudition, wisdom, courage and vision of these and many other women among the Companions of the Prophet has lived on in the lives of successive generations of Muslim women.  For example, Amra bint Abdul Rahman, a jurist, mufti and hadith scholar was one the greatest scholars of the second generation of Muslims. The Umayyad Caliph, Umar bin Abdul Aziz, a great scholar in his own right, said, “No one remains alive who is more learned in the Hadith of Aisha than Amra.” She was highly praised by al-Zuhri, Yahya bin Ma’in, ibn Madini, Ibn Hibban and many others who recognized her erudition, especially in the area of hadith.

Amra exemplified a tradition of scholarly excellence among women, which continued throughout the centuries. During the 8th Hijri Century, there appeared a great scholar in Damascus whose lessons would draw students from all over the Muslim world. Aisha bint Muhammad bin Abdul Hadi was known to have possessed the shortest chain of narration back to the Prophet, peace upon him, of any scholar alive during her time. Among her students was Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, considered the greatest of all latter-day Hadith scholars. He is reported to have read dozens of books with her and to have received the Hadith of Mercy (al-Musalsal b’il Awwaliyya) from her.

Other women were known for their great linguistic prowess. In more recent times, we can mention the example of Aisha Ismat bint Isma’il Taymur, who passed away in Egypt in 1902. Educated in both the linguistic and religious sciences, she became one of the leading literary figures of her time. A master of Arabic, Turkish and Persian, she embodied the Egyptian-Ottoman culture that dominated Egyptian intellectual life during the latter half of the 19th Century. She published lengthy collections of poetry in Arabic and Turkish, wrote for many of the leading literary magazines of her day and was a staunch advocate for female education. Although she was not known for her religious poetry, she was known to be a woman of great piety.

As Muslims, we cannot limit our appreciation of women to their social, economic and political accomplishments. Many women throughout the history of our community are famous for their devotional acts and the high spiritual stations they attained. Rabia al-Adawiyya is well-known in this regard, however, there are many others who are largely unknown. One such woman is well-known by name, but most Muslims know very little about her life. She is Sayyida Nafisa. The daughter of al-Hasan bin Zayd bin al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib, she was born in Mecca in 145 AH. She grew up in Medina, but spent her later years in Egypt where she is buried.

Sayyida Nafisa was a scholar of repute, having memorized the Qur’an and mastered the exegetical sciences. It is said that Imam al-Shafi’i, whom she greatly respected, studied hadith with her after his arrival in Egypt. She was most known for her devotion and piety. She fasted perpetually, prayed the entirety of the night, constantly recited the Qur’an and frequently wept out of fear and longing for God. She performed thirty pilgrimages to Mecca. She was also blessed with considerable wealth and spent freely on the sick, poor and downtrodden. She was also a financial supporter of Imam Shafi’i during his time in Egypt.

Sayyida Nafisa was known to be a source of great blessings. Once, she was left to care for the invalid daughter of her Christian neighbors who left their house to go to the marketplace. When she saw the bedridden child she began fervently praying for her cure. No sooner had she finished her prayer did the young girl regain the use of her limbs and was able to walk to the door to greet her parents upon their return. The entire family then became Muslims.

At the end of her life she fell ill. Her attendants beseeched her to cease fasting for the sake of her health. She replied, “For thirty years I have fasted asking Allah that I meet Him while I am fasting. Am I to break my fast now [while I am close to the meeting]? Never!” She recited Sura al-An’am during the still of that night until she reached the verse, “They will have the Abode of Peace in the presence of their Lord, while He is their loving protector, because of the righteous deeds they used to do (6:127).” She then uttered the Testimony of Faith and quietly passed away.

As we celebrate International Women’s day let us celebrate this aspect of femininity. Islam certainly advocates for a balanced social order where there is space for the contributions of men and women. However, its primary purpose is to prepare human beings to succeed when we meet our Lord. Ultimately, we are living for the Hereafter, not this world.

In this regard, as we strive to accomplish the worldly objectives demanded by our social, economic and political situations, let us never forget that there are overarching otherworldly objectives that we should never lose sight of. Let us celebrate the likes of Sayyida Nafisa and other great women who reminded us so powerfully of those otherworldly objectives. Let us further consider that perhaps the best way we can celebrate their lives is to aspire to live as they lived.

Reprinted from EMEL Magazine: