The Socio-Legal Implications of Women's Work in the Informal Sector: A Case Study of Women Domestic Workers in Pakistan

Article excerpt



1. Introduction
2. Domestic Workers in Pakistan: An Overview
3. Feminist Theoretical Perspectives on Gender, Law and Empowerment
   3.1 Islamic Perspectives on Women's Work
   3.2 Gender, Power and Legal Pluralism in Pakistan and its Impact
   on Women's Work
4. Breaking the Silence: Voices from the Field
5 Conclusion

1. Introduction

Legal centralist approaches create an image that formal codified law is the only tool for enforcing rights and protecting the vulnerable. (3) However this portrayal of law contradicts the ground realities. Law does not appear only in the form of a set of codified rules but also as informal rules such as customary norms and religious traditions which shape and influence the process of implementation of formal laws. This paper seeks to explore the limits of black letter law as an effective process and mechanism of empowerment for women domestic workers. I argue that recognition and implementation of equal rights for women domestic workers in the workplace would only be possible if we engage with both legal and non-legal strategies.

The first section provides an analytical overview of domestic service in Pakistan. The second section discusses in detail the conceptual framework of this paper, which is based on a non-essentialist perspective that questions the efficacy of law as a tool for empowering women domestic workers in Pakistan. It examines the feminist theories of law 'as a process' and law 'as a socio-cultural construct' combined with studies of legal pluralism and Islamic feminist perspectives on women's work in the light of principal sources of Islamic law. This framework establishes the linkage between these discussions and my main research hypothesis i.e., deconstructing the role of law in empowering women domestic workers by exploring the relationship between law and gender in a plural legal society.

The information provided in this paper is drawn from empirical work carried out for my doctoral research in two urban settings in Pakistan. (4) In the third section, based on the data collected, the paper attempts to establish linkages between findings from the field and the theoretical framework. It emphasises that the issue of women domestic workers can be addressed in a more effective way, by looking into the lived realities of women workers' lives through listening to their voices and experiences. (5) The section further considers some of the key issues that have emerged from interviews with women domestic workers, employers, activists, academics/researchers and government officials.

The conclusion suggests a way forward in the form of using both legal and non-legal strategies for improving the position of women domestic workers in Pakistan.

2. Domestic Workers in Pakistan: An Overview

Domestic work around the globe is considered as an under-valued and underpaid activity performed by the disadvantaged social groups of society. It is perceived as work with low economic value and an extension of unpaid household duties that hardly get any recognition for the work performed. Traditionally domestic work in others' households has remained a principal way of earning a living for poor women. The vast literature on domestic work (Ehrenreich, B. and Hochschild, A. R., 2003; Silvera, M., 1989; Anderson, B., 1993; Parrenas, R., 2001; Sanjek, R. and Colen, S.,1990; Chang, G., 2000; Sotelo, P. H., 2001; Widge, A., 1995; Christine B. N., 1998; Jacklyn, C.,1989; Langewin, L. and Belleau, M. C., 2000) demonstrates that across the north-south divide it is mostly women who are involved in domestic service, and it is this gendered nature of the work, which under estimates domestic service as having no value at all. It also illustrates the roles of gender, class, race and ethnicity in placing domestic service at the bottom of the employment ladder. Women domestic workers (who migrate to these countries in search of jobs and better living) are employed by not only the affluent families in the developed world but they are also found in great numbers working in their home countries particularly in developing countries for the middle class and the upper echelons of society. …