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Silent voices, untold stories: women domestic workers in Pakistan and their struggle for empowerment

By Ayesha Shahid


This is a socio-legal study about law, empowerment and access to justice for women domestic workers in Pakistan. There are no official statistics available on the number of women working in this informal employment sector, neither are there any in-depth research studies carried out on the subject of women in domestic service in Pakistan. Therefore this exploratory study attempts to fill the gap in existing literature by providing information about the profile, nature, working and living conditions of women domestic workers. It provides a starting point towards an understanding of the situation of women in domestic service by listening to their voices and lived experiences. By using feminist legal perspectives, Islamic perspectives on woinen's work and legal pluralism, the present study questions the efficacy of law as a tool for empowering women domestic workers in their struggle against exploitative treatment in the workplace. Grounded theory methodology is followed to collect empirical data about domestic service in Pakistan. Semi-structured group and individual interviews have been carried out at four sites in Karachi and Peshawar, Pakistan. A few case studies have also been included to substantiate some of the major themes arising during fieldwork. Listening to voices of women in domestic service has provided an opportunity to uncover the hidden lives of women domestic workers who work in the privacy of homes. The present study also explores the nature of domestic service, dynamics of employer-employee relations and complexities of class, gender and multiple identities impacting on these relationships. The study finally argues that in the presence of plural legal frameworks formal law alone cannot empower women in domestic service. Therefore for an effective implementation of law it is equally pertinent to look into non-legal strategies so that access to justice can be made possible for these women

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