NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 07

Low wages, high responsibilities

Anza Nafeesa is a qualified dental assistant and hygienist, and working with a private healthcare centre in Allama Iqbal Town of Lahore. When she was hired three years back by the centre administration, she was offered at least 50 per cent less wages, being given to a male working in the same capacity. She was promised a ‘substantial’ raise in her salary after completion of her one-year service at the facility. She was in need of a job, and the health facility was situated at a walking distance from her house, therefore, she accepted the offer. However, the ‘substantial raise’ promise was not met even after the completion of the second and third year of her job.

This wage discrimination is not specific to Anza Nafeesa’s case, a report jointly prepared by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that women in the healthcare sector in Pakistan face a larger gender pay gap than in other fields. They are getting at least 24 per cent less than men, working in the same capacity in the health sector of the country, claimed the investigative report.

The report released on July 13, 2022, found a raw gender pay gap of 20 percentage points, but it jumped to 24 percentage points after accounting for factors such as age, education and working time. Much of the wage gap is unexplained, perhaps due to discrimination against women, even though they account for 67pc of health and care workers worldwide.

The study, conducted under the major world bodies, found that wages tend to be lower overall in the health and care sector than other sectors. This is consistent with the finding that wages often are lower in sectors where women are predominant. The report finds that even with the Covid-19 pandemic and the crucial role played by health and care workers, there were only marginal improvements in pay equality between 2019 and 2020.

The report, titled “The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of Covid-19”, finds a wide variation in gender pay gaps in different countries, suggesting that pay gaps in the sector are not inevitable and that more can be done to close the gaps.

Another report, released by the World Economic Forum, ranked Pakistan as the second-worst country in terms of gender parity. The latest Global Gender Gap Report placed Pakistan at 145th place out of 146 states. The report ranked 146 countries, of which the top five are Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden, while the five worst ones are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Chad.

The report said that the global gender gap had been closed by 68.1 per cent in 2022. “At the current rate, it will take 132 years to reach full parity. This represents a slight four-year improvement compared to the 2021 estimate (136 years to parity).” However, the report noted that in the trends leading up to 2020, the gender gap was set to close within 100 years.

According to the report, Pakistan is among the five countries with a gender gap greater than 5pc, with the other countries being Qatar, Azerbaijan, China and India. The report stated that Pakistan has closed 56.4pc of the gender gap in 2022 — the highest overall level of parity the country has posted since the report launched in 2006.

However, Pakistan has made “significant improvement” across three subindexes, with the highest positive variation on economic participation and opportunity. The country ranked 145 on economic participation and opportunity, 143 on health and survival, 135 on educational attainment and 95 on political participation.

The World Economic Forum report said that while wage equality carries the highest gender gap score among economic indicators, advances were also reported in estimated earned income, where women’s earnings increased 4pc compared to 2021. However, the report noted, women’s participation in the labour force declined in 2022 and the shares of both men and women in senior and professional categories also saw a downturn.

Also, the gender parity scores for literacy, secondary and tertiary education enrolment all rose, the report noted. Pakistan is the country where women have the smallest share of senior, managerial and legislative roles at a mere 4.5pc, according to the report. Pakistan was also ranked as the second-worst country in the region. According to the report, Bangladesh, which is ranked 71 globally, is the top country in the region, followed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

South Asia has the widest gender gap on the economic participation and opportunity subindex, having closed only 35.7pc of it, the report stated. While the overall score improved compared to last year, “considerable country divergences” downgraded South Asia’s ranking among regions.

Highly populated countries are for the most part driving variation within this subindex. For example, increases in the share of women in professional and technical roles were most notable in Nepal, Bangladesh and India. On the other hand, the shares in Iran, Pakistan and Maldives regressed, with less impact on overall regional performance. South Asia has one of the lowest regional gender parity scores for the health and survival subindex, at 94.2pc, the report stated.


(The writer is a physician by profession. She worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at:[email protected])