An estimated 50 million out of 151 million are currently living below the poverty line in Pakistan and the poverty level is rising sharply. The capacity of the poor to improve their conditions of living is constrained by their powerlessness within political and social systems and is linked to inappropriate government policies, no access to information and resources, poor quality of social services and gender inequality.
It is also increasingly evident that women and girls in poor households bear a disproportionately high share of the burden of poverty. Their greater deprivation is due to a host of factors, including restricted mobility, lack of education and training, lower access to or ownership of resources and assets, and limited access to credit and social services. As a result of this Pakistani women have limited participation in decision-making in all spheres of life from family to state. This is however, a vicious cycle, as this state of affairs persists because women have no say in decisions affecting their economic and social status in society.
A national survey generating gender disaggregated poverty data is required for a systematic gender analysis of the processes of poverty and the specific determinants of the economic burden on poor women. However scattered evidence that is available suggests that due to unequal access of women over productive resources and prevailing gender norms within traditional households, women bear a disproportionately higher burden of poverty: Gender discrimination in access over markets, institutions and resources constraint women from overcoming poverty. At the same time lack of autonomy with household restrains them from increasing and consuming income from even the existing very limited market opportunities.
Poverty has increased sharply during 1990s.The percentage of population below the poverty line increased from 26.6 percent in 1992-93 to 32.2 percent in 1998-99. Similarly, estimates in terms of the poverty gap and in terms of the severity of poverty, both indicate a worsening of the poverty situation during the 1990s. Like wise poor women in Pakistan have double burden: the poverty burden and the burden of gender bias against them in social and economic life. This gender bias is reflected in national income statistics which fail to adequately account for the economic contribution of women.
Due to gender discrimination against women in work roles as well as social restrictions on mobility, women have a relatively poorer access over education, skill training and health facilities as well as over labour markets. Consequently the ability of women to access productive resources, increase their income, improve their health and social status is more limited as compared to men.
Women participation in labour markets is adversely affected by the prevalence of traditional gender role norms, restrictions on women`s mobility and occupational segregation. Consequently, female labor force participation rates in remunerative employment in Pakistan as a whole are extremely low at 13.7 percent compared to 70.4 percent for men.
Reliable estimates about the size of this sector are not available. According to Economic Survey of Pakistan (2000-2001) of a total working population of approximately 49.1 million, 80% or 39.3 million are employed in the informal sector. Of these workers, more than 50% or over 19.7 million are women. At the national level of all employed women, 77% to 83% operate in the informal sector. These women are not considered workers and do not come under any laws or social security coverage.