Sep 15 - 21, 2003 



Be it Karachi, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Lahore or Quetta, the working women face problems of accommodation due to severe shortage of hostels for them. Most of these cities do have some hostels for the working women. However, accommodation shortage for the working women has aggravated as some of the hostels are being used for other purposes. A few of the hostels are reportedly being used as offices for different government departments; while some others have been occupied by government officials who have been assigned temporary duties in the city. Whatever little hostel accommodation is left, it is mostly occupied by the ones with connections and most of the poor working women are left to fend for themselves. Urgent attention is needed for improving the situation.

Reports about shortage of accommodation for the working women occasionally appear in the press. Women have insignificant share in services in the country. For this phenomenon, one of the main reasons is the shortages of suitable accommodation for the working women in large cities and towns. In order to enhance women participation in the affairs of the nation, it is imperative that conducive environment is provided to them to be able to play their due role. The main problems presently faced by the working women, as reported in the press, are as under:

a. Educated young women hailing from different parts of Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, NWFP or AJ&K and other areas come to the cities in search of jobs. In the cities there are multiple options for accommodation for the male. In the absence of families of very close relatives, these women have very limited options for accommodation. Hostel for working women is a boon provided one is able to get a room there. Most often, the accommodation is already booked and newcomers have bleak chance of getting a room in the next few months. These women, disappointed mainly due to shortage of suitable and safe accommodation, return to their villages or towns. This is national loss as they are not provided an environment for honourable employment and living/working conditions.

b. Professional women in the country are already facing many problems because of conservative customs and various social and tribal taboos. Many women who moved to the provincial headquarters from various districts of the provinces for work are able to find a job, but due to lack of accommodation facilities they are forced to leave their jobs and return to their home towns. Some of the working women do not tell their families about the problem of accommodation in the city, fearing that their family would simply ask them to quit their jobs and return home.

c. A large number of women who are employed and posted in different towns and cities away from the home, have been facing hardships due to non-availability of suitable living accommodation either in private or public hostels. Many towns are without such a hostel. Some cities have a few hostels but it is rather impossible to get a room as supply is very limited as against huge demand. Some women are left with no option but to temporarily abandon the job and return to their towns or villages. Others join hand with few more working women and rent a house for accommodation purposes. This arrangement has its own problems and is not preferred if there is available accommodation in a proper hostel. Some times the landlords would refuse to rent out the house to the working single women or ask for exorbitant rent to discourage them from renting the property. In a few cases, where the working woman is the sole/main bread-winner for the family, all the family shifts to the city. But such cases are very rare and permanent dislocation for a family is always not a happy one.



d. Young women who study in the cities and live in the girls hostels are faced with the accommodation problems once they pass out after completing their graduation or masters. It is difficult for them to stay in the hostel while they look for a suitable job. The hostel management would ask them to vacate the room for the girls from the next session. The lucky ones who find a job rarely enjoy the thrill of employment because of worries about suitable accommodation, if they do not have relatives or friends with whom they could stay.

e. The working women belonging to big cities also often are confronted with accommodation problems if they are transferred to serve in other cities or towns. Either they would refuse to go, or if they go they would not be able to perform well due to lack of safe and reasonably-priced accommodation.

f. Due to lack of public sector hostels, the working women in many locations are obliged to go to live in the few hostels in the private sector, which are mostly overcrowded but also expensive. Many working women who live in hostels face other problem such as lack of mess facility, no refrigerator, TV set or common room. Mostly a single room is shared by three women. They live in small overcrowded cubicles because they have no other option. Rules and regulations also vary from hostel to hostel and in some cases are not applied evenhandedly. Conditions inside the hostel leave a lot to be desired but the boarders have to settle for that because of the lack of alternatives and financial constraints.

The present government appears to be for women emancipation and empowerment. It has increased the number of women in the national and provincial assemblies as well as the district government. The government is, therefore, urged to take the following practical steps on urgent basis for resolving the difficulties of the working women due to shortage of hostels:

a. The working women hostels presently occupied by various departments or personnel may be vacated for the exclusive use of the working women. The present departments and personnel might be provided alternate temporary accommodation; to be shifted to permanent accommodation after it is built.

b. A survey of the working women hostels in all the big cities of the provinces might be carried out to determine the extent of the shortfall in accommodation for the working women. New hostels might be constructed in the public sector. Funds from international aid/development agencies could be available for construction of new hostels or for improving the living conditions of the existing hostels after these are vacated by other departments. The hostel rules may also be revised in the light of present day needs.



c. The federal government as well as the provincial and the district governments might earmark suitable plots of land in the populated areas for construction of hostels for the working women on Private-Public Partnership basis. Only large multinational and local companies in the first instance may be invited to build and operate the hostels exclusively for the working women. Other investors might be considered in the next phase.

d. Private welfare trusts with established track record in the social services might be provided suitable plots of land in appropriate locations at concessional rates, to be used exclusively for construction and operation of hostels for the working women. These welfare organizations may be allowed to benefit from government grants as well as the grants from the aid/development agencies. These organizations should have properly constituted Managing Bodies with their powers, duties and responsibilities clearly defined and laid down in a written constitution. Moreover, their financial position should be sound and they should have facilities, resources, personnel and experience to construct and operate the hostels.

e. Subject to availability of seats the existing girls hostels attached to the professional colleges, universities and other such institutions might be encouraged to accommodate for short durations the genuine working women duly recommended by their parents as well as their employers. This is a short-term measure and may provide immediate relief.

f. Existing hostels for the working women in the private sector might also be surveyed for the facilities they provide against the charges they collect. The rules of such hostels might also be reviewed for improvement. The services of the existing hostel owners doing good work should be appreciated by offering them more land or facilities including grants for improving existing facilities and/or for adding new buildings and facilities.

Development of the country on fast track basis is imperative. This could only be achieved through women empowerment. All the developed countries and many developing countries including India and Bangladesh provide hostels to the working women in most of the important cities. Pakistan has to do a lot for the emancipation of the women who would be in a better position to avail employment opportunities when there are more of the hostels for the working women in the towns and cities. Therefore, the government is urged to help provide safe and proper living accommodation for all the working women at reasonable rates.