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Work-family responsibilities and support for women academics in Pakistan

Globally women have a long history of negotiating between public and private life. While each individual woman undertakes such negotiation, all women’s lives are already shaped by historical, political, religious and cultural forces. This study focused on contemporary academic women in Pakistan and their experiences of negotiation between professional and family responsibilities – in an Islamic nation, shaped by an imperial history. In particular it investigated both the possibilities and limitations of family and institutional support as women worked to fulfil both work and family responsibilities. This qualitative study employed semi-structured interviews, with individuals from three groups: women academics, husbands of women academics, and heads of department of two Pakistani universities. The data from these interviews were then read alongside selected theory, to produce accounts of the visible and invisible discourses shaping the positions available to women as they navigate family and career responsibilities. The study’s findings show that patriarchal traditions that position men as breadwinners and women as homemakers are disturbed when women take up career opportunities in academia, at the same time as patriarchal gender practices rob women of opportunities they have earned, as in examples of a woman giving up a job offer in favour of her husband, or giving an academic husband financial support for publication. As a further example of contesting discourses, the study identifies that academic women are expected to be productive on the terms of globalised neo-liberal education at the same time as a traditional school curriculum and teaching practices position educated women - parhi likihi- as responsible for the basics of their children’s learning within the home. Academic women are caught in the tension between the expectations of globalised tertiary education and the reality of the limited material resources in universities in a developing country. The analysis of women academics’ accounts of family support includes few but significant examples of disturbing and resisting patriarchal gender practices, in ways that the thesis argues contribute to a “democracy to come”. However, for the most part, the narratives of support include women academics’ husbands’ limited contributions and stories of women academics’ struggles, compromises and sacrifices of their own career progression for their husbands’ careers. The thesis argues that identifying the possibilities of questioning and undoing patriarchal gender practices and producing alternative discursive practices might open up possibilities for gender justice within family and academic institutions.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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