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Accepted Paper:

Women in Public Service in Pakistan: professionalism, networking, and alienation in the state sector  


Sameen Ali (Lahore University of Management Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

I draw on a new oral history archive of women in public service in Pakistan, launched in 2020 by Dr Sana Haroon (UMass), to critique donor led initiatives to 'empower women' in the public sector by centring the lived experiences, power, and agency of women bureaucrats in development practice.

Paper long abstract:

The development sector has been invested in gender mainstreaming and understanding the effects of gendered institutions and practices on policy making and implementation for some time. Specifically, development agencies have pushed for women to be employed as public servants so they could contribute to designing and implementing government services, arguing that this would improve gender sensitivity and responsiveness of public policy. Much of this work on women in public service is grounded in the Sustainable Development Goals and other international agreements such as CEDAW. However, Nazneen, Hossain, and Chopra (2019) argue that women’s empowerment has become “a ‘saccharine’ concept” in international development, completely devoid of its political grounding. In this paper, I draw on a new oral history archive of women’s experiences in public service in Pakistan, launched in 2020 at the Lahore University of Management Sciences by Dr Sana Haroon (UMass), to question donor led initiatives to "empower women" in the public sector by centring the experiences of women public servants themselves in development practice and leadership. In doing so, this paper outlines the inequalities and oppressions women bureaucrats face in doing their work, and the strategies and networks they develop to be able to exercise some power and agency in a male dominated environment. In particular, I focus on notions of professionalism and persistence, networking and exclusion, and mentorship and alienation. By centring the lived experience of women in public service, this paper promotes local knowledge and understanding of development practice.

Panel P53d
Rethinking Power in Development Practice: understanding 'local agency' IV