Abstract

In common with several countries in South Asia, the Pakistan government health system has introduced cadres of community-based female health and family planning workers as a response to gender-based constraints on women’s access to services. However, the recruitment, training and retention of such female workers has been difficult. This finding points to the obvious but neglected fact that female health workers must operate within the same gender systems that necessitate their appointment in the first place. The present study used qualitative methods to increase our understanding of the experience of female staff working at the community level and in particular the gender-based constraints that they face. Important problems identified include: abusive hierarchical management structures; disrespect from male colleagues; lack of sensitivity to women’s gender-based cultural constraints; conflict between domestic and work responsibilities; and poor infrastructural support. The findings highlight the interconnectedness of women’s public and private lives and the interplay of class and gender hierarchies in the patterning of women’s employment experiences. The study’s conclusions suggest ways in which the organizational functioning of the government health services might be modified to better facilitate the work of female staff.