Women, work and public spaces: Conflict and coexistence in Karachi’s poor neighborhoods

Ali, K.A.

Go to article

Ali, K. A. (2012). Women, work and public spaces: Conflict and coexistence in Karachi’s poor neighborhoods. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 36(3), 585–605. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2427.2011.01052.x

Fear , Globalization , Public Space , Women , Working Class

This article focuses on how working-class women encounter and negotiate economic uncertainty, social vulnerability and sexually threatening public spaces in contemporary Karachi, showcasing women's everyday experiences of social and physical violence as a microcosm of the city's life in order to explore the possibilities of a future politics for cities like Karachi that are haunted by the possibility of violent eruptions. By concentrating on people's everyday practices, it proposes a different register by which to understand cities and their politics, a register constituted by an emergent politics that is not always dependent on an analysis of conflict and friction, but which instead focuses on living with disagreements. Hence the article uses the ethnographic depiction of women's lives to understand the mechanisms through which people continue to coexist, share resources and work together, despite the endemic personal, social and political violence in Karachi's working-class neighborhoods.

Main finding
The author argues that those living in Karachi’s neighborhoods find tactics for relieving tense, gendered relations in public space. Some of these relations include women facing fear and sexual harassment while traversing public spaces on their way to work. The ways of managing to live with tense relations and disagreements exists irrespective of the various political or social sources of the friction. Women’s informal surveillance and scrutiny by men, was considered in relation to the men's own exploitation, unemployment, and sense of hopelessness connected to the political-economic demands for woman to work and the cultural conditioning to/ramifications of this demand. Among the men and women who experienced each other in public space, a shared experience of suffering similar structural and social situations created a form of mutual understanding that relieved some of the tense atmosphere.

Description of method used in the article
Fieldwork included interview with male and female workers form Karachi's ready-to-wear garment industry. The author also attended workshops for woman workers organized by community-based associations.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations