In Conversation with Dr. Hadia Majid, Director, Saida Waheed Gender Initiative
Dr. Hadia Majid, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences (MGSHSS), has been appointed the Director of the Saida Waheed Gender Initiative (SWGI).
A Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Majid holds a PhD in Development Economics from The Ohio State University, has an MSc Economics from University of Warwick, and completed her BSc Economics from LUMS. Her research agenda considers the impact of monetary and public resource constraints on individual welfare in Pakistan. Her work is currently focused on labour markets, where she documents and explores the barriers to women’s labour supply and their access to decent, empowering work.
Since its inception in 2015, how has the SWGI contributed towards the sustainable development of women, men and members of the third gender?
SWGI’s primary role is to foster and highlight research on gender both within and outside LUMS. In our seminar and events list for the last few years, we have not focused on one specific medium, as we like to organise plays, talks, and invite guests to read their papers. We also regularly organise student mentorship programmes and faculty workshops. However, the central focus of SWGI remains on fostering conversations and academic research on gender. I think that the major contributions that the SWGI has is the research calls that we send out as a way for people to develop their research ideas, and personally I find student mentorship programmes very enriching.
You have mentioned that the social sciences bends more easily to understanding gender relations. How will you engage other disciplines at LUMS to do the same?
We are seeing more and more that gender is very much present not just in experiences within MGSHSS but also within other Schools at LUMS too. Students and faculty are already working on such topics, but we want to bridge these conversations across disciplines. Our SWGI steering committee for example, has members from all the Schools.
There are sub-fields within law, business, social sciences, humanities, physical sciences that lend more directly to questions about gender and gender relations, but you can do research on other things too such as biology and chemistry which are fields that have modern implications for gender and vice versa. We are hoping to organise a number of seminars for students in the coming semesters where we talk them through how they can look at their research from a slightly different perspective, and how they can bring gender into it.
How do you think your own experiences inform your new position as Director?
I think one of my colleagues put it really well; she said that it was really nice to see a woman from quantitative social sciences take a role in a gender centre. I think having someone from a quantitative social sciences background take a more active role sends a powerful message to the student population.
If you take a look at gender as a sub-field, it is as sophistically robust as any other sub-field of economics. One of the issues with economics is that when it looks to analyse gender, it is usually just a footnote, and we need to consider gender as an order that permeates many different aspects of our society’s interactions. We need to think about gender more systematically. I am hoping that through my involvement in SWGI, this will be brought more to the fore.
There have been encouraging signs in recent years with a more vocal, unified call for gender equality, inside and outside LUMS. What do you think has been the catalyst?
There is a broader social transformation happening in Pakistan. At LUMS for instance, it is the second year where we have organised a Gender at Work workshop, where practitioners, academics and non-academics from multidisciplinary perspectives have come together and shared their perspectives and research. One of the participants spoke about the social transformation in Pakistan in the health sector and female labour participation. Women do all different types of work and what we are seeing more and more is there is a demand for that work to be recognised.
What have been your key takeaways with regards to parity in gender relations in Pakistan?
Over the last decade, we have seen the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Harassment Work Act being passed. I think laws are not only catalysts of change but are also a reflection of a change that society is going through. We are also seeing the recognition of transgenders, and all of these are manifestations of the things that are happening on the ground.
Has the pandemic disproportionately impacted one gender? What role does this centre have to play in highlighting the impact?
The pandemic has really shown how marginal the access to digital technology can be across the world and within households, especially within low income economies. We are also hearing stories that during the pandemic domestic abuse has become one of the major problems not just in Pakistan, but around the world. Hotlines where women would report domestic abuse, are remaining unanswered. Through the recent call for proposals sent out to the LUMS student population, SWGI has invited students to engage in academic research along with artistic expressions on the gendered impact of COVID. Through this we are looking to not only underscore the disproportionate effects of COVID across genders, but we are especially interested in highlighting the effects that our students are observing around them.
What impact does the online Fall semester have on SWGI’s work and activities?
We are, of course, feeling the impact keenly as we have been unable to hold our regular workshops and seminars. Of course, for the Fall we are going to be continuing with our series of seminars, which will be moved online – we have some very interesting talks lined up. As I mentioned above, we have also asked students to send us research about what COVID has really brought before us, with regards to gender relations, and we have received some very creative proposals. Finally, in recognition of the draining effects of online learning and teaching, we will be organising a series of wellness seminars where participants can practice meditation and de-stressing techniques.