Labour markets, social inequality and the tailors of Kabul

Richard Mallett and Adam Pain

Type: Briefing Paper

Organisation: AREU

Country: Afghanistan

Date: 28/01/2015

Full summary

How do labour markets actually work in insecure and dynamic contexts? This briefing paper looks at the experiences of young women and men working in the tailoring sector of Kabul, Afghanistan. Tailoring employs more women than any other sector in urban Afghanistan, and it is also the fourth largest employer of men living in urban areas. It therefore offers an ideal opportunity for gendered labour market analysis.


The key messages are:


  • Labour markets are not neutral, impersonal spaces. They both reflect and reinforce existing social inequality.
  • Social connections and networks matter for labour market outcomes. Personal relationships underpin access to opportunities and sources of capital.
  • Policy makers must start with the idea that the governance of the economic marketplace should be treated with the same critical analysis as the governance of political spaces. Policies designed to promote ‘decent work’ cannot just be about increasing the supply of jobs.