Research Proposal

Published: 2023/07/04 Number of words: 2437


This research will identify the challenges faced by rural women living in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) region of Pakistan and will aim to inform NGOs and encourage programmes that support rural women to overcome challenges. The research will be conducted in an overt manner and take a qualitative approach to answer the following question:

What are the main challenges faced by rural women in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan?

The collective findings will seek to inform programmes that contain practical-based solutions to alleviate barriers for rural women and have a positive impact on KPKs agriculture as a whole, by boosting productivity in a sector that is experiencing little growth.

Agriculture is the second largest sector within Pakistan’s economy and responsible for 45% of the country’s labour force, yet existing scholarship identifies concerns in the decline of productivity due to higher-level causes such as the lack of technological advances and climate change. Although these reasons have an undoubtedly huge impact on agriculture, this research is designed to identify what issues the rural women perceive to be the most challenging, which otherwise go unnoticed.

Pakistan is the worst ranking country in South Asia and the second worst globally for gender parity according to ‘Global Gender Gap Index’ report (WEF, 2018). Gender disparities are known to have negative implications not just on social justice but also economic productivity, yet there is little evidence in existing scholarship to link gender issues with a lack of progress in Pakistan’s agriculture. Rural women are subject to inequalities through an absence of education, amounted family responsibilities and their concentration in low paid and vulnerable jobs in the informal sector (Zaidi, Farooq et al., 2018). This issue is not subject to Pakistan alone, however in a Muslim country at the forefront of gender inequality, it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of what the women themselves define as their challenges and enable programmes to alleviate this.


Pakistan is a large multi-cultural country with different sub-cultures embedded in each province. Traditional conservativism is dominant in KPK, with a cultural behaviour towards strong masculinity and weak femininity (Shah & Amjad, 2011). KPK often finds itself at the forefront of inequality, with inadequate female representation from grassroots organisations through to the government. In a study to determine the representation of women in Pakistan’s rural volunteer organisations, KPK was found to have the smallest percentage, much behind its more progressive neighbours, Punjab and Sindh (Ahmed et. al., 2017). The research will be an important step to give the rural women of KPK a voice and in turn a means of support, something that is minimal despite over 74% of KPK’s women working in agriculture.

The research will not be fully representative of Pakistan as a whole, however the dominance of masculinity remains a common denominator between provinces and could provide adaptable information and solutions to grassroots NGOs throughout the country.


The research will use a qualitative methodology to encourage the participants to answer with freedom that could identify unpredictable challenges that could otherwise go unidentified (Whyte, 1982). This will be of particular importance for the rural women of KPK as a male patriarch can overshadow gender-specific challenges. By using a qualitative methodology to explore the main challenges faced by a marginalised population, this research will identify the oppression faced which would otherwise remain invisible to others (Laws et. al., 2013).

As a programme-focused research project designed to provide practical solutions on a local level, a semi-structured interview method will be used to address the research question. An interview schedule will be followed to an appropriate extent that guides the conversation whilst allowing relevant themes to develop (Choak, 2012). The interviewer will encompass the qualification criteria outlined by Kvale (1996), particularly to have knowledge of the cultural complexities that are likely to support the challenges identified, and in turn demonstrate sensitivity and take a gentle approach that allows participants to proceed at their own rate of thinking and speaking, an important necessity when communicating with women who have had little or no education. Questions will be balanced and ethically sensitive in order to be effective (Bryman, 2004). A thematic analysis technique will be used to analyse the data which will begin when the interviews are being conducted and continue throughout each stage, through to interpreting the data (Evans, 2017).

The sample will select participants from Malakand to represent the population of the research. Malakand is one of the thirty-five districts of KPK that has been selected through a simple random sampling technique. The district is split between two tehsils and a stratified random sample technique will be used to select 60 women from each to ensure that the participants represent different subgroups. These subgroups will form four categories; married, unmarried, elderly and child-workers to avoid a bias in the sample and to be more cost effective than increasing the sample size (Laws et. al., 2013). If successful, 15 women will represent one subgroup in each tehsil, which should be substantial to reach a level of saturation (Latham, n.d.).

To secure access to the subgroups, it will be essential to engage a gatekeeper with sociological expertise and an existing presence in Malakand’s rural communities to demonstrate experience of the social situation (Burgess, 1984). This will be of particular importance as the role of women in agriculture is largely undocumented and thus a local understanding will be key to ensuring the sample contains an appropriate representation. This research will engage with Centre of Excellence for Rural Development (CERD) to assist in allocating an appropriate gatekeeper for the project. CERD are an NGO with extensive experience working in the districts of KPK, including but not limited to Malakand, to deliver a range of services to rural communities across Pakistan. The gatekeeper will essential when ensuring the sample is representative of the different subgroups and can assist with potential cultural barriers that could limit access.

Evidence-informed programming has become a priority in the scope of development and qualitative research methods have proven to be successful in providing insights to new issues through giving beneficiaries the opportunity to share their perspective and ensure development programmes resonate with local realities (Skovdal & Cornish, 2015). Using a qualitative approach to gain an understanding of local needs is essential to provide practical solutions that address the challenges this project will identify. Qualitative research provides a set of tools, in this case semi-structured interviews, that will systemically assess local perspectives and the context required to initiate appropriate programmes going forward (Cornish, 2015).

For the research to be successful, it is vital to pilot the interview questions and schedules to address potential issues (Laws et. al., 2013). Although pilot studies cannot guarantee the success of the main research, it is important to gain a valuable insight and identify potential problems. The pilot study will be conducted on small group of women that fit the profile of the main sample to provide an accurate representation of the interview practice. The pilot study will be crucial to address any potential issues that could arise when using a translator which will be required to conduct the interviews. Piloting a handful of interviews will be essential for the researcher to practice techniques alongside the translator and make appropriate modifications to benefit both parties (Majid et al., 2017). An audio-recording is the proposed method to record the interviews and the pilot study will be useful to measure the practicalities and ensure the most effective and respectful technique is used.

Semi-structured interviews are recommended to last one hour in order to reduce fatigue for the interviewer and respondent (Adams, 2015). As there will be delay due to the translation process of each interview, this research proposes for each to last a duration of ninety minutes, with a half-way interval to avoid fatigue. Avoiding as much disruption as possible will be a priority when scheduling the interviews and the number per day will be confirmed when the sample is known, however it is reasonable to suggest that two per day is manageable, which will also account for potential travel time depending on each location. The proposed interview schedule is over a four-month period, which accounts for time required to gain valid consent and build trust in each community due to an expected patriarchal dominance (Laws et al., 2013).


The research will be working with marginalised women who face vulnerabilities due to their submissive role in society. It is paramount to protect their physical, social, and psychological wellbeing; as well as their rights, interests and privacy throughout the duration of the project (Laws et. al., 2013). Five main ethical principles will be followed but not limited to; informed and voluntary consent, confidentiality, anonymity, zero harm and reciprocity; to safeguard the participants (Halai, 2006).

Problems in obtaining informed consent usually arise when the researcher and participants are from different cultural and religious backgrounds, therefore it will be critical to engage CERD to mediate the process by providing participants with an explicit explanation of the research aim (Bhan, Majd and Adejumo, 2006). This will then ensure that sufficient information has been provided to enable them to provide voluntary consent (Nuremberg Code, 1949).

As the interviews are designed to encourage detailed descriptions of individual circumstances, “confidentiality breaches via deductive disclosure” could be a particular concern (Kaiser, 2009). To avoid such breaches, each participant will be labelled with a number selected at random and pseudonyms will be used for village names to ensure that the information cannot be traced back to any individual. The participants will be informed of this procedure prior to the interview commencing.

Once the research has come to an end and the final report is complete, a generalised overview will be provided to each participant to portray a simplistic yet accurate overview of the research findings.


Malakand is an area of KPK formally known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and travel to these parts are advised against, however qualitative research almost requires that we put ourselves at risk to understand unfamiliar situations (Goldstein, 2014). Having a presence in the local communities will be essential to establish relationships which in turn can provide some security when the access has been gained. This will be important when the sample is being procured as rural women play a big role in the informal sector and their roles within agriculture will likely be undocumented. The importance of engaging CERD has been addressed throughout this proposal regarding such practicalities, which will be of additional importance when addressing religious and cultural restrictions.

Rural women in KPK are averaged to work from twelve to fifteen hours per day (Kamal and Woodbury, 2016) which limits the timeframe to conduct the interviews if minimum disruption is to remain a priority. This could be a further restriction when accessing the sample and careful planning and communication will be essential.

 The most concerning practicality is ensuring that the sample is able to capture the subgroups effectively and a sufficient size is established. Malakand was chosen as the representative district via a simple random sampling technique, however the population of Malakand is considerably smaller than some of its more densely populated neighbours. If this identifies itself as a problem, a purposive sample will be taken to change the location of the research to a district with similar social constraints but a greater population. Although purposive sampling can produce bias, this should not be a problem in this case as a stratified random sample technique will still be used to generate the participants to ensure a varied and fair representation.

As previously advised, the interview process will be conducted over a four-month period. A further four months will be required to transcribe the audio recordings of the conducted interviews, which will take place after the fieldwork has been completed and the analytical phase has begun. Once the final report has been produced, any personal details and interview materials will be destroyed for data protection purposes.


This research is designed to address the challenges faced by rural women which have been relatively undocumented in Pakistan’s KPK province. The research will be a powerful tool to inform NGOs and generate programmes that will provide practical solutions to overcome the challenges identified by the women and boost the overall productivity of KPKs agriculture sector.


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