When women are included in political, economic and social decision-making, societies flourish. In Pakistan, considerable progress has been achieved for women’s and girls’ rights, yet social and gender equality remains a challenge. Most women, especially in the rural areas, often cannot access education, health, finance and jobs due to deep-rooted cultural and institutional constraints. Social taboos, conservative mindsets and male chauvinism are still hurdles for women. This must change. We need more female leaders that are financially independent and politically active. But how we will achieve this?
The answer is obvious. Competent people have to be instated in the right positions and empowered politically, socially and financially to execute long-term goals that will empower women. Lessons can be drawn from neighbouring countries like China and Bangladesh. These countries, through awareness campaigns and women-centric legislation, were able to sustainably, consistently and exponentially boost their respective economies.
In the last 20 years, Bangladesh has made substantial progress in improving the lives of women and girls, lowered maternal mortality and fertility rates and improved gender parity in school enrolment. Similarly, China was one of the worst places to be born a female. It has since evolved from repressing women to empowering them. China now has the most self-made female billionaires who have built their wealth from scratch.
Are we willing to admit that suppressing women for decades has cost us a lot? That we’ve suffered from poverty and mediocrity because we’ve excluded females from politics and economics?
As part of its initiative on Gender Focused Economic Reforms, the Center for Research and Security Studies has been spearheading a campaign aimed at women empowerment through economic reforms, virtual focus group discussions and interview during the Covid-19 months to speak with self-employed female entrepreneurs to identify the challenges that impede women’s economic participation in Pakistan. The findings were eye-opening.
One of the takeaways has been that women think short-term. When children within the family are old enough to earn, many women lose focus. This hurts business continuity.
Secondly, due to familial obligations and lack of financial opportunities they’re either unable or reluctant to fully commit to businesses.
Thirdly, there is general lack of support from government and families for women-led businesses. In the absence of support and no platforms where women can build skills, it is almost impossible for them to start contributing to the economy.
Fourth, women aren’t supported by families to work. Parents are willing to risk savings and assets to help their sons start or grow businesses but most daughters do not necessarily get that kind of support.
Fifth, this treatment leaves most females shy, hesitant and helpless. This results in a lack of self-esteem and represents big obstacles in their career trajectory.
Sixth, numerous self-employed women — specially in education, health and home-based businesses — often struggle to be taken seriously by men. While experiencing increasing costs and close to zero sales, many women entrepreneurs had to deal with dissuasion by the male members of the house.
Lastly, the culture in Pakistan around women’s economic empowerment is unfriendly and unaccepting. The lines between culture and religion seem to be blurred. That is why it’s necessary to separate the two; while the culture may not be supportive of women’s economic independence, religion surely is. Hazrat Khadijah, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was a successful businesswoman.
For a developing nation like ours, education through critical thinking and creating jobs for women should be a national priority.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2020.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ