Women can play a major role in accelerating economic development and curtailing the country’s poverty rate. Founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”
By reducing gender inequality, any country’s GDP can be boosted. Gender difference is considered to be the main reason for low economic growth. According to Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022, Pakistan ranks 145/156 for economic participation and opportunity. Pakistan is a country with enormous potential, but it faces numerous challenges. One of the major challenges facing Pakistan is the low level of women participation in the economy. According to World Bank, the female labor force participation rate in Pakistan is only 22.8%, one of the lowest in the world. Economic empowerment of women is very crucial for the economic development of Pakistan but there are several barriers to women’s economic empowerment in Pakistan.
One of the most significant hindrances is the cultural and societal norm. Patriarchy is deeply embedded in Pakistani society. Men are considered to be the breadwinners and women stay at home. Moreover, women face discrimination and harassment at the workplace and even if the workplace itself is safe, women face these problems while travelling to the workplace. This limits both the ability of urban women to leave the home as well as rural women to move outside of their village.
In addition to, Pakistani women face numerous challenges in accessing education. The United Nations reports that the literacy rate for women in Pakistan is merely 57%, compared to 70% for men. Cultural beliefs, poverty, early marriage, and limited school infrastructure contribute to low enrollment rates and high dropout rates among girls. Without proper education and training, women lack the necessary skills and qualifications to access higher-paying jobs and sustain successful businesses.
Moreover, women face challenges in accessing credit and financial services due to biased banking practices and lack of collateral. Microfinance loans for businesses are unavailable to women entrepreneurs. There are strict requirements that make it difficult for businesswomen to secure loans without men. Nearly all microfinance providers require women to provide two male guarantors in order to be able to take loans.
Pakistan should take lessons from Bangladesh, a country that got its independence 24 years later than Pakistan but still their economic conditions are far better than Pakistan. Inclusion of women has been a key factor in Bangladesh’s economic expansion and development. Bangladesh has adopted a number of programs to encourage women’s active engagement in many sectors of the economy because it recognizes the substantial contributions women can make to the economy. The encouragement of women’s entrepreneurship is one such program. The government has set up specific initiatives and financial plans to assist and support female entrepreneurs by giving them access to funding, mentor-ship, and training. Grameen Bank is the best example of micro financing in Bangladesh that gives small loans without requiring collateral. Additionally, efforts to enhance women’s access to education and healthcare have contributed to a more skilled and healthy workforce, strengthening the overall productivity and competitiveness of the economy.
Furthermore, addressing the gender gap in education is crucial for women’s economic empowerment. Investing in girls’ education and promoting equal access to quality education can equip women with the skills and knowledge needed to participate in diverse sectors of the economy. In addition, education at any level may change the norms restricting women’s work and mobility.
A primary avenue for empowerment lies in women’s entrepreneurship, which has the potential to drive economic growth and development. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, women in Pakistan are more likely than men to start businesses. Women’s economic empowerment is also possible through their participation in the digital sector. Encouraging women’s participation in these fields can provide them with flexible employment opportunities and bridge the gender gap in the technology sector. Initiatives focused on providing digital skills training and improving access to technology can help women capitalize on these emerging opportunities.
The government should implement policies that ensure women economic inclusivity. This includes enforcing laws that provide security for women, protection of their rights and eliminating discriminatory practices. The government should allocate resources to support women’s entrepreneurship and provide access to finance and credit. Collaboration between the government, civil society organizations, and private sector is essential for creating a comprehensive ecosystem of support for women’s economic empowerment.
Empowering women in Pakistan’s economy is not only a matter of social justice but also crucial for the country’s long-term economic growth and development. By addressing these challenges and capitalizing on these opportunities, Pakistan can foster an inclusive and thriving economy that benefits all its citizens, regardless of gender. Through concerted efforts, Pakistan can unlock the full potential of women, leading to a more prosperous society.
Pakeeza Bangash is a student of Government and Public Policy from National Defence University Islamabad.