Globally, significance of women’s role in economies of the countries has gained momentum to such an extent that almost all socio-economic growth strategies of low and middle income countries have special focus on issues relating to gender disparity, lack of education and healthcare facilities and above all growing poverty due to one of the basic reasons that a major chunk of female population are excluded from the economic mainstream, which is detrimental not only to the country as a whole, but also for individual lives.
Almost all the studies conducted so far at different forums from economic development perspective show that initiatives undertaken by countries to close gender gap have direct repercussion on growth of their economies. In this regard steps taken to enhance share of women in total work force have impacted growth rate of these economies and by including women gainfully employed in informal sector, being almost 70% of female workforce resultant contribution would have been much larger.
Some of the countries have taken several initiatives to provide employment opportunities to women. Interventions like targeted skill development programs of different taxes, child care support, health services and alternate work arrangements have not only enhanced female ratio in total work force of these countries, but also have enhanced GDP growth rate by a percentage point particularly in emerging economies.
In Pakistan women work force gainfully employed in formal sector are just 19.68% of total females of working age. In the area of entrepreneurship very few women could get recognition and market for their products both within the country and abroad, but number of self employed women continue to increase in informal sector both in urban and rural areas.
It is an admitted fact that there is a high correlation between entrepreneurial activities and GDP growth rate of a country . Besides that woman active participation in business has greater impact on sustainability of growth rate of a country as compare to man doing business; as women generally reinvest their earnings for the benefit of their families in primary areas like nutrition, education, and health care, which in turn boost up human capital development of the society as a whole.
Findings of research undertaken by National Foundation of Women Business Owners for Latin America and Caribbean reveals that entrepreneurial activities of women have correlation with GDP growth rate, which is far stronger than the relationship between the general participation of women in the labor force and the economic growth of a country. This identifies strategy of empowering of women through development of entrepreneurship, which in turn has positive impact not only on economy of the country, but also prompts improvement of social, educational and health policies of the country concerned.
However, it is unfortunate that despite above said importance of full-fledged involvement of women in business for overall socio-economic growth of a country they continue to face quite a number of challenges while entering a business or expanding their existing project.. Accordingly their business activity continues to be bracketed under informal sector. In Pakistan and other South Asian low income countries almost two-third of gainfully employed women come under purview of informal sector, hence their participation for growth of economy remains obscure.
It is particularly rural women who apart from working on family farms without any remuneration undertake various non-farming pursuits to enhance family income, but lack of social support from family, inaccessibility to institutional credit and absence of required infrastructure prevent her from expanding the business and be part of formal sector economic pursuits.
In Pakistan, no doubt inequitable access to productive natural resources and technology is the general issue of rural population, but women in particular are deprived of the opportunity of setting up their micro businesses because of lack of starting up capital and their inaccessibility to institutional credit because of lack of assets ownership.. Women in general are deprived of inheriting both moveable and immovable property despite full support provided to them constitutionally and also through Islamic teachings. Recent passing of pro-women bill of 2011 has provided protection to women to share the inherited family property by imposing heavy penalties and 10 years imprisonment for denying the right of women in this respect. Besides that Sindh government’s initiative to allocate small cultivable farms to rural women is yet another initiative by legislatures promoting assets ownership. It is a supporting step to empower women and creating enabling environment for her to play her entrepreneurial role in formal economy. Advent of micro finance banks in current decade have so far made their services accessible to hardly 10% of rural population including women involved in any economic pursuit. All micro finance banks and self-help micro finance institutions need to expand their outreach for ensuring rural women access to assets and technology adoptions.
Studies conducted by World Bank relating to poverty reveal that on global basis percentage of poor earning less than a dollar a day standing at 29% in 2005 is to be reduced to 14.5% by 2015, for which developing countries need to achieve a sustained annual growth rate of 3.6% in per capita income. As such there is need to enhance accessibility of impoverished population, mainly being women to assets both human capital and properly harnessed natural resources in the form of developed land and all infrastructure needed both for rural and urban sectors and institutional credit both for business development and working capital needs.
Time management is yet another women specific challenge as business women apart from managing their businesses have to give quality time to their families and solidifying their household. Growing businesses consume more time and success of the women entrepreneurs is judged on both the parameters that is how successfully they run the business and at the same time fulfills their social and household responsibilities.
Lack of mobility is another drawback hampering growth of business. They due to family bindings are reluctant to travel frequently alone, which is essential for networking. As such they have limited opportunities to access information and new technologies essential for flourishing their business according to fastly changing global business environment. Institutions offering business development services like Trade Development Authority in Pakistan and chambers of commerce and industry with women wings in majority of South Asian countries do not have enough capacity and in depth knowledge of specific needs of women entrepreneurs, as such they usually have very few programs on their annual agenda to promote women owned businesses. Such agencies apart from facilitating doing business must conduct skill development and capacity building programs for business women on continuous basis and also need to provide them support for making use of their business related new technologies for growth of their business.
Most importantly it is lack of business acumen on the part of majority of business women who venture into business. They need to engage in business, which promises a sustained market for quite a long time and at the same time it should be environmental friendly and in conformity with all business codes of ethics. It is also required that at all critical stages that while expanding business or entering new venture women entrepreneurs take into account political environment, trends of economy and policies of the government. It would be more appropriate that SWOT analysis is done before taking a major business related decision.
For business expansion and tapping national and international markets for marketing their products net working with women entrepreneurs and NGOs working for women economic empowerment and women business enterprises all over the globe is most needed. There are number of credible women associations promoting networking among women enterprises for their collective benefit. Women World Banking based in New York, Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry Women Wings in all Islamic countries including Pakistan, West African Women Association and SEWA (SELF-employed Women Association) in India are providing assistance to member business women all over the globe for their problems relating to marketing, access to institutional credit and legal issues.
Finally, fast invasion of new technologies has made it imperative for businesses to have access to knowledge based market economy, which can be facilitated through use of e-commerce and ICT devices in all business operations.