Women’s empowerment in Pakistan is heavily dependent on many different variables that include geographical location (urban/rural), educational status, social status, and age. Working women of Pakistan have always tried to improve the financial stability of their respective households but sadly their work is always undervalued. Empowering socially, economically, educationally, politically and legally has always been a difficult task to achieve in an underdeveloped country. Therefore, Pakistani policymakers should specifically make the policies on women’s empowerment at the national level for health, education, economic opportunities, gender-based violence, and political participation.
Pakistan’s women development model is very much a work in progress where deep-rooted challenges remain. The World Economic Forum has placed Pakistan as the second worst country on gender equality in its 2017 Global Gender Gap Index. The index placed Pakistan 143rd out of 144 countries, worst in the South Asian region. Bangladesh, ranked at 47, is the only country in the region to have made the top 50 whereas India is at 108 after dropping 21 notches compared to its previous position. The Maldives ranked 106, Sri Lanka 109, Nepal 111 and Bhutan 143.
This is a dangerous state of affairs for our society. Denying women opportunities to realize their potential is a waste of human capital and bar to economic progress. Women have played a key role in the creation of Pakistan, they have the potential and should be treated equally and fairly. The Women, Peace and Security Index ranks Pakistan as 4th amongst the countries termed worst for women in terms of their peace, security, inclusion, and justice. It is fair to say that women are undoubtedly the foundation of the basic unit of society, the family. Even in traditional roles, they demonstrate great innovation, skill, intelligence, hard work, and commitment. If we can harness these attributes effectively, Pakistan’s growth can be more inclusive and equitable. Women are contributing to Pakistan’s economy in many ways. One of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) studies determines that women’s economic empowerment is key to growth and could boost Pakistan’s GDP by 30 percent.
An illiterate woman in an unskilled job earns less than an unskilled man and it is not only limited to unskilled jobs. Gender pay gap even exists at higher professional levels. There are several hardships that a women entrepreneur is bound to face if she wants to have any kind of success in Pakistan’s male-dominated society. The family responsibilities of women hinder them from concentrating solely on business activities. A married women entrepreneur has to manage the household, take care of her children, husband, and in-laws all which leave her small amount of time to focus on her work. Female entrepreneurs always suffer from inadequate financial resources and working capital. There are different DFIs and International Donor Agencies providing concessional financing to female entrepreneurs in Pakistan but those facilities are limited to a limited segment only. As a matter of fact, most of the women entrepreneurs struggle to acquire the much-needed start-up money from banks and financial institutions.
Globally, women produce 50 percent of food and provide 43 percent of agriculture labor. In the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, for example, women perform half the labor in rice production. This goes up to 80 percent in India and Bangladesh. In Pakistan, 72 percent of working women are involved in agricultural activities. Most of the Pakistani working women lack the managerial skills as they do not gain adequate knowledge in handling aspects of planning, organizing and coordinating their small business efficiently. Working women, especially in rural areas of Pakistan are less aware of the technological aspects of handling a business that serves as a major setback in running a successful business.
According to census 2017, women comprise 48.76 percent of the total population of the country, which means almost half the people in Pakistan are women. Gender equality and economic development go hand in hand and unless we make our women economically independent we will be unable to curb the huge gender gap. This issue is not just the responsibility of the government but the private sector and families should also play their role in bringing the change. Discrimination also limits women’s choices and freedom; as per Article 25 (2) of Pakistan’s Constitution, women have equal rights. Unfortunately, despite constitutional protection, discrimination persists because of various reason. Woman empowerment, social and political rights, economic stability, strength, and all other rights should be equal to male. There should be no discrimination between man and women. There are significant gaps between policy and actual practice at the community level in the country. One of the key factors for the gap is the implementation of laws and policies to address discrimination and violence against women at the community level. Because of various reasons, females have restricted mobility, access to education, access to health facilities, and lower decision-making power, and experience higher rates of violence.
As a matter of fact, rural women, as opposed to women in urban settings, face inequality at much higher rates in all spheres of life. However, urban women can have relatively higher access to economic, health, education, opportunities, and experience relatively less domestic violence. According to the study, 73 percent of Pakistani men do not find it acceptable for their women to work outside of homes while 27 percent of women suffer lifetime intimate partner violence or domestic violence.
In order to achieve sustainable growth and development of the society, education of women is the key. But in a country where more than half of the population living in rural areas, access to educational opportunities is limited. Moreover, poverty puts the girl child at a greater disadvantage. Pakistan needs a multi-pronged approach if we are to develop our country. By investing in women and their education, we will, in fact, investing in our present and in our future. It is important to empower women with the knowledge, skill and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process. Women should be aware of their rights which will develop confidence in them. Moreover, the social empowerment of women should be done through the promotion of gender equality. Women’s direct participation in decision-making capacity and income generation activities can make significant contributions towards women empowerment. Entrepreneurship can help women to gain economically strong which may help them in the improvement of their social status.
Women’s empowerment is a complex process having multiple dimensions which are economic, social, cultural and political. There are three important areas which need to be changed for women’s economic empowerment — women’s right to choose how they want to pursue their livelihoods, making opportunities available for women, and giving women the space to voice themselves. These changes will lead them to explore their full potential. Women can equally participate and excel in both the traditional and non-traditional sectors in Pakistan. There is a need for social awareness at household and community levels, to encourage the involvement of men in household care work and garner support for women’s participation in markets.