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Need to boost up women participation in economic process

Despite significant improvement noticed in quite a number of developing and emerging economies for empowering women through strategies like Millennium Developmental Goals followed by Sustainable Development Goals for reducing gender disparity women still continue to be less privileged segment of society particularly in African and South Asian countries including Pakistan. According to findings of Global Gender Gap Report of 2011 relating to this part of the world largest gap has been noted in political and economic participation of women.

In Pakistan due to deep penetration of patriarchal culture gender disparity is glaringly visible in all walks of life. Women in Pakistan are victim of systematic discrimination in respect of their access to education, health care and economic opportunities. In other words unequal distribution of income, lack of access to resources and decision making process both at family and national level have added to impoverishes of womenfolk. Despite country’s constitution and religion itself guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities for women and also government’s initiatives to give almost 17 percent representation in assemblies and almost 1/3rd share in local government to enable women to get anti women laws and practices eliminated through legislation. Women in particular are being discriminated in the matter of their access to education, health care and employment and self employment opportunities as is depicted from the following statistics pertaining to position at the beginning of current decade.

Female Male
Adult literacy rate 28.9% 58%
Combined primary, secondary and higher education 28%. 56%
Women representation in labor force 37%
Male and female ratio at age group 15-65 1:1.05.

95% of Rural women of age group 15-65 are actively involved in farming, but hardly 17% of them get nominal remuneration of their services for working on farms other than of their families. Almost 83% of them not gainfully employed and do not exist in statistics.

In urban sector ratio of women in civil services senior cadres does not exceed 9%. No doubt due to initiatives on the part of various incoming and outgoing government’s now spectrum of employment opportunities is much wider than what was at the close of the last century. Now women deployment is open for all discipline of armed forces also, until recently have been close preserve of men. However large number of urban women (3/4 the of total female workforce) who are deployed in informal sector for being illiterate and unskilled, they despite their involvement for income generation continue to be impoverished and socially exploited.

Culture and traditions inherited from across the border prevent women from having assets of their own. Besides that women do not have access to resources, which are essential for undertaking any economic activity like training in entrepreneurial skills, institutional credit and marketing facilities.

Despite growing inclination of the girls towards business and technical education their turn out from business schools and professional colleges including engineering and poly technique institutes is still very low. Girls need to be motivated to join professional and technical colleges especially in the discipline of business management, marketing, textile and electronic engineering etc, which facilitates taking up lines of businesses suited to temperament of women as well as business environment in the country.

 

The management and business education can also be acquired through short diploma programs being offered by various business schools and private training institutes operating in big cities. In the past some notable NGOs in collaboration with First Women Bank had ventured into arranging, technical, marketing and business skills development program for rural women in vernacular languages to enable them to set up their own micro businesses. There is need to accelerate such efforts to cover maximum number of women in rural and remote areas of the country.

One of the main factors impeding women to come into business is their non accessibility to institutional credit, which in turn is due to their lack of experience in business handling. However the success stories of First Women Bank for effective financing small businesses of women with satisfactory recovery experience prompted conventional banks and financial institutions to finance women owned businesses.

Micro finance banks both in public and private sector have mainly encouraged women from low and lower middle class to set up small businesses through disbursement of collateral free loans up to Rs.500000/-. Since now main parameters to assess viability of loan proposal are position of cash flows and growth in business assets, women entrepreneurs handling their business with reasonable operational efficiency have nothing to worry about arranging conventional collaterals for seeking bigger loans. The growing assets would be most desirable collateral in such a case.

Further for growth of business, a steady growing market isn’t a imperative need. During the growth process a stage comes when scale of production and quality of product manufactured/produced entails tapping international market. It is the stage when women in business needs guidance and support. In this regard, Trade Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s all women chapters in all big cities must extend liberal membership to all women entrepreneurs and all these trade bodies must ensure that women are included in all trade delegations going abroad to explore market for their products.

The local display centres of Trade Development Authority in each province must allocate bigger space for display of exportable items of women entrepreneurs. It is the established fact internationally that global markets have responded well to products of women entrepreneurs because of their universal nature of maintaining long term relationship, which in turn is due to their sensitivity to cultural differences, their work organizing capabilities and above all their aesthetic sense.

Apart from conventional businesses usually undertaken by women, there are certain non-traditional lines of businesses, which if followed by women of any income level are bound to succeed.

Catering is the line offering wide spectrum of businesses like fast food outlets, eating houses and also providing lunch to office workers students in universities and colleges are areas where women have been found earning a lot with little investment put in business. Similarly, regarding clothing and various facets of textile business women have ample opportunities for designer cloth business. Business of knitted clothing can also be under taken with a modest capital investment.

Food processing is yet another line of business matching natural aptitude of women for cooking. Apart from traditional manufacturing of squashes, jams and jellies, through investment of Rs 500,000 they can set up small plant for manufacturing packed items for snacks etc. while interior decoration and furnishing is yet an highly lucrative business for girls having degrees in architecture and designing.

Electronic media and film producing in the presence cable television has achieved tremendous success and now quite a number of women have made their mark in film making and dramas production.

Besides the advent of digitalized system of transport like Careem and Uber taxis system opened yet another opportunity for self employment for women.

In view of presence of microfinance banks and specialized institutions like First Women Bank and SME bank focusing on catering to credit needs of women along with counseling for business related problems of women, women must venture into above suggested lines of businesses.

It is globally recognized fact that women owned businesses more often follow high quality and innovative strategies than men owned businesses. Thus in view of dynamism and motivation among enlightened women of today, one can see immense success potentials for them in various lines of businesses.

(Akram Khatoon is a founding president of First Women Bank and presently a Chancellor of Jinnah Women University)

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