EMPOWERING WOMEN

The objective achievable through selfsustaining business entities

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Nov 05 - 11, 2007

More than 6o years ago the two genders worked hard for the independence of Pakistan. The movement was not only to get out of the British colonial system but to attain economic sovereignty for the Muslims.

In this movement if Motherma Fatima Jinnah was with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah hundreds and thousands of Muslims irrespective of gender classification were with them. However, soon after the independence gender discrimination started appearing and prevail toady.

The discrimination is omnipresent be it education or employment. Most of the time women are ignored to a point that they are deprived of their basic rights, owning property or casting vote in general elections. The mother of all evils is "women enjoying no economic power".

The first and the most organized NGO working for the protection of rights of women was All Pakistan Women Association. For decades this NGO worked under the able guidance of Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first Prime Minister. Later on Rana Sahiba was appointed Governor of Sindh. The biggest contribution of this NGO is its contribution is education and vocational training of women.

At present Banazir Bhutto is also considered a symbol of women empowerment in Pakistan. She was elected Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan twice. Most probably she was the first woman to attain this position in any Muslim country.

If one looks around many prominent names could be found in business community, medicine and surgery, education, financial sector etc. All of them are considered symbols of women empowerment. However, most of the women in this country are the shadow of male head of the family. To the extent that most of the women entrepreneurs are not more than flipside of man-controlled businesses. One could still discover a few genuine women entrepreneurs.

In Pakistan, women entrepreneurs could be divided into three main categories 1) Begum, 2) Better half and 3) Without better half. Begums need no introduction because they are made ceremonial heads but often enjoy the least power. Better half are those trying to lessen the burden of bread earner of the family. Lucky are those women who are supported by male members of the family. Without better half is the one who has lost male partner and has the responsibility of managing the family-owned business.

One of the key impediments in the development of women entrepreneurs is urban-rural divide. A woman could hardly dream of owning and managing business in the rural areas. Even in the urban areas the number of business entities owned and managed by women is very small.

If few women succeed in creating their very own enterprises they also have to face number of other hurdles. The single biggest hurdle is availability of finance. Interestingly a specialized bank, First Women Bank was established to cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs. However, lack of an elaborate business plan, myopic policies of the government and limited outreach of the institution had a negative impact on the financial health of the institution.

In an attempt to develop women entrepreneurs and then meet their need for funds the ultimate objective of creating self sustaining business entities was lost. Most of the borrowers assumed that the bank was involved in some charitable activity. The Bank got a sever blow when the government of Pakistan asked it to disburse loans to earthquake affected people for construction of houses. Lately, the government has realized the need for economic empowerment of women. In this endeavor the government is fully supported by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). To begin with Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in collaboration with CIPE has established a Women Resource Center at its premises to assist female members in various aspects of business development.

The Women Resource Center has helped in establishing a network between business associations, financial institutions and government departments dedicated to women entrepreneurship. The Center not only guides women to become successful business women but also give boost to economic activities in the country.

It is heartening to note that women economic activities are no more confined to traditional trades. The CIPE is supporting efforts to improve business environment through advocacy and policy dialogue. The CIPE is working in close association with chambers and trade associations to help build their capacities to meet the emerging challenges.

Women's economic activities, particularly in self-employment, empower them economically and enable them to contribute more to overall development of their country. Recent statistics confirm that women's economic activities play a crucial role in the growth of many of the world economies. Recognizing the value and importance, there's hardly a government in the world which is not currently paying at least lip service to create a conducive environment for the establishment and development of women-owned enterprises.

During the last ten years, many countries have developed "Women's

Enterprise Strategic Frameworks' to provide a collaborative and long-term approach to the development of women's enterprise and entrepreneurship. The long-term vision set out by these frameworks is to create an environment and culture that encourages more women to start and grow businesses, and where every woman with the desire to start or grow a business has access to appropriate help and support

In Pakistan, women's participation in economic activities is quite low as compared to other developing economies. Though, they participate dynamically in family and farm activities but this unpaid work is perceived as their social duty rather than an economic contribution. One of the main reasons for low economic participation of women is deeply-rooted discriminatory socio-cultural values and traditions, embedded particularly in the structural institutional support mechanisms.

According to the Concept paper prepared by the CIPE women's Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in the country is even lower than neighboring countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Iran. The absence of gender disaggregated data makes it difficult to quantify the number of women entrepreneurs and the economic contribution of their enterprises in Pakistan.

According to a recent research report about Pakistan, women entrepreneurs' full economic potential is not being realized. As in many developing countries, women entrepreneurs in Pakistan also suffer from the lack of access to, including control over, capital, land, business premises, information and appropriate technology, suitable markets, training and capacity building opportunities, production inputs, and assistance from government agencies. They not only lack sophisticated networking mechanisms and effective social capital but also show weakness in constituency building and advocacy for their rights and support from public and private support agencies.

In this world of globalization, free trade, and technological change, every nation needs a new enterprise generation a generation quick to seize opportunities, take calculated risks, and constantly blaze new paths of success through creativity, innovation and value addition. Pakistan, like any other country in the world, cannot afford to leave almost half of its population, the womenfolk, behind on this journey of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The Government, communities including the civil society, educational institutions, the business sector and the media all have to play important roles in bringing our women in enterprise mainstream by creating effective and efficient business development support mechanism.

The main objective should be to initiate a dialogue between the stakeholders to tackle with the barriers faced by existing and potential women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. The recommendations put forward by different stakeholders can help in addressing the core issues and challenges and developing and implementing a "strategic framework" and also a culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship for women in Pakistan.