Nov 05 - 11, 2007

Women play a vital role in shaping their societies, but the business environment for women in Pakistan reflects the complex interplay of many factors. Although, women are progressing in Pakistani society in education, health, pharmaceutical, interior designing, cottage industry and fashion designing but its mere a start of journey for which they would have to go a long way with patience, determination and hard work.

Like other developing countries, in Pakistan, women are handicapped in society. The women face many challenges, as they do not enjoy the same opportunities as men. The segregation of the sexes starts early and becomes a way of life. They are not only deprived of financial resources but also lacking access to basic needs such as education, health, clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Limited access to the essentials of life undermines their capabilities, limits their ability to secure gainful employment, and results in income, poverty and social exclusion. Generally, their ambitions and aspirations are suppressed, said Dr Shehla Javed Akram, President Women's Chambers of Commerce & Industry while talking to PAGE.

According to her, women entrepreneurs are seen in subordinate roles; with low levels of education and technical skills; low exposure to business; lacking role models; lacking peer support and business associations; low incomes and poor investment capacity. Most women-headed businesses operate from home, and financial matters are taken care of by male family members.

However, she said gradually things are improving for women, which has been caused by their tremendous determination and courage. They are entering in the field of education, health, engineering, IT and active participation is seen in the sports and politics arena. About 60% of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan have opted for traditional business such as parlors, bakeries, boutiques, but the largest number is employed in the garments and handicrafts sector. In general, urban women are better placed in terms of accessing information than those operating in the rural areas. However, improvements need to be realized in the rural areas where women still lag behind due to the lack of awareness to engage themselves in other activities. ''In rural areas even where top positions are filled by women entrepreneurs most of the opportunities are diverted towards enhancing the skills of men. Women are essentially performing household chores and helping their family in the fields. This hampers their growth, as there is no time due to domestic chores taking precedence over anything else'', she added.

Many women are learning skills such as embroidery, sewing, knitting for income generation, but lack conducive environment to embark on such a journey of developing their career. This is because of the restrictions placed on them by the society, which does not allow them to receive formal training and to enter the market place. They not only lack the financial resources but also lack awareness for facilities available to develop their skills, she added.

Dr Shehla who is also running a pharmaceutical unit said that women are best organisers and with little support, they can manage, things happen. If we want progress of the country, we must pay attention on training of women and the government should help them in providing access to resources, she added. Pharmaceutical and education sectors suit to women, hence they should come forward to explore business opportunities in both the sectors, which are already catering to needs of businesswomen.

To another question, she identified, lack of information, lack of Micro Financing Schemes, lack of Skill Development, lack of Entrepreneurship/Business Skills, lack of Marketing Facilities, lack of Product Designs, lack of Networking and Trust Building, expensive Raw Material, low Quality Control and non-Conducive Working Environment as main reasons hindering the growth of women entreprenuership. Supporting businesses with strong associations can strengthen the structural adjustment reforms that are part of the current international wave of decentralization, which is grounded in the belief that promoting private businesses is key to growth, she added.

There is great potential in the Women Entrepreneurship sector. Their development can only lead to greater economic growth, she argued.

The USAID-funded PISDAC (Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development and Competitiveness) recently launched a project on women's participation in the gems and jewelry sector.

"Urban and rural poverty around the world often indicates a missed opportunity for women's participation, as the failure to use human capital curbs economic development", a US official said at the launching ceremony of the project.

"The United States is proud to sponsor innovative partnerships to promote economic opportunities for women. I hope Beacon House National University's initiative in jewelry design training will promote Entrepreneurship among women," he remarked.

Moreover, experts emphasized the need for encouraging small and medium manufacturers to add value to their products for better marketing, both within the domestic market and for possible export. 'Productivity and competitiveness are two driving forces essential for the development of small and medium industries and SMEDA could contribute in extending guidance for skill development which would improve the quality of products', they added.

They appreciated the SMEDA project AHAN (Aik Hunar, Aik Nagar) and said that the initiative has supported the rural economy by providing product development and marketing services for traditional crafts.