DYNAMIC WOMEN - NEED OF A VIBRANT ECONOMY
Nov 05 - 11, 2007
The past three decades have witnessed a steadily increasing awareness of the role that womenfolk are playing for economic development of the nation. This perception has given rise to the need of empowering women for increasing social, economic and political equity, and broader access to fundamental human rights, improvements in nutrition, basic health and education. There prevails a worldwide evidence of the low levels of female participation in social, educational, economic and political spheres. However there is still a tendency to see it as a real problem only in a limited number of countries. In Pakistan the situation is grim and underlying facts are delineating a dismal picture of the scene.
Pakistan's population of 160 million has the highest gender imbalance in the world with 92 women to 100 men (Compared to 106 women to 100 men in most industrialized countries). It implies that 47.3% of the total population is women. The Federal Labor Force Survey mentions in its 2005-2006 report that the over-all women employment rate is 20.14 percent, rural and urban areas women's participation 23.63 and 12.53 percent, respectively. Although the figure on women-owned businesses is not available, it is estimated at about one percent of the total local, national and multinational enterprises. Women have an increased role in professional sphere which is likely to influence long term and irreversible changes in society. One third of the country's total teachers are women and the same holds for doctor fraternity. Women have only 20.14 percent of representation in the combined rural-urban labor force. A comparison of this figure with the women population refers to a segment of population which is under-represented by 26.36 percent in its own as women are 47.5 percent of the total population. The crude and refined activity rate amongst male vis-‡-vis female population of Pakistan is noticeably predominated by men. The representation of women in Pakistan in economic activities is much less compared to other semi-industrialized Muslim countries like Turkey (25 percent) and Malaysia (47.3 percent). However, it is encouraging to note that more than 45 percent of the adult women population has made its way into the national economic scene, but the women's involvement in non-agricultural sector is only 6.7 percent. Even in the agricultural sector, women are involved in the menial work which carries less value and is generally considered as merely supporting activities where 73 percent of women workforce is engaged in agricultural sector and there also exists an ample opportunity for mobilizing women towards manufacturing and service sectors.
REASONS OF LAGGING BEHIND:
Equality and equity between men and women is an academic issue but more important is the ground reality which says that nearly half of the population is lagging behind in all walks of life because opportunities of access to education, health-care, choice of profession for women are almost negligible. And the discrimination on the basis of sex has proved counter-productive. Human capital theorists argue that such an under-utilization of resources is wasteful, irrational, and disadvantageous to the nation's growth. Their arguments are based on the assumption that when women's advancement in a career is based on merit alone, they will be able to excel and advance more rapidly. In fact the women development is not only an issue about equalizing women with men, rather it is an aspect of the national socio-economic development. Following factors are significant while highlighting the reasons of backwardness of women in economy.
1-INADEQUATE ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION: The economic participation of women i.e. their presence in the workforce in quantitative terms is important not only for lowering the disproportionate levels of poverty among women, but also as an important step toward raising household income and encouraging economic development in the country as a whole.
Societies need to see women less as passive recipients of help, and more as dynamic promoters of social transformation, a view strongly buttressed by a body of evidence suggesting that the education, employment and ownership rights of women have a powerful influence on their ability to control their environment and contribute to economic development. Economic participation concerns not only the actual numbers of women participating in the labor force, but also their remuneration on an equal basis. Worldwide, outside of the agricultural sector, in both developed and developing countries, women are still averaging slightly less than 78% of the wages given to men for the same work, a gap which refuses to close in even the most developed countries. While globalization has generated opportunities for local producers and entrepreneurs to reach international markets, it has at times intensified existing inequalities and insecurities for many poor women, who already represent two-thirds of the world's poorest people. Since the gains of globalization are often concentrated in the hands of those with higher education-those who own resources and have access to capital-poor women are usually the least able to seize the longer term opportunities offered. Instead, as demonstrated in East Asia in the 1990s, it is all too often the case that women are only able to secure employment during rapid expansions, employment that is usually transitory and insecure, and performed under harsh conditions. Globalization has dramatically changed the conditions under which the struggle for gender equality must be carried out, especially in developing countries.
2-INADEQUATE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY: Economic opportunity concerns the quality of women's economic involvement, beyond their mere presence as workers. This is a particularly serious problem in rural areas, where women may gain employment with relative ease, but where their employment is either concentrated in poorly paid or unskilled jobs, characterized by the absence of upward mobility and opportunity. This is most commonly the result of negative or obstructive attitudes, and of legal and social systems which use maternity laws and benefits to penalize women economically for childbirth and child care responsibilities, and discourage-or actively prevent-men from sharing family responsibilities.
Internationally, women are most often concentrated in "feminized" professions, such as nursing and teaching, office work, care of the elderly and disabled-termed "horizontal occupational segregation"-where they tend to remain in lower job categories than men. Typically, because these functions are carried out by women, they are the lowest paid, in addition to offering limited or no opportunity for advancement. The term "feminization of poverty" is often used to illustrate the fact that the majority of the people living on US$1 a day or less are women and that the gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has not lessened, but may well have widened in the past decade. At the other end of the spectrum, advancement within professions, such as law, medicine and engineering, in which women are increasingly better represented, is of great concern.
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) figures indicate that the vast majority of the world's countries offer paid maternity leave, often with a guaranteed wage of 50-100% of salary. Women have made slow and uneven progress in obtaining a share of managerial positions, which, according to 2002 statistics of the ILO, ranged between 20-40% in 48 out of 63 countries. In addition, women who are in managerial positions often need to make a painful choice between a successful career and family. A study in the United States has found 49% of high-achieving women to be childless, as compared with only 19% of their male colleagues.
3- LESSER POLITICAL EMPOWERMENT: Political empowerment refers to the equitable representation of women in decision-making structures, both formal and informal, and their voice in the formulation of policies affecting their societies. Women are poorly represented in the lower levels of government, they are rarer still in the upper echelons of decision-making. The absence of women from structures of governance inevitably means that national, regional and local priorities-i.e. how resources are allocated-are typically defined without meaningful input from women, whose life experience gives them a different awareness of the community's needs, concerns and interests from that of men. In order for development priorities to change, there must be at least a critical mass of women represented, who are learning the rules, using the rules and changing the rules of the decision-making "game," and thus having an impact on discourse and decisions at all levels, from the family, to the nation, to the international community.
4- EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT: Educational opportunity is, without doubt, the most fundamental prerequisite for empowering women in all spheres of society, for without education of comparable quality and content to that given to boys and men, and relevant to existing knowledge and real needs, women are unable to access well-paid, formal sector jobs, advance within them, participate in, and be represented in government and gain political influence. Moreover, the risk increases for society as a whole that the next generation of children will be similarly ill-prepared. Women's illiteracy rates are in many cases twice as high as men's, demonstrating their disadvantage in comparison to men and imposing a significant constraint to accessing information. Primary school enrolment rates for girls are lower than for boys; more importantly, the rates at secondary school level are rarely on a par with or higher than those for boys. High illiteracy and low enrolment rates, especially in secondary schools, affect women's ability to acquire the skills needed for income generating activities and will have repercussions for generations to come. The gender composition of occupations in the formal sector is an important indicator of the economic opportunities open to women. Traditional labor market theories focus on balancing supply and demand variables to maintain an efficient equilibrium
The importance of literacy for women is all the greater, considering that women still constitute two-thirds of the world's illiterate population. However, if the content of the Educational curriculum and the attitudes of teachers serve merely to reinforce prevalent stereotypes and injustices, then the mere fact of literacy and education does not, in and of itself, close the gender gap; schooling as a catalyst for change in gender relations will be more effective only if appropriate attention is also given to curriculum content and the retraining of those who deliver it. Information and communication technologies, which have become a potent driving force of the development process, represent yet another dimension in which a knowledge gap has emerged between women and men: a gender-based digital divide. A study by the UNSAD has found that countless women in the developing world are further removed from the information age because of their lower levels of education and deeply ingrained negative attitudes towards other forms of achievement. "Without access to information technology, an understanding of its significance and the ability to use it for social and economic gain, women in the developing world will be further marginalized from the mainstream of their communities, their countries and the world.
5- HEALTH AND WELL-BEING: According to the World Health Organization, 585,000 women die every year, over 1,600 every day, from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. There are estimates of annual 46 million abortions worldwide, some 20 million are performed unsafely, resulting in the deaths of 80,000 women from complications, accounting for at least 13% of global maternal mortality, and causing a wide range of long term health problems. Women's particular vulnerability to violence is perhaps the most obvious aspect of reduced physical security and integrity of person, but one which is perhaps the least amenable to accurate statistics.
ASSORTED ISSUES :
The empirical data shows that mechanism of implementation is missing from the official plans and schemes and the various rural support programs launched by international funding agencies. In this regard, a number of questions also arise such as, what initiatives have been taken by ministry of women development, ministry of industries and ministry of commerce and trade; whether proper information was conveyed to the target group about policies and plans and facilities provided by the various governments and non-governmental bodies and what strategies were outlined to shift women workforce from agricultural to the manufacturing sector?
Women entrepreneurship can be a powerful source of economic development in Pakistan. The women enterprise development can lead to the two major accomplishments: women empowerment and sustainable economic growth. By promoting women enterprises, the vast potentials of women entrepreneurship can be channalized to meet these two challenges. Such a development can also strengthen the structural adjustment reforms that are a part of the current initiatives for devolving power at the grass roots level.
At present a large number of women entrepreneurs are working in Pakistan. They have initiated their businesses and made them flourish in the highly competitive environment. Most of them are involved in traditional businesses such as boutiques, parlors, bakeries while some of them are in manufacturing, consultancies and service provision also. However, the largest number of skilled women labor force is employed in garments and handicrafts sector. In general, urban women are better placed than those working in rural areas.
In Pakistan women entrepreneurs face critical challenges presently. Information gaps, marketing channels and poor networking are major challenges to the growth of women enterprises. Women are either unaware of modern marketing tactics that would fetch better returns for the same product or remain restrained to the local markets due to a number of other problems. For one reason or the other, women remain out of touch from domestic and international markets. The gaps are multiple on their part, such as, lack of business awareness and lack of knowledge as to where these markets are; and how to reach them. Moreover, most of women entrepreneurs operate businesses from homes and they have low level of education and technical skills. Even their finances are controlled by male family members. However, economic necessity is now forcing more and more women to engage in some sort of employment and income generation activities.
Invisibility is one of the numerous obstacles preventing women from realizing their full potential. Many of these obstacles arise from the cultural and social constraints that perpetuate women's marginalized situation. Rather than remedying the situation through "adjustments", a fundamental shift which removes the veils of blindness is required. The absence of quantitative and qualitative data on women's role in agricultural and rural development is the most notable, albeit hidden factor. Terms to describe women's economic activity such as "non-remunerative work" or even "family responsibilities" have not been defined or given a value. Women's most fundamental role in society ñ procreation ñ is very often given a negative value, being seen as a hindrance to otherwise productive activities, a cause of lost income, lower productivity and increased costs. Neither is a value given to the emotional and social support women provide for the family and community, particularly with regard to child rearing. This absence of data ñ these unknown factors, or negative costs ñ is a significant omission in the data set used to formulate strategies for promoting income generation.
Cognizant of the importance of women participation in the overall economic growth, the government established a Women Division in 1979 and a `national action plan" was issued in 1998 which detailed the strategic objectives of 12 targeted areas and their respective plans. In 2000, a plan under the title, "gender and development": was prepared mainly for eradicating poverty by making available micro credit to women for income generating purposes. However, even after the lapse of seven years, the women development indicators have hardly changed. In order to infuse spirit to these sectors following initiatives are to be taken immediately:
Government needs to increase the share of manufacturing sector in total GDP by establishing agro-based small units focusing on women workforce in rural areas. Besides a good plan and availability of small loans and micro credit packages of soft skills, supportive environments and networking with business and non-governmental organizations needs to be developed to mobilize women to the manufacturing sector through their own enterprises. The package of soft skills may include the following:
Entrepreneurship and enterprise development; product designing; computing/accounting skills; networking and marketing skills. The supporting environment includes: identification of sources of funds, availability of raw material at subsidized prices, identification of markets-locally/internationally; provision of quality control, and tax holidays on the produce of women enterprises. Finally, the networking with business and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) involve profit sector to provide some space in production, supplies, marketing and selling for women enterprises.
The NGO's can help building capacities and polishing women's natural talents and can also play a crucial role in counseling and guiding women in getting maximum benefits from the government's facilities available for them.
Formal & informal type of public private partnership can be established for women enterprises development, the framework for which can be formulated between the government and NGOs.
The most effective way to create an enabling environment for the promotion of women's income-generating activities is through a process of incorporating gender perspectives into all facets of society. Governments can greatly foster this process. The foremost requirement is to formulate a gender policy that is favorable to rural women and enforceable and binding on all government ministries, particularly those focusing on justice, economic planning, agriculture, community development, finance and education. Ministerial policy formulation and program development. Government should explicitly address women's concerns. There should also be a comprehensive review of the effects of government programs, such as Structural Adjustment Programs, on women, and corrective measures implemented. Gender policies should also be binding on the private sector, particularly with regard to the use of women in agricultural subcontracting schemes and the enforcement of laws relating to women's multiple responsibilities, such as child care and maternity leave. Governments can further encourage activities that promote women's economic rights and actively measure women's status by developing statistical indicators that reflect gender roles and responsibilities. Rural women's limited awareness of the local and national political factors that affect their lives is not conducive to a healthy democracy. The constituents of a democracy ñ the stakeholders-voice opinions on the policies and actions of their elected representatives. Facilitating and supporting the participation of rural women as constituents of a democracy is fundamental to strengthening their role in society.
The protection of a woman's rights as an individual begins with the security of her person. Female genital mutilation, dowry obligations and other customs that reinforce the perception of women as property and legitimize violence against women violate their basic human rights. The gravity and magnitude of these violations need to be recognized and understood, and cannot be glossed over by vague references to cultural norms. Rural women need greater access to information about their human and legal rights, and laws need a stronger focus on women's rights, such as access and entitlement to land and other factors of production. Laws should be simplified to make them user friendly, particularly for rural people. Police and other law enforcement agencies should be given gender-sensitization training, and greater emphasis should be placed on enacting laws that uphold women's rights. Women should have access to paralegal personnel and to free or affordable legal advice and representation. It is important to stress that the rights to education and health care are also basic human rights. Education and access to affordable health services for all children ñ girls and boys ñ will provide a more solid foundation for the development of women's income-generating activities
Like many other developing countries, the role of women in the national development is being highlighted for the last couple of years. It is being discussed at the national level to be followed by some initiatives by the government and the civil society organizations, mostly at legislative and policy levels. Women have also got reserved seats in all the three tiers of law-making bodies. The government is also executing a `gender and development plan"2001-2011 and recently, `Women Protection" bills have been passed. The impact of all these measures is yet to be seen.