“Women’s inclusion in the workforce is vital to change cultural norms” – Hassan Arshad

By Sara Danial
Tue, 11, 23

Women are without a doubt their own greatest champions, but many men are also lending their support to the cause of gender equality. Keeping this in mind, our segment ‘He for She’, carries interviews of successful entrepreneurs, IT professionals, CEOs, architects, writers, artists, activists, and directors etc - who believe in gender equality and are supporting women in whatever way they can. This week we are featuring Hassan Arshad, Director of Public Policy and Communications at foodpanda. In an exclusive interview with You! Hassan Arshad, a Warwick University graduate with an MSc in Economics and a financial economist, talks about women empowerment and how his organisation is creating opportunities for women - from starting and scaling businesses to accessing resources.

“Women’s inclusion in the workforce is vital to change cultural norms” – Hassan Arshad

he for she

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am originally from Peshawar but by virtue of my parents being in the army - I have travelled and lived across Pakistan from relatively small towns like Okara to metropolis like Karachi. Professionally, I am a financial economist and a strategy expert with substantial experience spanning various sectors and markets. In my capacity as a strategy consultant, I have provided comprehensive guidance to clients on financial, economic, and policy matters in both advanced and emerging markets. Since 2017, I have been overseeing regulatory affairs, public policy and government relations for various organisations in Pakistan.

You recently attended the UN Women Conference, held in Manila, earlier this month. Can you briefly tell us some of its focal points?

The UN Women Conference was centred around the Women Economic Empowerment Principles (WEPs) which aims to create gender equality and inclusivity as well as support safer spaces for women in both public and private sectors. As part of this initiative, UNW is collaborating with approximately 80 private companies to implement Women Empowerment Principles and provide training and awareness on vital issues such as workplace harassment, domestic violence, income enhancement, and safer mobility. At foodpanda, we are excited to be a part of this partnership and together we’re committed to promoting women’s inclusion in the workforce, advocating for gender-responsive policies, and ensuring gender-sensitive procurement practices. This collaboration marks a significant step towards a more inclusive and secure working environment for women in Pakistan.

As a representative of your country, what issues did you highlight in the UN Women Conference?

At the conference, I focused on some of the initiatives we have launched in partnership with UN Women to improve gender inclusivity in the workplace and the significant need to do more as an industry for gender equality. There is also an immediate need to make public and private spaces more sensitive on issues surrounding sexual harassment. We work very closely with female home chefs, and makes sure that they feel safe and comfortable interacting with vendors and other stakeholders, knowing that nothing will stand in the way of their success. I highlighted the dire need to make efforts towards mitigating domestic violence, improve safer mobility and develop income enhancement opportunities for women.

What are your views on gender equality?

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are the most significant challenges of our time. It’s not something we address just one day a year; it’s a continuous effort. And men need to step up and become an active participant in the process.

Does your organisation promote gender equality?

We ensure that all employment opportunities are open to individuals regardless of gender including recruitment, career advancement, and leadership positions. We conduct training sessions and awareness programmes to educate our employees about gender equality, inclusivity, prevention of sexual harassment etc. to foster a safer, more respectful work environment. We also actively encourage and support female home chefs within our network, providing them with a platform to showcase their culinary talents, helping them achieve financial independence and contribute to their families’ well-being.

How can we have a harassment free environment in Pakistan and how it could be achieved through different avenues?

Conducting awareness campaigns is vital to change cultural norms. Collaborating with organisations like UN Women for specialised training and awareness programmes is a valuable avenue as they have the expertise. Some other initiatives can include, advocating for stronger legal frameworks and government policies against harassment, offering support to victims of harassment, providing access to counselling, legal assistance, and mental health services, etc. to those affected and engaging with local communities to foster a broader sense of collective responsibility in ensuring harassment-free environments.

What challenges are women entrepreneurs facing in the male-dominated world?

Firstly, they encounter gender biases and stereotypes that hinder their access to equal opportunities whether it’s career progression, access to funding, capital, etc. Secondly, work-life balance can be a challenge, as women often juggle multiple roles with limited recognition, understanding and/or workplace flexibility which can limit opportunities for career progression. Thirdly, some of the principles that WEPS targets are critical for sustained inclusion in the workplace, such as safer workspaces and mobility for women.

What initiatives has your organisation implemented to propagate the Women Empowerment Principles highlighted by UN Women?

“Women’s inclusion in the workforce is vital to change cultural norms” – Hassan Arshad

We have worked on a number of initiatives with UN Women Pakistan - these range from training and capacity building initiatives for our employees (and home chefs, female riders, etc.) to more specific trainings targetting specific issues such as harassment, domestic violence etc. We have also created economic opportunities for our home chefs to participate and showcase their culinary skills at various UN events and third-party engagements.

Additionally, we have actively promoted safer mobility for our female employees through a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing their commuting experience such as transport allowances and subsidised safer transport facilities. Apart from that, we have partnered with the government to provide financing at subsidised rates to our HomeChefs. We have also received a support from tax authorities to reduce tax rates across Sindh and Punjab for our home chefs. Most importantly, these initiatives align seamlessly with WEP.

What advice would you give to young women who are just beginning in their careers?

I would strongly advise young women in Pakistan to be fearless, embrace opportunities, and continuously seek personal and professional growth.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day involves multiple meetings, engagements and activities, while I make sure to deliver on my project work commitments on time.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Outside of work - it has to be Golf!

What is your most treasured possession?

My great-grandfather’s vintage clock. To this day, it hangs prominently as the centrepiece of the living room at our home.

What do you like to read?

Reading is an essential part of my free time, but I enjoy it the most while travelling. I usually pick something up about history and culture. Sometimes, however, the mood may call for non-fiction or autobiographies. I am quite fond of the works of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Wolf.

Are you working on any exciting new projects that will help women?

We are doing various initiatives within and outside of the workplace that are aimed at empowering women and creating an inclusive environment, such as employee capacity building and training on key WEPs principles, gender inclusive hiring and progression in the workplace, creating economic opportunities for female entrepreneurs (such as home chefs including access to financing, tax rebates etc.) and supporting female riders on our platform through extensive training as well as access to motorbikes etc.