Invest in women for a more inclusive society

By Fatima Zakir
Tue, 03, 24

Investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women but also for families, communities, and countries. You! takes a look…

Nabila Malik, Head of Communications at UN Women Pakistan with the team.
Nabila Malik, Head of Communications at UN Women Pakistan with the team.

Pakistan, like many developing countries, is striving for progress. One critical aspect towards its progression which is often overlooked is the full integration and empowerment of its women. Despite making up nearly half of the population, women in Pakistan face numerous challenges including limited access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and basic rights.

Women in Pakistan constitute 49 per cent of the population but only 20 per cent are included in the labour force. As per the statistics of World Bank, this participation of women in the workforce is not just lowest in South Asia but around the globe as well. This showcases that Pakistan has been unable to explore its untapped potential – its women. A society cannot progress or prosper if half of its population is out of the economic circle and does not have the means to contribute to the development process.

Workplace equality

It’s time to remember that in the heart of progress lies the essence of gender equality. Pakistan, a nation thriving with talent and potential, is on the edge of a transformative journey. Yet, when we look at our workplaces, we see disparities between women and men or gender differentiation that demands our attention. In Pakistan, like many other places, there’s a persistent issue of unequal pay. Women often earn less than their male counterparts for the same work. They often encounter limited career opportunities, battling persistent glass ceilings. Simultaneously, workplace harassment adds to their struggle, fostering a non-conducive environment that hampers professional growth and overall well-being.

The need is to establish and enforce policies that provide adequate maternity leave for working women and encourage the inclusion of paternity leave that promotes shared responsibilities in care giving. Introduce accessible and affordable childcare facilities, enabling women to balance work and family responsibilities, and advocate for policies that support flexible work arrangements, such as part-time work, remote work, or flexible hours, to accommodate women’s diverse needs and responsibilities. Hence, investing in workplace equality is the smart thing to do. Gender diverse teams lead to better creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. When women are given equal opportunities, it translates to enhanced productivity and engagement. A balanced workplace fosters a fair, positive and energetic atmosphere.

Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress

UN Women, grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, works for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action, and peace and security. Placing women’s rights at the centre of all its efforts, UN Women, in partnership with civil society and other relevant actors, leads and coordinates systematic efforts to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into action throughout the world.

Invest in women for a more inclusive society

On this International Women’s Day, UN Women concentrated its efforts towards this year’s theme, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’. The theme highlights the role women play in societal development and calls for increased investments to empower women and progress towards a more inclusive and equitable world. For this UN Resident Coordinator Office in Pakistan, UN Women and the Embassy of Denmark hosted an International Women’s Day (IWD) Gala highlighting the importance of investing in women to shape a better future for all in Pakistan. It emphasised that empowering women economically and ensuring women’s and girls’ rights across all aspects of life is the only way to secure a prosperous and just economy, and an inclusive and fair society.

The objective of the gala was to gather all key stakeholders who can contribute significantly to advancing gender equality, fostering an inclusive and empowered economic landscape, and facilitating a general consensus on strategies for advancing key frameworks for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The event collected commitments from various stakeholders concerning gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in Pakistan.

Jane Marriott, British HighCommissioner to Pakistan
Jane Marriott, British High
Commissioner to Pakistan

The British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Jane Marriott emphasised on the importance of working together for a more prosperous society. She reiterated that men can’t do it alone and women can’t do it alone, so we need to work together towards progress and development of the world. “As we celebrate women this year, we must put a special emphasis on their economic empowerment.

We will spotlight the significant positions and impactful contributions made by women and girls in reshaping the economic terrain,” said Mr Lansana Wonneh, UN Women Country Representative. “Let us remember that gender equality is not just a women’s issue but a human rights issue that requires the effort of all genders and we must continue to advocate for justice, equality, and dignity for all,” he added.

“My pledge is to step up action with our constituents; the government, the workers and the employers’ organisations of Pakistan to promote gender equality in the world of work and to make them safer and more inclusive for both women and men,” elucidated Geir Thomas, Country Director of International Labour Organization (ILO) in Pakistan.

Education for all

Another issue that needs our attention is the limited prospects of education for girls. More than 12 million girls are out of school in Pakistan which means that 32 per cent of primary school age girls are deprived of the basic constitutional right. Each girl being denied of education means that we are losing a future doctor, engineer, lawyer, scientist and an artist. This brings them at a disadvantaged stage where they are not provided the right to think about their futures and hampers their growth and personality development. Pakistan must invest in education for young women and girls for greater productivity and economic growth. Education equips women with skills, knowledge, and confidence, enabling them to participate more actively in the workforce and entrepreneurial activities.

UN Women emphasises on the importance of ‘Education for All’, unlocking potential through knowledge as education is the key to breaking barriers and rising to the challenge.

Samina Nazir, Executive Director of Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), further explained the consequences of lack of education for girls. “Our commitment is to look at the root causes of gender inequality and one of the main reasons in Pakistan is child marriages. Marrying them off at a school going age deprives them to explore their full potential and silences their voice. We pledge to continue advocacy to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18-21 years for both men and women. Currently, only Sindh has the minimum age to 18 years while for the rest of Pakistan, it’s still 16 or 15 years,” lamented Samina.

Strengthening the justice system

Moreover, patriarchal norms and violence against women pose significant obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 23 per cent of women who have been married report experiencing physical violence, 26 per cent emotional violence, and 5 per cent sexual violence from their spouses. These figures are even higher among women with no formal education and decrease among those with higher levels of education. Baseline studies conducted by UN Women on Women’s Economic Empowerment indicate that women who achieve financial independence are more likely to report instances of violence and abuse. Therefore, addressing gender-based violence is crucial for establishing a secure and supportive environment that enables women to engage fully in economic activities.

Invest in women for a more inclusive society

Lori Antolinez, Director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs - Pakistan (INL-P), stated, “Our commitment is to keep working with UN agencies and more importantly with the Government of Pakistan and its agencies, at both federal and provincial level, to continue having more women responding and working on preventing violence.

Along with this, we commit to induct more women in policing and law enforcement so they have a say in the justice system of Pakistan. With this, we can hope to have access to more equitable justice for all.”

Commitment towards progress

Some other pledges were made by the representatives of the Government of Pakistan, ambassadors, representatives of UN agencies and leaders from the private sector to drive progress toward gender equality and the empowerment of women. The dignitaries signed a wall of pledges which varied from increased women in workforce to equality in pay scales and opportunities for all genders.

“If we look around, we see it’s not just the women supporting other women but men are present, pledging to promote gender equality and support women in each sphere” stated

Fang Wang, wife of the Ambassador of Denmark to Pakistan and Acting President of Islamabad Foreign Women’s Association, who was present on the occasion.

“I would like to add to the mix of pledges by including girls and women with all their diversity, including the ones with HIV or other diseases who are most vulnerable and marginalised in society. So, we must include all women, with all their diversity, when we talk about gender equality and empowerment,” stressed Yuki Takemoto, Country Director of UNAIDS Pakistan.

Empowering women economically not only benefits women individually but also yields wide-ranging societal and economic advantages. UN Women research indicates that if women’s economic involvement matched that of men, Pakistan’s GDP could potentially increase by 60 per cent by 2025. While, closing the gender disparity in workforce participation could lead to a one-time 30 per cent GDP increase.

Girls and women are the drivers of sustainable development and powerful agents of change. Evidence from around the world confirms that investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women but also for families, communities, and countries. Yet, despite all we know, decision-makers have failed to consistently prioritise girls and women. They are deprived of access to health services, confront barriers to education, are vulnerable to gender-based violence, and face discrimination in political and economic spheres.

This Women’s month calling for increased investments to empower women and progress towards a more inclusive and equitable world.

Fatima Zakir is a communication and marketing professional who started her career with You! magazine. She can be reached at