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Sunday February 25, 2024

Businesswomen, activists call for economic and political empowerment of women

March 19, 2023

It is a pity that International Women’s Day, which was the day solely for the rights of women, has been commercialised.

Dr Huma Baqai, international relations expert and rector of the Millennium Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship, made this remark on Saturday while speaking at a seminar titled ‘Winning in a Man’s World’ organised by the Pakistan Women’s Foundation for Peace in connection with International Women’s Day that was observed on March 8.

“We should demand two things for the women when we talk about their rights. We want to be in power corridors and we want to be on decision-making tables so that we can make our own decisions,” she said.

Dr Huma also called for allocating for women in the budget. She said there could be no paradigm shift unless we had a gender-sensitive budget.

She also expressed concern at Pakistan women lagging behind in technology. “Women lag behind in the tech field all over the world but in Pakistan, they are far behind,” she said and asserted that Pakistan women were dangerously behind as far as technology was concerned.

She warned that if that issue was not addressed, Pakistani women would get further marginalised in the future.

Pakistan Women’s Foundation for Peace Chairperson Nargis Rahman said Pakistani women had entered the national mainstream despite all social barriers. “They [women] are now found in good numbers in business corporations and entrepreneurial ventures yet their numbers are infinitesimal given their population percentage of 49 per cent,” she added.

“Pakistan today has female nuclear physicists, major generals, judges, fighter pilots, engineers, mountain climbers, chief executive officers, award-winning writers, artists and tech experts. But these successes are largely due to their families support, especially by male members of the family,” she said.

Quoting the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2022, Nargis said Pakistan ranked 145 in 146 states in economic participation and opportunity, 135 in educational attainment, 143 in health and survival, and 95 in political empowerment of women. She maintained that the patriarchal and tribal culture dominated and controlled the mindset that gave rise to socio-political practices of discrimination against women in the country.

She lamented institutionalising discrimination against women and relegating them to the domestic sphere after excluding them from all forms of decision-making.

She said the Constitution and the laws had not protected the women form acid attacks, honour killings and degrading jirga punishments, domestic violence, discrimination and sexual harassment at workplace.

“In urban public spheres, women are increasingly visible in academic institutions and workplaces but women in the informal economy of rural areas making a singular contribution to Pakistan’s GDP remain unrecognised,” she remarked. “General women workforce is still not higher than 25 per cent and women in managerial and decision-making are hardly five per cent.”

She said the female literacy rate in Pakistan was 48 per cent compared to 70 per cent for men, and approximately 22.5 million children did not attend school, a majority of which were girls. She added that by the ninth grade, only 13 per cent of the girls were still enrolled in school.

Financially, she said, at least 82 per cent of women in Pakistan had no bank accounts. “In the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, women were given all the fundamental rights accorded to the citizens of the country with specific provisions to ensure them a just status, the right to vote, participate in elections, hold public office, free education, and pursue chosen professions, have rights of inheritance but Pakistan's global status as far as the international index of women's status is concerned remains pathetically low and Pakistan’s signing international charters like CEDAW remains meaningless,” Nargis stated.

Simi Kamal, founder and chairperson of the Hisaar Foundation, said a woman’s support for another woman was also crucial for her success. “Sisterhood is what has brought us where we are now and it will take us forward,” she added.

Nazo Dharejo, agriculturist and activist from Shaheed Benazirabad district, talked about how she had courageously fought to free her agricultural land from illegal occupation after the death of her father and brother. She said she got the courage to do so from her father who treated her and her brother equally and encouraged her to get education.

Maheen Rahman, chief executive officer of InfraZamin, said the global gender gap index had four components: education, political and economic empowerment, and access to healthcare. “Education and health are something where you can argue a girl and a boy don’t have an equal access but a reasonable access. But the real difference comes in two areas: economic and political empowerment, which is a tragedy,” she added.

“It shows we are educating girls but not letting them work. How on earth we are going to be productive when we are educating girls but not letting them be part of the political process. So how can they elect people that represent their future? These are the cultural, social and societal barriers that we have to overcome.”

Naheed Memon, chief executive officer of the Oracle Power and former chairperson of the Sindh Board of Investment, said there was little representation of women in the corporate sector. “Most companies are trying to get more women on their boards. But here is a lack of capacity when it comes to women’s nomination,” she opined.

Sayeeda Laghari, chief executive officer of the Sukkur Pakistan Beverages, and Ashifa Paracha, founder of Pakistan Digital Awards, also spoke at the seminar.