Friday May 24, 2024

The power of collaboration

By Kate Ewart-Biggs
April 05, 2024
This photograph shows women working alongside men at their stations. — AFP/ File
This photograph shows women working alongside men at their stations. — AFP/ File

“Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”

As we marked 115 years since the first International Women’s Day in March, we look back at these powerful words from Helen Keller. Working together we can solve most of our modern challenges. That includes those that face women and girls.

At 20%, Pakistan’s workforce participation rate for women is one of the lowest globally. However, the female literacy rate has been growing steadily. Last year, with an overall ranking of 142 out of 146 economies on the Global Gender Gap report, Pakistan reached its highest score since 2006, achieving 57.5% gender parity.

Our latest Next Generation Report ‘What we know on women and girls’ shows that with higher levels of education, young women and girls in Pakistan become effective agents of positive change not just in their families as role models for siblings but within their network of friends and the wider community.

At the British Council, we work extensively to empower women and girls alongside partners and governments in Pakistan. We believe reducing gender gaps in economic life, in decision making, in education and in health, improves the lives of everyone, men and boys as well as women and girls. Evidence shows that more gender-inclusive societies experience reduced levels of conflict, increased competitiveness and economic growth.

That is why our work - whether in education, English, arts or providing world class qualifications - seeks to advance gender equality.

I was fortunate to visit Pakistan in early March and meet many talented young women and girls whose progress has been enabled by the British Council and our partners. At the Women of the World Festival in Lahore, whose theme was fittingly ‘Sakhiyan’ (friends) and which over 13,000 people attended, I saw how our collaboration with the WOW Foundation and our Pakistani curators develops a safe space to discuss important challenges and celebrate women’s achievements.

I met with our partners from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded Aawaz programme in Pakistan, which works with local communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab to promote the rights of children, women, youth, religious minorities and marginalised groups. It has worked with almost 1 million people directly to address exclusion, exploitation, and intolerance. I met with girl peer group leaders from across the country who through our English and Digital for Girls Education (EDGE) programme, in partnership with UNICEF, can access digital, English language, and life skills. Over 5000 Pakistani girls have benefitted so far.

Finally, I met with women who have benefited from the UK’s world class qualifications, and who have received scholarships administered by us. Our Scotland Pakistan Scholarship Scheme, funded by the Scottish Government, has supported 18,000 girls to continue their education at the school, bachelors, and masters’ level.

That was just a snapshot of what we do across Pakistan. Later this year, we will lead a new a high-tech digital skills project in collaboration with the EU Delegation to Pakistan and GIZ. This will upskill thousands of women and girls from Balochistan to Gilgit-Baltistan.

These opportunities will support Pakistan’s women and girls to excel in their careers and make a difference in their communities. We know we cannot do this alone - so we work in partnership with governments and partners in Pakistan. The journey is long; that is why we are here for the long-term.

In previous roles, I have worked with girls who had found themselves on the streets of Recife in Brazil having experienced terrible violence at home. I was involved in similar projects across East and Central Europe, South Africa and Indonesia. In each place, I tried to give those girls their own momentum, to take control of their own lives and change the picture. Today, I am the British Council’s most senior woman, charged, along with many other things, with protecting our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. I do that not only because I believe it’s the right thing for our organisation but also because it runs deep within me. There is still so much to do for the women and girls of the world.

The barriers seem to get higher and the glass harder, but I know that there are countless examples of inspirational and powerful women from Pakistan who continue to lead and show us the way.

It’s why I am so grateful to have met so many extraordinary Pakistani women and to have seen the partnerships that help them to shatter those barriers. By working together, we can create a brighter more optimistic future for women and girls across Pakistan and around the world.

The author is the Deputy Chief Executive of the British Council