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November 8, 2018

Women in the economy


November 8, 2018

Around 49 percent of our population comprises women. According to the Global Gender Gap Index, which shows the gap between men and women based on various socioeconomic indicators, Pakistan is ranked 143 out of 144 countries in 2017.

The index is used to depict gender equality in a particular country. Our poor ranking clearly depicts a vast difference in the economic and social status of men and women. A closer analysis of the index also reveals an unequal distribution of opportunities and resources between men and women. Access to education and healthcare facilities, and barriers in the workplace have a role to play in this respect.

All these factors, if positive, play a significant role in women’s empowerment and consequently impact a country’s economy. According to a recent report released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan’s GDP can increase by up to 30 percent if women are more empowered and play their role in the labour force. Unfortunately, the employment rate for women is at its lowest in Pakistan (4.3 percent) and is even lower when it comes to industries. It has been witnessed that almost all factories work in three shifts and hire male workers.

Women usually prefer the morning shift. This has been attributed to several reasons, such as the absence of childcare centres and, security considerations that make it uncomfortable for women to work till late.

Moreover, the Factories Act 1934 exempts women from working at factories before 6am and after 7pm. As a result, the opportunities for gender diversity are reduced. In another extreme scenario, women working in the industrial sector are either poorly paid or face job insecurity. Many of them are often unaware of the rights accorded to them and are taken for granted in the labour force.

Issues pertaining to women contributing towards the country’s economic status exist at all levels. In urban areas, the glass ceiling is a prominent factor, hindering women from reaching executive positions. The glass ceiling is considered to be an upper rank in corporations that women are often unable to achieve. This can indirectly attributed to the absence of an enabling environment and the dearth of childcare centres. As a result, the opportunities for gender diversity are reduced.

In extreme situations, female workers in rural areas face issues as many of them are not familiar with their rights. They jeopardise their health to work long hours, and have little access to and knowledge of the market. Their contribution to the economy and society continues to be unrecognised in national statistics and they have no minimum wage or health facilities.

It is evident from various examples across the globe that countries focusing on gender equality and providing opportunities to women tend to grow at a faster pace and more equitably. In an environment that accounts for their needs, women tend to contribute towards lowering poverty at both the individual and national levels.

A success story can be found in the World Bank’s development work in Latin America and the Caribbean. Investment was carried out to educate and impart the necessary skills to women in these countries. They were provided basic necessities such as transport facilities and attached daycare centres. This resulted in an increasing number of women deciding to pursue their careers. Consequently, it led to a decline in poverty, with the income earned by these women causing a reduction of 30 percent in extreme poverty over a span of 10 years.

In South Asia, the Skill India Mission is another example of an initiative that provides an enabling environment for nearly half of India’s population to first learn various skills and then utilise them. The programme is specifically sensitive to the requirements of women and provides them safe transport, flexible schedules, and childcare support.

Given the present proportion of its population, Pakistan also needs to learn a lesson from these examples and utilise women workers to achieve a valuable contribution in its economic growth. It is essential to provide a conducive environment for women at all levels. This can either be in the form of an amendment to the Factories Act to facilitate women who are willing to work night shifts or through the provision separate female hostels, daycare facilities and suitable anti-harassment laws to ensure a safe working environment. This will help empower women, achieve gender diversity at work and place the country in the direction of progress.

The writer is a public healthconsultant.

Email: [email protected]

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