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March 24, 2019

Economic empowerment of women key to drive away poverty

Business

March 24, 2019

LAHORE: Gender discrimination in Pakistan starts from home, as boys are provided better food, better clothing and better schooling with the result that they are better equipped to move ahead economically. Girls can achieve the same status if given equal opportunities.

A sustainable economy is only possible if the entire population is provided equal opportunities. In Pakistan, the richer segments of society have exclusive opportunities; the men enjoy access to all processes leading to prosperity, while women are denied the same.

That means at national level, we are discriminating against the poor and the women. By denying women equal opportunities, we deny 49 percent of our population to fully exploit their potential.

By keeping poor out of the economic mainstream, we deprive another 20 percent of our men a fair chance to move ahead (out of 40 percent poor that live in poverty half of them are women that have been accounted for).

How can a nation aspire to keep pace with the developing economies, when 69 percent of its population is denied equal opportunity? We are trying to address poverty or are at least giving lip service in this regard.

Addressing poverty would only empower 20 percent of the population, the remaining 20 percent, or the women, would remain excluded.

However, if we start empowering women, we may include 49 percent of the population into economic mainstream, which would automatically address poverty.

Bangladesh has done exactly that and its poverty reduction has been exemplary. Today, more than 35 million Bangladeshi women are gainfully employed or are in business. The male employment is a little higher.

The total population of Bangladesh is 165 million. We with a population of over 210 million hardly have 18 million women in our workforce.

If we continue to ignore our women, we will have to make three times more efforts to make a dent in poverty. We simply do not have the resources to follow this expensive path. Sadly, we do not have the courage to empower our women either.

Some experts lament that lack of education is the main impediment in women empowerment. This is partially true.

Where education level is high, the pace of development accelerates; something that has already been observed in the far eastern economies and in China.

But in Bangladesh, the empowerment of women came through higher employment opportunities. By design or otherwise, Bangladeshi planners provided employment to their women in their apparel making sector.

That was done in late 90s. The Bangladesh government got this opportunity from the developed world for reduction of poverty.

This opportunity was available to Pakistan since early 60s when we entered global textile trade. Unfortunately, we confined ourselves to basic textiles that has low value-addition and needs limited number of workers.

The apparel sector that creates highest number of jobs was ignored. It was given attention at about the same time when Bangladesh entered this field.

Here again, the majority of workers were men, while in Bangladesh women workforce was dominant in its apparel sector.

Even today, 80 percent of the stitching workforce in Pakistan is comprised of men; while in Bangladesh 90 percent of stitching jobs are done by women.

It was the working women that were instrumental in transforming the economy of Bangladesh.

Traditionally women in our societies look after the health and education of their children. They also cook food for the family.

On the other hand, men are assigned to do the work outside the home and do not participate actively in house work.

Men also spend more on activities outside the home which reduces the amount spent on their household, whereas when women work and are empowered, they take even better care of their children’s health and education.

They also supplement the family income resulting in better living. A woman deprived of resources or dependent only on the income of her spouse has limited choices.

It was after women empowerment that the population growth rate in Bangladesh has come down to 1.1 percent against 2.4 percent in Pakistan.

It was after women empowerment that the per capita income has steeply increased in that country. At the start of the century, Bangladesh’s per capita income was less than $500 against around $1,000 in Pakistan.

Today, Bangladesh’s per capita income is $100 higher than Pakistan and moving up rapidly.

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