Tuesday July 05, 2022

Towards building a future for all

March 13, 2021

The theme for this International Women’s Day focused on an equal future, prioritising effective participation by women in every field while living in the time of the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, the question in this part of the world would remain the same and it is whether any real change would be possible in our society keeping in view the persistence of all the old barriers. Achieving gender equality and ensuring women empowerment would remain a farce until all these barriers are not removed. The dream of creating an inclusive society could be realised after having soul-searching at every level.

The first and foremost challenge that needs to be responded to is of financial empowerment, which is essential for bridging the gender gap. Only financial empowerment would enable a woman to enhance her ability of decision-making and thus eliminating her dependency on others. Besides, by achieving financial independence, women can become active economic actors and increase their say within the household. This would not only set a precedent but would also allow other females in the household to make better life choices.

Likewise, the financial empowerment of women could enable them to experience economic prosperity in addition to its positive reflection on other indicators such as food security, improved dietary, health and education of the children. Various studies indicate that countries where women are an active part of the economy tend to perform better and are achieving higher GDP. This aspect reinforces the need to set greater and better opportunities for women to forge a brighter future for the country. The key concern here is: when will Pakistan take the lead and create diversified opportunities for its female population?

As one of the positive signs, the realisation about economic empowerment of women has considerably increased gradually, and thus more organisations are stressing the need for inclusive policies. Specific programmes and initiatives are being introduced on a national level to allow more women to become part of the corporate circle. Apart from job opportunities, many women are now keen to run their own businesses. Female entrepreneurs are emerging, which is a healthy sign not only for the country but for all those women that have been shying away from business considering it as not their cup of tea.

While women from better-off segments of society still have access to better employment opportunities, females from underprivileged backgrounds face lack of access to employment or income generating opportunities. Thus, their financial dependency leaves them exposed to violence, abuse, and all sorts of discriminations. The majority of female workers from marginalised income groups are forced to work as domestic workers. They are extremely low paid, while having no employment security. One could say that very little has been done to pull these women out of this regressive cycle.

However, there are few organisations in Pakistan that are dedicatedly working towards economic empowerment of women belonging to vulnerable backgrounds, thus showing a ray of hope for a better future. The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is one such organisation that is transforming lives of hundreds of thousands of women across Pakistan by providing them assets and loans to start a business of their own under its different initiatives.

Women, differently-abled and marginalised sections of the society are an essential part of the PPAF’s flagship programmes that are directed towards helping the poor. One such initiative is the Ehsaas Amdan under the PPAF’s National Poverty Graduation Programme (NPGP), which is co-funded by the Government of Pakistan and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The overarching objective of the initiative is to assist the ultra-poor and very poor including women in graduating out of poverty sustainably.

Similarly, the organisation is heavily focusing on skill development and capacity building trainings for females that can allow them to become financially independent. As part of the PPAF’s Revitalizing Youth Enterprise (RYE), around 300 men and women from underserved communities in Ziarat and Killa Saifullah districts of Balochistan were trained in demand-oriented trades by PPAF while working with local partner organisations.

Such initiatives help in creating space for economic growth and enable young females to explore their potential. The RYE project and other initiatives of PPAF are setting a precedent that such initiatives could lead to diverse income- generating opportunities for women. This investment in these lifelong skills can help women find a sustainable means of income in the longer run.

Developing more inclusive approaches and devising programmes that could accelerate the pace of female empowerment in the country is therefore the need of hour as it could lead to a prosperous and equitable future for all.

The writer is senior manager, Communications & Media, PPAF