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ISLAMABAD: For ‘womenomics’ to become a reality in Pakistan, both traditional and emerging occupational barriers need to be structurally and systemically addressed, says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan.

UNDP in its latest report ‘Womenomics, Women Powering the Economy, Development Advocate Pakistan’ stated that inequality in opportunity and in working Pakistan’s barriers against women’s economic empowerment generally include lack of gender-sensitive policies, income inequality, attitudes / harassment at workplaces, and stereotypes defining women’s role in society. For those already stepping into the workforce, however, additional barriers include a lack of gendered infrastructure at workplaces, gender pay gaps, limited mobility, and scarcity of public toilets, denial/discrimination of professional development and leadership opportunities, job security, and other occupational hazards.

The Development Advocate Pakistan provides a platform for the exchange of ideas on key development issues and challenges in Pakistan. Focusing a specific development theme in each edition, this quarterly publication fosters public discourse and presents varying perspectives from civil society, academia, and government and development partners.

Out of the only 13.5 million (20 percent) women taking part in Pakistan’s labour force, seven million working in agriculture fall under the category of contributing family workers and remain unrecognized and unpaid. The gap between men and women’s earnings has also increased. In 2018-2019, women earned just 18 percent of what men earned.

It further stated cultural expectations must also be addressed, as they contribute to women’s ‘time poverty’. Women in Pakistan spend nearly 10 times the hours as men in unpaid care work.

The report stated that Womenomics is not just a good social move; it is also good for business: $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Yet, while women’s control of investible wealth is on the rise, major barriers continue to prevent achieving SDG Goal 5 of gender equality in developing economies like Pakistan. At the global level, women currently represent 38.8 percent of the global labour force and just 20 percent in Pakistan.

In all too many households, women are compelled to give all their earnings to their family and have no financial independence or freedom to spend as they choose. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of silent exploitation and abuse – one where women are made to be completely dependent upon male family members for good.

Financial inclusion is imperative for women to access loans, credit, and to save for a more secure future. In Pakistan, however, 94 percent of adult women do not have a formal bank account, according to the World Bank. Of late, a number of efforts have been made to promote women’s financial inclusion in the country. These include adoption of targets for improving access to bank accounts (at least 20 million adult women should have an active bank account by 2023); improving financial literacy of women under the State Bank of Pakistan’s National Financial Literacy Program; and provision of loans of up to PKR five million for women entrepreneurs under the Refinance and Credit Guarantee Scheme.

It further stated that financial inclusion can benefit greatly from technology. Mobile access can transform economic isolation into connectivity, thereby empowering women in rural areas and inhibiting social environments. Unfortunately, there is a 33 percent gender gap in mobile usage in Pakistan – something that must be addressed in order to realize women’s full potential. Similarly, investment in skills and training is the need of the hour. Women must be imparted skills as shop keepers, business agents, goods sellers, marketers, stock dealers, investors etc.

UNDP Pakistan is providing economic empowerment opportunities to women through vocational skills training, startup tool kits, and support in establishing businesses through partnerships with microfinance institutions, it added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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