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ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar, while stressing on the need for gender-related targets in programmes, said that post-Covid-19 there is a massive mending and rebuilding job to be done and women just have to be a major part of this.

Dr Nishtar was invited to speak at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting.

The high-level virtual meeting focused discussions on a woman-focused recovery for a more inclusive post-Covid-19 future.

Along side Dr Sania, the panel included Joseph Sveglich, Economist, Economics and Research Department, Asian Development Bank; Wendy Teleki Head We-Fi Secretariat, World Bank Group; Deniz Harut, Executive Director, Sustainable Finance, Standard Chartered Bank; and Joni Simpson Senior Specialist Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination, International Labor Organisation (ILO). The session was moderated by Sharanjit Leyl, BBC.

The panel discussed that the Covid-19 has wiped away a disproportionately higher share of women’s jobs, widening gender gaps in labour market access and increasing women’s vulnerability to poverty.

International experts and policy makers emphasised that Asia Pacific economies should address inequalities in women’s work to ensure a more inclusive “new normal”.

Participants discussed how to position gender equality more saliently post- COVID -19.

Dr Sania stressed on the need for gender-related targets in programmes, she highlighted the example of Ehsaas where there are specific time bound outcome-based targets for gender mainstreaming evidenced in the Ehsaas 50 percent Plus Benefits (for women policy).

Dr Sania said, “The world cannot afford to disregard what women—50 percent of its population—can bring to the table in terms of talents, skills, productive potential, and leadership acumen.”

“In terms of social outcomes—we know that education and empowerment of women has a direct correlation with improved health education and social outcomes in a household. Post-Covid-19 there is a massive mending and rebuilding job to be done and women just have to be a major part of this”, she further added.

Dr Sania then stressed on the importance of data coupled with accountability for action.

She emphasised that there is no reason not to mandate data disaggregation by gender across all information sources and unearth stories that averages tend to hide.

“It is important to give greater weightage to gender-related variables in the composite measures, which are the basis of league tables to monitor progress. We need to reimagine the role of women in the workforce of a future system, which is being rapidly transformed by technology, digitisation and burgeoning innovations. With billions of people connected with mobile devices, the combination of processing power, knowledge access, and data portability can transform sector,” added Dr Sania.

Ehsaas is a pioneering anti-poverty programme in the country that aims to change this reality and ensure that all women no matter their background have the opportunity to succeed.

There are currently over 250 policies under the umbrella of Ehsaas, many of which are designed to specifically target women.

At its core, Ehsaas aims to lift the seven million poorest women in Pakistan out of poverty and help them to achieve their potential.

In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ehsaas delivered 54 percent emergency cash to deserving women.

Through Ehsaas Interest Free Loans programme in the National Poverty Graduation Initiative, 45 percent women beneficiaries have been provided opportunities to build microenterprises. With 50 percent scholarships reserved for girls, Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship programme provides 200,000 need- and merit-based scholarship over four years. In Ehsaas primary education, and health and nutrition programmes, conditional cash transfers are being made to mothers and these include a higher stipend amount for girls as compared to boys.

The annual meeting brought together policymakers, representatives from the private sector, and development partners to discuss ambitious approaches to build back better through women’s entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, and decent jobs for women.

The panel appreciated the women-specific Ehsaas 50 percent Plus Benefits policy of Ehsaas that is fully skewed towards women.

The Asia and the Pacific region can emerge from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic “even stronger than before” by focusing on five areas to help achieve a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future, ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said, in remarks to the ADB Board of Governors at its 54th Annual Meeting.

“I believe the path we have laid out will help lead our region out of these uncertain times,” Asakawa said.

“We will continue to deliver ADB’s unique synergy of finance, knowledge, and partnerships. And we will prioritize the quality of our assistance over quantity, meeting near-term needs with a clear vision for the future. If we stay on this course, I am confident the region will emerge from the current crisis even stronger than before.”

Asakawa outlined a five-point agenda for the region covering areas critical to achieving a lasting and equitable recovery for Asia and the Pacific: Place ambitious climate actions at the center of development, with increased focus on adaptation and resilience, and with full commitment to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Address inequality including the gender gap—which has worsened during the pandemic—by investing in health, education, and social protection.

Promote high-quality green and digital infrastructure, enabling economies to rebuild smartly while closing the digital gap and attracting substantial private investment.

Deepen regional cooperation and integration, so that the ADB developing member countries can seize the opportunities of renewed globalisation and strengthen regional health security and strengthen domestic resource mobilization, to ensure that governments have the resources they need to finance sustainable growth and respond effectively to future crises.

Action on these priorities can build on the ADB’s response to COVID-19 in 2020. Its total commitments in 2020 reached a record high of $31.6 billion, with just over half supporting operations to respond to the pandemic.

The balance was committed to address long-term development issues such as the gender equality gap, the impacts of climate change, and investments in quality infrastructure.

These achievements were supported by record-high cofinancing of $16.4 billion and record-high capital market borrowings of over $35 billion.

The NGO Forum on the ADB explored on the political appetite among donor countries for a fossil-free ADB and developing Asia, and unpack the pitfalls of false solutions in climate finance.

The current Energy Policy review provides the opportunity to significantly shift its role as an Asian climate finance bank and help borrowing governments meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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