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TEXT: On the International Customs Day (ICD), the international community of Customs puts the conceptualized theme of the year into operation. The WCO (World Customs Organization) is dedicating the year, 2023, to “Nurturing the next generation: promoting a culture of knowledge-sharing and professional pride in Customs”. The goal is to build a culture within customs administrations to integrate the creativity of young customs officers into organizational culture and to create an environment where knowledge-sharing, professionalism and pride breeds, thereby ensuring a sense of connectivity within the global customs community so thatnew generation is well prepared for assuming new responsibilities and for addressing challenges of the new trade order coupled with taking forward the legacy of shared values of Customs ahead.

While encouraging the role of young leaders into the customs administrations, inclusion and importance of the place of young women leaders into the administrations cannot be overlooked. Resilience NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, during a speech delivered at CCP – WPDP (Container Control Programme – Women’s Professional Development Programme) on 25 August 2021 said: “We need to be proactive, we need to engage women. If we are not engaging women, we are missing on 50% of the best people”. It is beyond any doubt that women inclusivity and gender balance enable administrations to bring resilience, innovation and sustainable professional development. It is, therefore, essential for the customs administrations to support representation of young women into their work streams, as future leaders, to steer the culture of knowledge-sharing and professional pride expresslyin-line with the 2023 ICD theme.

In 2021, on the eve of WCO virtual event on ‘Women in Customs’, Dr Kunio Mikuriya (WCO Secretary General) highlighted that ‘Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace encourages innovation and improves individual and organizational performance since people with different backgrounds bring different perspectives and ideas to the table’. The current situation of women representation in customs administrations shows a geographically skewed trend. As reported by the WCO in a study conducted in 2021, the ratio of representation of women in customs administration is better in countries like Australia as compared to Asia-Pacific region (Srilanka, Indonesia and others) while the female customs workforce worldwide is 37% of the total global customs workforce. Out of the 37% representation of global female customs workforce, only a meagre 16% is represented by women at leadership positions. These figures reflect the need and urgency for diverting efforts towards developing women inclusive customs administrations. Pakistan Customs, as a professional organization and driver of change, is making appropriate efforts, in synchronization with global WCO theme of the year, to increase advocacy and participation of new future customs leadersparticularly for proportionate and fair representation of young women at all levels. In October 2022, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) & Pakistan Customs launched a digital dashboard and online complaint portal to promote women and youth led cross – border commerce through innovation for making informed decisions. Similarly, a decent number of female customs officers have assumed leadership roles in various formations of Pakistan Customs. Pakistan Customs, in close coordination with WCO Secretariat, is working towards the advancement of women in leadership roles within Customs through the GEOAT (Gender Equality Organizational Assessment Tool). Through GEOAT, assistance to Pakistan Customs and other customs administrations is provided to assess their existing policies, practices and activities as well as helping them to explore how gender equality can be further incorporated into their reform and modernization agendas for achieving sustainable development, growth and competitiveness.

There is no denying the fact that women, in general, face common hurdles ranging from cultural and social barriers to unconscious gender bias as well as inadequate safety measures. Moreover, they also carry the burden of their gendered responsibilities and time-consuming familial obligations limiting their opportunities to invest in their professional development which subsequently hurt their progress towards leadership positions. Global customs community as well as national customs administrations, therefore, has to play a key role in integration of young women of today into the mainstream work environment through enforcement of documented good practice experiences across the board, particularly in Asian and Asia-Pacific region which have low percentile representation at leadership positions. Few basic steps towards encouraging the advancement of women in customs leadership roles for nurturing next generation of women leaders include, but is not limited to, implementation of organizational policies and procedures which support advancement of women in work streams, bridging gender gaps in incentivizing women for their contributions, fair distribution of opportunities and resources, provision of an enabling work environment so that the voice and representation of young women-of-today is strengthened as a strong leader-of-tomorrow in the future customs landscape.

Sania Rasool Bhutto

Assistant Collector Appraisement, (West)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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