Women – as the key economic drivers

By Nusrat Cheema nperveen@yahoo.com

There could not be any beautiful start of a write-up about empowering women other than recalling the very words of father of the nation as; ‘no nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you’. However, this dream of the Quaid has yet to taste the reality as we are worst on the Gender Equality Index,148/149, only after Yemen.

Women have worked in agricultural sector since ages and continue to do so around the world. Then it was the Industrial Revolution which gave the diverse employment venturesto the women and today women are the key drivers of our formal and informal economy. In Pakistan women constitute almost half of the populace but due to the deep rooted economic vulnerabilities and social insecurities only 24% of the women are part of our work force.
The core issues women face while working in either a reputed multinational company,any government sector or in a cottage industry are the same everywhere. Theworkplace harassment, widened gender pay gap and patriarchal ambiance at the workplace has become a norm. UNO’s report named’ Women Will Lead’ has proved that women are underpaid, overworked and burnt out. The situation of women working as invisible workforce in informal sector is even worse. They are being deprived of their due wages and safe working environment per se.
On societal front,the strict adherence to the antiquated socio-cultural norms, massive illiteracy and religious enigmas decide the fate of the women. Thus, it comes with no surprise that 79% girls in tribal areas are out school and overall women literacy rate is 48% against male literacy rate of 70% in Pakistan. Indubitably, this feudal mindset of our society has used its so called honor as a license to control, dominate, torture, abuse and even murder a woman.
When half of the population is denied of its constitutional rights, donot except a society to be a democratic and a civilized one. Likewise, when half of the workforce is left behind, donot expect a nation would prosperous and progress in the times to come. There is no denying the fact that our socio-economic backwardness speaks volume of how much we are concerned about the gender issues, women empowerment, maternal health and girls’ safety.
Hence, the radical transformations in all spheres are sine qua non. The World Bank report entitled ‘Engendered Development’ presented the direct link of women’s economic independence in sustainable growth and poverty alleviation. Further, UNO Women’s landmark report alsoemphasized that achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends upon promoting the gender equality within the families. We need rigorous implementation of gender-blind economic policies and gender-centered vigilant media for mass awareness regarding positive impact of participation of women in country’s economy. Further, researches and surveys have concluded that women are the productive savers of money,energy and environment. It has given birth to the new concept lately – Ecofeminism.
As a signatory to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women) it is our responsibility to make workplaces and homes secure for women. Our religious torchbearers must join the state for the common cause. The stringent application of cyber and anti-harassment laws must be ensured. The pay gap must be shrunk and women must be given fair chances of professional growth to sit on the higher posts to influence the women friendly decisions. Besides, our workplaces must be supportive to the working mothers too.
Additionally, measures are needed to regularize the informal economy and making the labor laws. The micro-financing initiatives would help women to achieve economic independence. The government’s initiatives in the form of BISP and certain NGOs’endeavors (Kashaf foundation) are laudable to help women gain more agency for the household welfare.
Succinctly, all of our national goals of economic sufficiency, population control, universal healthcare and education, sanitation and hygiene, stable families and environmental conservation are directly related to the women empowerment. Give it a chance!

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