By: Anil Datta
Unless educated women participate in the country’s labour force, Pakistan will get nowhere. Empowering women is imperative to becoming a globally competitive nation.
These views were expressed by Dr Ishrat Husain, former State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor and the current Head of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, while delivering the keynote address at the International Women Leaders’ Summit held at a hotel on Tuesday.
He blamed the present low participation of women in the country’s economic activity mostly on cultural factors and a centuries-old value pattern.
He said fathers and brothers were a stumbling block when a woman asserted her independence to pursue a career which could enable her to make her talent flower, empower her, and help her achieve financial independence.
“Were she to be allowed to do so,” Dr Husain said, “she’d not only be an asset to her kith and kin, but also a national asset, launching the country on the road to development and progress.”
Addressing the participants directly, Dr Husain continued, “Education has now equipped you with the power of persuasion. Just tell your male next-of-kin that you are well within your right to pursue the career of your choice, one that suits your aptitude and talents. Tell them that they should differentiate between love and realism. You should be agents of change and the effect will be tremendous on future generations.”
Dr Husain said in our set-up, the main thing the male relatives thought of for young women was getting them married off. “But,” he added, “There is more to life than that, without relegating the importance of marriage, of course.”
He said this was all the more important as women had lots of potential. “Last year, 10 of the 11 top positions in the IBA’s Masters of Business Administration (MBA) examinations were bagged by girls.”
He cited two comparative examples of Nigeria and Singapore. The former, he said, had earned 100 billion dollars of oil revenues over three years, but was yet poor, partly because the oil revenues had been frittered away and partly because of lack of women’s empowerment.
Singapore, on the other hand, was a really compact country with no oil revenues, yet it was so rich and flourishing, all because it had most aptly utilised and managed its human resources. He said that while in Vietnam, he saw a large number of women riding their motorbikes late in the night. When asked by his hosts as to what these women were up to, he replied that they were factory workers who were going to their respective workplaces to man the nightshifts.
“As a result,” he said, “while Pakistan’s annual export earnings are 25 billion dollars, those of Vietnam are 75 billion dollars. Vietnam’s economic growth rate is 8 to 10 percent per annum.” (It must be mentioned here that Vietnam is a socialist country).
He lamented that the ratio of women in the country’s labour force was just 20 percent. He blamed this partly on male chauvinism which, he said, was a feature of a patriarchal society
In short, he said, the benefits of educating women yielded the highest social and productive dividends.
Earlier, Yasmin Hyder, chief executive, New World Concepts, welcoming the participants of the conference, hoped that the moot would devise ways and means to generate sustained progress of women in all fields of national endeavour.
Aamir Niazi, president, Pakistan Society for Training and Development, said, “Women have the ability to impart their talents to the nation. They are the backbone of society.” The Summit, he said, would demonstrate that it was possible for women to achieve success in a male-dominated world.
Melanne Verveer, US ambassador for global women’s issues, in her video address, highlighted the importance of empowering women and giving them access to small- and medium-scale markets, as also modern technology.
“No country can prosper if women are left behind. This conference should resolve that Pakistani women shall not be left behind,” she said. Nasra Hasan, an Austrian of Pakistani origin, who has held a number of top-ranking posts in the United Nations system, speaking on “Women and public space”, with her lecture accompanied by a slide presentation, said, ”We live in a globalised world needing localised thinking and action.” She praised the UN Charter as the best document for the people, of the people, and by the people.
She projected slides of Palestinian refugee women being enabled by UN agencies to fend for themselves and building respectable careers anew amid the constant warfare and bloodshed. She also projected the slide of a Pakistani woman police officer, Shahzadi Gulfam, who had been given an award for the United Nations’ international peace-keeping.
Besides, there were panel discussions moderated among others, by noted TV presenter and social activist Ayesha Tammy Haq, on women’s issues.
The most important item in the post-lunch session, “Post-Oscar experiences across the world”, by Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker Shermeen Obaid Chinoy, had to be cancelled and Chinoy sent in her regrets as her flight was held up at Dubai en route from Davos, Switzerland.