LAHORE: Women’s voices and their participation in all aspects of society, including business, are becoming inevitable in the wake of economic crisis. At the same time, the women across the globe are also facing immense challenges in terms of gender equality and empowerment.
This was a consensus among women leaders who spoke at a conference on “Women hold up half the sky” organised by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) and Dawn at Expo Centre on Thursday.
Delivering her keynote address, Women’s Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nation’s General Assembly Josette Dijkhuizen said some 860 million women – over a quarter of their world population – were not participating in the global economy. Even in countries like the Netherlands, she said, half of the adult female population was not financially independent.
Citing the World Bank data, Ms Dijkhuizen said women were investing 60 per cent more of their earnings than men in ‘social capital’ – food, education and health care — for their families. Stressing the need to use women’s enormous potential, she added that more jobs for women could lead to economic prosperity, boost innovation and reduce poverty.
Referring to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No 3 regarding promotion of gender equality and empowering women, Ms Dijkhuizen regretted that women entrepreneurs were still facing many barriers that eventually suppressed their potential. She stressed that this potential needed to be tapped by taking businesswomen seriously.Stating that encouraging women to start their own businesses and participate in economic growth was not enough, she stressed the need for initiatives like micro credits and inclusive financing.
“Entrepreneurship leads to empowerment and the women who have their own income have a stronger position and enjoy respect while contributing to the family’s earnings,” Ms Dijkhuizen said.
TDAP Secretary and Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha said the reality of women’s lives in Pakistan was shrouded in layers of inequality and they were extraordinarily burdened. She said economically empowered women were creating ripples in the society.
She stressed the need for recognising the hard work of Pakistani women, who despite considerable odds had struggled to carve out a niche in the country’s economic arena. Referring to Labour Force Survey finding that refined economic activity rate for women in Pakistan was mere 14 per cent, she said, these statistics did not include the 80 per cent women working in the agricultural sector as well as in informal and household sectors. She said the work of such women was neither being recognised nor recorded, or regulated by authorities.
While Pakistan is striving for enhanced exports, Ms Agha said this goal could only be achieved by recognising and harnessing production activity and potential of both men and women.
She said gender equality and women’s empowerment were critical development objectives and added that there were evidences that international trade got a boost with increase in female employment. “When women are economically empowered entire communities benefit,” she added.
English Biscuit Manufacturers’ executive management board chairperson Dr Zeelaf Munir said women’s economic independence and empowerment could be the single best defense against poverty, hunger, illiteracy, militancy, extremism and corruption. Referring to global gender gap where Pakistan ranked second worst country, Dr Munir said she was a firm believer in the potential of Pakistani women to turn this status quo around in their favour.
AHAN chairperson Shireen Arshad Khan said she had been appreciated for her active participation in legislation in the National Assembly, besides being an entrepreneur.
Former CEO Teach for Pakistan Khadija Bakhtiar said the organisation was imparting education to children and trying to rebuild Pakistan. She said despite many hurdles women with a strong commitment could still become a leader by developing four qualities –a sense of humour, doing better than their male counterparts, nurturing leadership in subordinates and looking for leadership instead of leaders.
TDAP Chief Executive S.M. Munir, First Women Bank president Charmaine Hidayatullah, Nurpur CEO and MPA Tahia Noon, Pakistan Honorary Consular to Australia Ayesha Bux, Beaconhouse Group chairperson Nasreen Mahmud Kasuri and THAAP Crafts director Sajida Vandal also spoke on the occasion.