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Education indispensable for women empowerment, seminar told

Education indispensable for women empowerment, seminar told

By: Anil Datta

Karachi: The role of women in contributing to the economy can never be denied and can only be buttressed by giving them more opportunities to learn.

These views were expressed by Dr Ishrat Hussain, the dean and director of Institute of Business Administration while inaugurating International Women Leaders’ Summit organised by the New World Concepts on Tuesday.

Husain said that studies had established that girls performed better than boys in academics. “In my own institution, out of the 11 top positions only one went to a boy,” he said. “During my tenure at the State Bank of Pakistan my best employees were girls.”

However, he lamented, despite the rosy statistics it was sad that 80 percent of Pakistani women between the ages of 15 and 64 years were not part of the country’s workforce.

“The government spends at least Rs5 million in grooming a doctor but only 30 percent of women doctors remain active in the profession,” he said. “The main impediment keeping women is our culture since the first obstacles are either our brothers or fathers. The practice of putting girls at lower rungs of the ladder has been perpetuated through the ensuing generations.”

Husain said that a country like Vietnam after being ravaged by war for more than 15 years overtook Pakistan in economic development long ago. “I visited the country a couple of years ago and found women motorcycling to work for night shifts at factories,” he said. “Meanwhile in Bangladesh, female literacy and the percentage of women in workforce was higher than India or Pakistan.”

He believed that progress had to be achieved through collaboration between men and woman rather than through confrontation. “The future lies in knowledge-based economy,” he said.

Baroness Saeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the foreign office and minister of faith and communities in the UK, also spoke to the audience via a video link. She stressed the importance of education as an indispensible tool to bring about meaningful empowerment of women. Women were making their mark across the world, she said.

To her it was regrettable that two-thirds of our women are illiterate and social barriers were not a good enough excuse. But she lauded two recently passed pieces of legislation to guard women’s rights and prevent sexual harassment at workplaces.

In her keynote speech, Neera Saggi, the president of Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that women could not succeed in isolation. “The string that controls the kite is the family,” she said. “The state must give full incentives to participation of women. There is a difference between the promise of equality and equality itself.”

Saggi believed that to succeed, women had to be courageous. “Success is freedom of choice. Ability to choose is what we need,” she stressed.

The CEO of OPIC, USA, Elizabeth Littleton also addressed the conference via a video link underlined the significance of including more women as board members in organisations across the world.

The deputy governer general of State Bank of Pakistan, Kazi Abdul Muktadir said that women had always been the subjects of subjugation even though Islam or God did not discriminate between the genders.

He lamented that according to the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranked 135th on the table of provision of women’s rights. “In our country, 78 per cent organisations have no women on their governing boards,” he said.

Meanwhile, Angela Aggeler, Public Affairs Counsellor at the US Embassy in Islamabad, narrated the importance of diversity as a means for bringing about women empowerment.

‘Keep your families involved’

For Sidiqi, the ultra-conservative Afghan society born under the Taliban’s influence turned out to be a boon. But, only once she figured out how to use it to her advantage.

She believes that women who ably fulfil their familial duties are the ones most likely to achieve professional success. “Family is your support system and your cushion,” she says, “You cannot alienate them for your personal choices. Especially in a traditional society like ours, you have to keep them involved in your work and let them help you whenever they can. For example, when I was setting up my dried fruits export business, I relied on my husband’s help as he was already in the trade. For logistics, I asked sought my brother’s assistance and utilised the services of the company he ran…”

“Economic independence is a tool without which you simply cannot reach political independence. Being financially self-sufficient gives women more room to manoeuvre and eventually get to a position where they can influence others,” Sidiqi believes.

She said that women are extremely good agents for social and economic change, since whatever they learn, they pass it on to other women. “Gender equality not only leads to social and economic change but also benefits other sectors such as health and education,” she says, “Countries which invest in women see the return in their economies.”

‘Women have to be confident’

To Gursel, the worst mistake women make is to constantly doubt themselves and what they can achieve. “I had a very nice government job. It paid me well, I had easy timings and had plenty of vacations. Yet, I was not satisfied,” she confides. “Then one day, I decided to quit my job and move to a private company for a lesser pay. Everyone was aghast at my choice. My father called up my husband and asked him to stop me from taking such a ridiculous decision. But I stuck to my guns and said that even if I have to sell lemons on the street, I will. And it paid off.”

She thinks that women who invest too much in their profession sometimes forget to invest in themselves. “Every investment does not require money. You have to also invest in yourself and focus on your personal growth, along with the professional one,” she says.

Gursel is an ardent advocate of social growth propelled by a workforce comprising of both, men and women. “Think of it this way, one half of the society is doing all the production while the other half sits at home and consumes. It’s not viable, even mathematically!” she reasons.

“Girls who think that they don’t need to work just because they don’t need money, really need to change their perspective.”

She believes that for men and women to be able to work together effectively, a sense of mutual respect and cooperation must be inculcated.

‘Keep the bigger picture in mind’

Saggi believes that these days women, especially those who have grown up surrounded by the amenities of the modern age, focus too much on obtaining material things. In her view, the more time and energy one spends in that pursuit, the less flexible you become.

“The more flexible you are, the easier it is for you to work around a lot of hurdles. It reflects in your personality and, to an extent, makes others respect you more, as it shows that you will be able to manage on your own even without certain things or if something goes south,” she says.

However, women must learn how to remain on top of their game and not settle for the certain degree of professional success they happen to have achieved.

“It is very important to keep enhancing your skills and stay abreast of the new trends and developments in your field.”

Saggi thinks the traditional mindset has been ingrained in the minds of women and leads them to constantly question themselves. What’s her advice for the women who are guilt-tripping themselves? “Stop worrying about the nitty gritties and keep the bigger picture in mind. If you love your family and children and are there for them when they need you the most, it’s okay if you forget once to pack your child’s lunch. Don’t beat yourself up about it and move on with your life.”

— Profiles by Tehmina Qureshi

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