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Empowering women

In an important initiative aimed at women’s uplift in Pakistan, the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and UN Women signed a Letter of Intent on Wednesday to work more closely for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Speaking on the occasion, UNIDO Country Representative said that while supporting the government in increasing economic opportunities in all spheres of life, the collaboration will help women wherever their rights are violated, opportunities are suppressed and contributions to the economy are ignored.

Translated into action the intent can surely go a long way in improving women’s condition in this country. Needless to say, the key to gender equality is women’s economic empowerment. The Letter of Intent (LoI) promises to provide technical assistance to federal and provincial departments working for women’s development while ensuring enhanced co-ordination with various stakeholders, including the UN system, civil society, micro-finance institutions and private sectors, to improve access to economic opportunities.

This technical assistance must be geared towards creating linkages between individual advancement and wider economic progress. UNIDO has already been running Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme, facilitating gender-sensitised initiatives focused on the integration of women in non-traditional sectors. That is a substantive step towards breaking barriers, but the working environment must also be conducive to change.

Over the past few years, there has been considerable expansion in the scope of opportunities. Slowly but surely, fields that until recently were considered a male domain, are now open to women. Yet it takes time, especially in a dominantly feudal culture such as Pakistan’s, for old prejudices and discriminatory practices to die out. Hence, fear of sexual harassment at workplace remains a significant hindrance, acting as a disincentive for many women able and willing to work, and discouragement for their families.

Creditably for this government, it has undertaken extensive pro-women legislation, which includes the “Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010.” It is not enough, though, to pass laws; ensuring effective implementation is equally important. The concerned people must be aware about their existence. The aforesaid law provides for the display of a code of conduct for protection against harassment at work place. It also says “each organisation shall constitute an inquiry committee within thirty days of the enactment of the Act to enquire into complaints under this Act.” Furthermore, it provides for an Ombudsman to enquire into a complaint. But there is no evidence of any of these requirements being fulfilled by organisations employing women. UNIDO and UN Women should pay attention to this lapse.

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