GIVEN its multidimensional context, women’s empowerment in Pakistan is defined as the power to effect socioeconomic change if structures that dictate social, political and economic power-holding are altered. Because economic empowerment is intertwined with gender equality and equity, changes in policy and social structures, such as land and labour reforms, educational opportunities, and autonomous decision-making for women, are prerequisites. According to the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre’s report, Empowering Women in South Asia, two out of every 10 women participate in the labour force in Pakistan, with the majority working in low-quality jobs, unrecognised and unaware of their rights. In fact, with 12 million women home-based workers in Pakistan and more than 3m concentrated in urban areas and 8.5m in rural districts, the government’s failure to improve working conditions and workers’ rights has widened labour inequity. This gross negligence will impact economic development projects if fiscal policies do not include gender-based budgeting plans. The fact that increasing women’s pay to equal that of men would raise per capita income by 14pc in 2020 in developing countries is an interesting observation in this context. Moreover, pending issues of low wages, the lack of social security, including discriminatory laws and poor working conditions, persistently impede women’s socioeconomic indicators. In the case of home-based workers, they toil long hours at the cost of their health, and have little access to and knowledge of the market. Even so, these invisible women are unrecognised in official statistics, with no minimum wage or health benefits. Although their abject working conditions are known, the government has yet to work on a national policy that focuses on legal protections for them.
Meanwhile, with 12.5m children in the labour force deprived of an education and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, the government must develop child protection mechanisms and legislation to ensure children go to school. Child labour will only contribute to disillusionment over lost opportunities among a generation liable to go towards militancy. Allocating increased resources to support families to keep children out of income-generating activities is another recommendation. While Vision 2025 is the PML-N’s golden blueprint, it is capacity-building and implementation of ideas for inclusive and pro-poor macroeconomic policies that are crucial. Reducing the wage gap and lending directly to women will set the direction for future progress.