By: Mansoor Ahmad
LAHORE: Women will remain deprived of the fruits of any economic growth until they are not treated as equal earning partners, said experts.
“There is a large gap between the quality of life of an average middleclass family and a family with single bread-earner getting minimum wage of Rs9,000,” said Dr Kishwar Dhingra, a social worker. She said even with accelerated growth the fruits of affluence would not be distributed evenly if we keep women – who form 50 percent of the population – out of the productive economy.
She said the economic outlook has improved in the past six months but it has hardly changed the life of the vulnerable class who spend more than 80 percent of their income on low nutritional quality food, leaving them with no resources for health, education and proper shelter.
She said quiet revolution has taken place in our neighborhood where women are making impact on the economy. In China and India, there are thousands of female success stories that are driving the female economy in China and India—and they are driving growth. China’s female economy is already strong, she said, adding that female earnings in China will grow from $1.3 trillion in 2010 to four trillion dollars by 2020, up from $680 billion in 2005 and $350 billion in 2000. That is more than a tenfold increase in 20 years, she revealed.
India’s female economy, she added, is more fragile. Only the most affluent urban women have a real taste of equality. They are equal partners in the prosperity of the family, she said, adding that this process has just started in Pakistan but is restricted mostly to Karachi and Lahore. For the rest, in both India and Pakistan there is a significant gender discrimination, limited access to education, low formal labor-participation rates, and low wages. Nonetheless, the overall size of the Indian female economy, she revealed, is expanding fast. In 2010, some 134 million working women earned $280 billion. According to a research conducted by creditable institutions by 2020, there will be 158 million working women and their earnings will have more than tripled to some $900 billion, she said.
Women activist Sofia Asif said that though a large number of urban educated women are active in the economy, yet most of them are teachers, doctors or personal assistants. Very few women have gone up the ladder in corporate sector of Pakistan, she added. She said recently there have been some successful textile designers who are making their mark in fashion industry.
Still, she added, there are thousands of women in Pakistan having done their masters or having professional degrees in medicine or engineers who work as housewife and do no other productive work.
She said economic wellbeing of Pakistan is closely linked to the role that women of this country will play in next 10 to 20 years. “We will be left far behind other countries if we continue to ignore our most productive workforce needed by our economy,” she said, regretting that throughout the world the women account for more than 50 percent of the workforce in apparel industries.
In Pakistan, she rued, the percent of women workers in garment factories is hardly 10 percent. “If we promote our women workforce in apparel, we will enlarge the size of the industry,” she said, adding that women will not replace men but will create more jobs through their expertise in stitching and designing.
Financial analyst Amina Usman said after the increase in cost of living in the past six years it is not possible for a sole male member of the family to ensure same quality of living for his family that he afforded six years back.
“He needs additional earning hands in the family,” she said, warning that otherwise the family would continue to suffer. She said male ego prevents some most talented educated or skilled women from entering the job market. This attitude, she added, must change for the wellbeing on the family and the country. She said otherwise the minimum wage fixed by the government would never be enough to feed and take care of the education and health of a family of six persons.