As a woman, choosing a career, especially outside of home, is undeniably not as simple as writing this sentence. But the fact of the matter is that despite the many hurdles, now more than ever (given the current economic challenges we face), it is imperative that women make use of their capabilities and engage in income-generating activity. It might not be wrong to say that the gender-partial economic involvement in Pakistan is one of the many causes of the quagmire we find ourselves in, the unfortunate reality being that we still find ourselves, seventy-six years on, debating about how best to promote female employment and entrepreneurship.
There is a myriad of reasons for the lopsided contribution of Pakistani women to the economy vis-à-vis men, but primarily they have had to grapple with societal attitudes that serve as hindrance in their economic mobility. Adherence to traditional, conservative cultural norms have led to stunted female literacy rate that had the consequence of limiting the potential of a lot of women who want to enter into professional arenas. This coupled with a majority of population grasping at straws when it comes to affording an education for their children has had the worst kind of impact on female literacy and, hence, financial empowerment. In addition to these reasons there is a lack of moral and logistical support that is required by working women who have to shoulder asymmetrical family responsibilities. As if that was not all, even highly educated women, including those with professional degrees have somehow not participated as robustly as they ideally should have.
Even when women find the opportunity to start building a career, many obstacles pop up to discourage and dishearten them: one of the most prevalent ones being gender-bias in hiring practices. For women who want to be entrepreneurs, the access to financial capital and them being not viewed as creditworthy by financial institutions is a major impediment. Harassment (as well as the fear of facing it) and discriminatory workplace environment also discourage women from seeking employment. Even women in executive positions and those who run their own businesses are not immune to harassment. This leads to making not only the families but women themselves reticent. It also contributes to the social stigma already associated with sending women out to work, and so the best that families usually do is to ‘let’ women work in specific fields that are considered safe. But this results in issues of saturation, diminished productivity and ineptitude.
Delineated above are only some of the factors, that retard female participation in the development of the country; the issue is multifaceted and complex that requires focused attention. However, there are some basic broad-stroke measures that can be taken to try to rectify the situation. The most basic being a shift in societal attitudes with regards to women adopting careers, their education, and the support that they need from their family and organizations they work for, in addition to generating awareness about various issues related to financial help and laws enacted to redress complaints regarding discrimination and harassment. Moreover, provision of career counseling is of utmost importance so women can find and adopt career options that they are best suited to and develop skills accordingly. On part of women, too, they should not underestimate themselves and try to break the barriers that retard their progress; many have done it, more can too. Here, it is pertinent to mention that there is need for women to come forward with their issues and complaints so that not only are these problems addressed but also any loopholes in laws and procedures that might be there can §be removed. This will have the effect of making the working environment physically and psychologically safer for women. HH
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