Empowered Women – A Requisite for Progress

Pakistani women, since Pakistan’s inception, have made strong waves across various national and international fronts with their tremendous efforts and achievements. Today, they are striving hard in every sphere of life. Women of Pakistan in contemporary times are utilizing their skills, polishing their talents and are participating in almost all domains of life, yet much remains to be done. 
Pakistan struggles to fully tap into the talent and potential of its female population. The sociocultural norms prevalent in the Pakistani society continue to be a hindrance for women in utilizing their abilities. Even after countless rallies, innumerable dialogues and myriad laws promoting women rights and emancipation, women struggle for the fulfillment of their rights. Patriarchal segments of the society continue to define a woman as a mother, daughter and a sister, who is often shadowed by the dominant male segments and whose responsibility is limited to performing unpaid labor within the house. In some places young girls are forbidden to leave homes to even go to schools or engage in the healthy outdoor activities, instead they are made to focus on domestic activities with the result that many girls fail to develop a sound mind and a healthy body needed for the realization of their dreams. The ideals of “modesty” and “haya” are a significant obstacle for women in the access of education, medical treatment, etc. The acute situation changes but to a somewhat limited extent in the big and metropolitan cities of Pakistan. Women even well qualified ones suffer from gender biases. On jobs, they work for 9-10 hours yet are highly underpaid as compared to male counterparts. One in every five women experiences some sort of verbal or sexual harassment.
Article 25 (2) of Pakistan’s Constitution, ensures equal rights and opportunities for women, but unfortunately this is not being implemented in an efficacious manner.  As per the census of 2017, women in Pakistan constitute about 49 per cent of the total population, with only 21 per cent participating in the work force. Of that 21 per cent only 25 per cent hold a university degree, 15 per cent hold professional degrees and 5 per cent are serving the professions that they opted for. These statistics demonstrate a grim picture of women’s inadequate participation on the economic front. 
According to the Global Gender Gap Index report of 2020, that considers female political empowerment, economic participation, educational attainment and health, Pakistan stands at 151 out of 153. The glaring reason behind this dilemma is the limited job opportunities and prevalent gender bias in work places. Women, compared to their male counterparts, are at a disadvantage as a large chunk of the female population fails to acquire education owing to the cultural limitations. They are less educated, lack requisite skills and are minimally exposed to latest professional trends. The obstruction to modern education is a hindrance in women’s awareness regarding their rights, which further leads to their financial exploitation and in extreme cases leads to abuse. Laws obligating education of the girl child must be implemented. Women are often forced to work twice as hard to prove their mettle, yet are not rewarded proportionately, a factor that often forces women to quit their jobs. Even in remote rural areas unpaid labor is a norm as it is considered a part of their domestic work and not labor. According to data published in the UN Women’s Asia and Pacific flagship “Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020” report, for every one hour a man spends on unpaid care and domestic work, Pakistani women spend 11 hours doing the same.
Women’s limited participation in the workforce is a contributing factor in decelerating the economy of Pakistan. As of 2023, Pakistan’s declining per capita income will further continue to deteriorate in the coming years if women’s active participation on economic fronts is not ensured. The goal of sustainable development can only be achieved if women are provided equal opportunities and they actively engage in the economic progress of Pakistan.
To empower women, various measures need to be undertaken with absolute seriousness because our country can no longer tolerate the burden of a large part of its population not being involved in its development. Platforms where women can learn new skills and groom themselves professionally need to be established. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is an institute that plays a critical role in facilitating women in acquiring new skills and furnish them for their transition into labor market. TVET is the most viable training program for creative minds to foster entrepreneurial capacity by developing practical occupational skills for different fields in business and trade, agriculture and health, corporate and services sectors. 
Today, countless women are employing social media and successfully running their small businesses all over the world. Unfortunately, the lack of skills about Information Technology (IT) and marketing is a huge hindrance for majority of women to establish themselves as entrepreneurs. Successive government over the years have passed legislations to bridge the gender bias and disparity. Provincial government also initiated programs that will equip women with skills for financial independence. In January 2021, Sindh Assembly recognized the role of women farmers in water management and further stressed on paid labor for women farmers. This marks as a huge step in the recognition of women farmer’s agricultural services.
Pakistan Armed Forces are pioneer institutions in empowering women. Women’s participation has evolved over time and they are being employed in increasingly diversified jobs within the Armed Forces. Initially, women’s services were limited to medicine but now they are proudly serving in other departments as well. As of 2022, Pakistan army is successfully fulfilling the 15 per cent of women representation in UN peacekeeping missions. 
Pakistan is currently going through a turmoil and economic stagnation, severely lagging on Sustainable Development Goals. In order for Pakistan to make an economic revival, it must ensure the active participation of all its human capital. According to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study, women’s economic empowerment is key for growth and development. Pakistan must make sincere efforts for the attenuation of gender disparity, acquisition of education, provision of adequate healthcare facilities, etc. Women-centric development programs must be initiated that aim at making women cognizant about the modern technological trends. Innovation and modernization of the agriculture sector, as well as familiarizing rural women with new technological practices will enhance productivity rate, empower women and improve women’s living conditions.  Economists predict that women’s active participation on economic front can boost Pakistan’s GDP to 30 per cent by 2025. 
Women’s economic empowerment is indeed the way forward and it should be emphasized upon by the government and relevant development stakeholders. When women are empowered, it inevitably leads to the collective empowerment of society and the nation. HH

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