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Hilal Her

Unlocking Women’s Potential Through Skills’ Development Arooj Bashir

May 2024

Women all around the globe, whether they belong to developed or developing countries, are constantly making their nations proud.In Pakistan, nearly half of the population is female, yet it is underrepresented in the labor force, which is 21 percent. They encounter frequent barriers hindering their active participation in economic development, including limited or no access to education, a lack of skills, entrenched cultural and social norms, restricted mobility, limited economic opportunities, societal expectations, and legal and policy barriers. As per the United Nations (UN) report of 2023 titled “National Report on the Status of Women in Pakistan,” the female literacy rate in Pakistan is 49 percent, whereas 53 percent of females aged between 15 and 64 never attended school. Moreover, the net enrollment rate in rural areas at the primary level is 56 percent, and 19 percent at the secondary level. The report also shows that 75 percent of women are not in education, employment, or training (NEET). The prevailing statistics highlight a concerning gap in education attainment and skill acquisition among women.

Skill development has emerged as one of the pivotal pathways to empower women, allowing them to unleash their potential to facilitate their significant participation in economic growth and development. Women in the country face a myriad of hurdles when it comes to employability and financial independence. Less educational opportunities result in little to no formal employment, low wages, poverty, gender discrimination, and cultural barriers restricting women’s participation in the workforce. These challenges require strategies that address systemic barriers for women. Women can participate in skill development programs that encompass a wide range of areas such as agriculture, vocational training, entrepreneurship, healthcare, etc. 
Before implementing such programs, it is beneficial to identify the needs of the target participants in order to determine the specific skills required for them. Not only this will aid in the evaluation of tailored training for specific participants and areas. But, identifies key sectors or industries where women’s participation can be augmented through skill development. A thorough need assessment analysis can help align a national development priority by identifying the market supply-demand gap and growth potential of the respective sector or industry.
• Recognizing women’s role in the agricultural sector, it is imperative to execute targeted interventions aimed at empowering them financially in the agriculture sector. Training programs coupled with financial assistance should be offered to those who are ambitious to start their small businesses. Implementing agricultural extension programs, crop production techniques, livestock management programs, sustainable agriculture methods, crop diversification, market-oriented agriculture, and entrepreneurship skills can be beneficial for rural women. These programs should focus on the capacity building of rural women in communication, problem-solving, and leadership. This will make rural women economically independent, effective farmers, and entrepreneurs.
• Offering women vocational skills such as tailoring and sewing, handicrafts and artisanal, jewelry making, food processing and preservation, dairy farming, and salon services can help them improve their livelihoods, especially in rural areas. The vocational training initiatives can ensure that the trainees have access to the technological resources that they need to start their own small businesses. This may include providing microfinancing tools, sewing machines, and other related materials. These initiatives will not only increase women’s employability but also curtail poverty and gender inequality.
•  Digital literacy programs, basic computer knowledge and usage, web browsing, search engines, online communication tools, safeguarding against online scams, digital marketing, e-commerce platforms, etc., will uplift their earning potential. Such initiatives will not only increase women’s digital learning, but also close the digital divide and promote inclusive, sustainable development.
• In today’s digital world, information technology (IT) is one of the fastest-moving areas. There is a need to provide computer proficiency skills, software applications and digital tools, digital marketing, cyber security principles, computer languages such as HTML/CSS, Java, and Python, software applications, mobile applications, and websites to urban women. This will help them start their full filling careers and contribute to the digital economy.
•  Providing vocational training in graphic design, nursing, healthcare administration, medical assisting, culinary arts, event planning, hotel management, web development, photography, videography, and multimedia production will promote social mobility, job creation, and gender equality in women.
• Soft skills such as communication, teamwork and networking, problem-solving, leadership development, and negotiation can help them succeed in society and the workplace. Moreover, these skills can promote their personal growth, self-confidence, professional advancement, and inclusive socio-economic development. 
The government, private sector, and NGOs, among others, have enthusiastically engaged in executing skills development programs in the country. However, the current landscape highlights the necessity for a more nuanced approach that addresses the distinct needs of women. To ensure effectiveness, it is critical to construct tailored skill development initiatives, based on the context and challenges that women face. Despite all the glass ceilings around them, women in Pakistan have had the opportunity to exert their talent and make ground-breaking achievements across many fields. With the right support and the necessary skills, they have the potential to emerge as leaders and make significant strides in shaping the future. Despite the limitations, several initiatives are addressing Pakistani women’s skill development needs and playing a significant role in empowering them.
On March 8, 2024, the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) introduced the ground-breaking women-only program named “She Fixes (theekkarungi)” to empower Pakistani women with employable skills and vocational training. This commendable endeavor aligns with sustainable development goals (SDGs) that aim to enhance gender equality, promote decent work, economic growth, and reduce inequality. 
The Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) is an organization that actively empowers girls and women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and tribal regions through projects that aim to improve literacy, provide employment opportunities, and offer vocational training. SAWERA has provided about thirty community-based women’s organizations with training in management skills. This allows them to participate in local entrepreneurial endeavors. Women facing severe poverty have also received grants to start their own enterprises, giving them a chance to build a more promising future.
The Empyrean Foundation in Pakistan has been providing skills training to women trapped in poverty in underprivileged communities since 2014. The motto of this organization is “To grant power to a young woman is to grant power to an entire country.” The Empyrean Foundation offers artisan programs and initiatives that combine professional training in fashion design technology, textile and handicraft skills, life skills, and mentoring. This organization also started an artisan- and crafts-based educational intervention and enterprise development program in Gilgit/Baltistan.
Since 2015, the Karwan Development Foundation (KDF), a non-profit organization, has dedicated itself to empowering women in Pakistan. Since 2013, KDF initiatives have focused on enhancing skills in Pakistan's rural areas. Two locations conduct the skill development programs simultaneously for about 3 months, training 50 women in gift making, embroidery, and sewing, including cutting, drafting, and stitching. These centers are mobile; moving from place to place with the assistance of local communities. The objective is to specifically focus on women in rural communities where women face hurdles in the pursuit of higher studies and to empower them.
Unilever Pakistan and Circle Women Association have collaborated to establish a digital training program specifically for qualified women in the city of Rahim Yar Khan. This program aims to provide training to a total of 50 women in the year 2022 and an additional 200 women by the year 2023. Unilever Pakistan and Circle Women Association will establish a technology hub at the Unilever School in Rahim Yar Khan. This hub will serve as a learning center for young women, where they may acquire fundamental digital skills, digital marketing knowledge, design expertise, business acumen, and also foster financial inclusion.
Khushhali Microfinance Bank in 2022 has partnered with the ‘Sindh Graduates Association’ (SGA) to launch a skill development program in Mirpurkhas, Sindh. The goal of this program is to provide more opportunities for women in poverty by offering a comprehensive tailoring course and educational sessions on financial literacy. The program aims to empower women, improve their living standards, and teach them the importance of saving and investing for their family’s future.

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