Women - Catalysts for Economic Development

Sustainable economic growth is most desirous and sought-after goal for all nations, and for this purpose everyone is utilizing all their resources and factors, including technological upgradation and change in market mechanisms and so on. However, one cannot under-rate the importance of human resource. It is no wrong to put as, the likelihood of desired economic growth reduces with balanced participation of both men and women. By utilizing human resource effectively at its optimum level, concept of sustainable economic growth is very much achievable.

According to an OECD report, women account for 70% of the world’s poor because of unequal employment opportunities or their tiresome involvement in unpaid work. As a matter of fact, bringing them out of this poverty and providing them with better employment opportunities will not only bring change in their standards but also will contribute towards country’s economic development.

Enhancing women’s role is essential for poverty reduction and development in terms of economic progression, along with sustainable development and their contribution towards family well-being and reduction in fertility rate. Despite the known facts, women are still facing hurdles in contributing towards their country’s progression. Low investment in women education, restrictions from husbands, and minimal access to assets and services are barriers in women’s participation.

A number of studies from around the world – from the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development, the United Nations, policy think thanks and private sectors – shows that countries with equal women participation have healthy economies. The OECD reports that women’s contribution in an economy is positively associated with GDP. Another study of The World Economic Forum put forward that countries without gender discrimination have competitive economies rising with higher pace. Putting it differently, the more the female labor force, the higher the chances of economic development.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015 ranks Pakistan 143 out of 145 countries in economic participation and opportunities. Only 22 percent of women participate in the economic sphere in Pakistan compared to 67.8 percent men, making it the second lowest female participation country in region followed by Afghanistan. The struggle to bring sustainable economic development into the country, without giving recognition to women, is like utilizing half of your resources to get a full product.

To change the existing scenario, a focus on women’s education and skills is a must. It is important, as half the country’s population comprises of women, making their participation mandatory in every sphere of life. The country must enable women to use their passion, potential and creativity for sustainable economic gains. However, ignorance towards women empowerment will be a great set back to the country’s desired economic development, as it will not move forward at expected pace.

Despite having surpassed in every field of life i.e. as doctors, engineers, pilots, forces, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalists, social-workers and list goes on and on, the vitality and potential [of women] never got realized since the creation of Pakistan. Patriarchal norms of Pakistani culture and male-oriented development projects are barriers in the way of women’s progression in both the government and private spheres. Societal perception of working women, inadequate recognition, ignorance to opportunities, and limited mobility, are blockades in integrating women in developmental roles, making women passive observers in the country’s economic sector.

A recent research study [of Pakistan] shows that, nearly, 65 percent of female doctors, and 80 percent of business graduates stop working after marriage. Merely 10 percent of females work after their marriage - that is a serious concern. Despite knowing that women’s contribution in the economic sphere is a gateway to any country’s sustainable economic development, still women face legal socio-cultural barriers. Loss of $47 billion accounts for lower women labor force participation in economic development only in East Asian and Pacific countries, according to Asian Development Bank report.

Numerous studies have found that men, as compared to women, get financial assistance with little or no difficulty. Keeping this in view, the World Bank introduced the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) this year. This will help women to get capital, technology and network of markets to expand their business. As the report highlights, 30% of small and medium enterprises are run by women whereas, and 70% of women have no access to financial products and services.

Given the foregoing, for gaining sustainable economic growth, we must incorporate women in government and private firms, as no nation can grow without women’s contribution. For this purpose, the government should take productive steps in ensuring women’s contribution in the economic sphere. In this regard, the government should firstly implement policies making it mandatory to provide the latest updated talent management systems for engaging women development sector. Secondly, it should generate women seeking employment opportunities and make investments in women-owned business. Lastly, the government should design its curriculum in a way that ensures public education is mandatory till the intermediate level, and should contain content that encourages girls to pursue their career in economic development.

I am a researcher and have been working as project assistant at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. Earlier, I had been actively involved in writing various publications as a featured writer, editor and production assistant. I have a few research papers and a newspaper article to my credit.