Women and the Prosperity Imperative

Most working women endure the double-burden syndrome – the combination of work and domestic responsibilities. They have to deliver on the expectation of the anytime-anywhere-performance-model. They often struggle with low pay scales, differential treatment, impediments to growth, insensitive human resource policies, and harassment.

We are living in a world today which is characterized by serious challenges, profound changes and unprecedented demands. These also mirror in Pakistan, which is part of the global community. 
In such a context, we cannot afford to disregard the talent, skills, productive potential, and leadership acumen of women, who constitute 52% of Pakistan’s population. 
At the outset, I would like to underscore that the status of women in a society interplays with many variables — cross-cutting issues of access, rights, opportunities and empowerment. Also, where governments govern well, have strong institutions, choose to pursue pro-poor growth, and make investments in education and health, population outcomes are not just better, they are also better distributed, and men and women both benefit from that. 
It is well established that inequities of power, money and resources are more pronounced when viewed from the gender lens. Paradoxically, evidence also shows that gender inequality is a significant barrier to prosperity. 
It is bad for economics, it doesn’t augur well for businesses and hurts social outcomes. It is bad for economics because it deprives economies of          women’s talents, reduces women’s productive    potential, constrains consumption, diminishes tax yields and curtails the benefits of investment in female education by forcing women in to roles where they can’t make full use of their skills and  capabilities.
Lack of gender diversity is also bad for businesses because it reduces talent pools available to organizations, deprives them of the skills women bring to boardrooms, offices, shop floors, stores and farms; it denies them access to women’s understanding of consumer preferences; and is a recipe for low morale, and poor retention rates.
Gender inequality also has a strong correlation with poor social outcomes. Female education is one of the strongest determinants of health status achievements. There is a higher likelihood of expenditure on health, education and nutrition in homes where women earn and are empowered and a higher likelihood that savings will accrue social benefits in the short and long term
Unfortunately, many women in our country — and most other countries of the world — face impediments to personal and professional development. There are systemic barriers to the participation of women in economic life and growth of women in the workforce.
Most working women endure the double-burden syndrome – the combination of work and domestic responsibilities. They have to deliver on the expectation of the anytime-anywhere-performance-model. They often struggle with low pay scales, differential treatment, impediments to growth, insensitive human resource policies, and harassment.
Unless we overcome these barriers, we will not be able to address the existing inequalities, which constrain our ability to harness women’s talents in all socio-economic spheres. 
The good news for us is that there is a growing recognition of the importance of overcoming the workforce gender gap given its potential to benefit all endpoints. Also, there is increasing recognition that institutional enablers can play an important role in making women’s talents mainstream. A number of public policy measures can be taken to bridge the workforce gender gap. Beginning with mandating data segregation by gender across all related information sources and appropriate investments in mentoring, training opportunities, peer-to-peer learning and capacity building. It is important to systematically ensure women’s access to credit, transport for work, right to inheritance, and gender equity across all human resource policies. Women can have a special role in the workforce of a future, which is being rapidly transformed by technology, digitization and burgeoning innovations — and we must harness that potential. 
Pakistan has been successful in narrowing the gender gap in higher education over a decade-and-a-half. This holds promise for better gender-balanced workplaces in the future. To achieve this end-point, gender sensitive labor market and workplace policies are necessary — but they are not sufficient. We must also focus on leadership development. Many of us know that for women, there is not ‘one’ glass ceiling but ‘many’ and an entire pipeline towards the top that is leaking women at every transitional point — and it is critical that we also bridge the leadership gender gap. 


The writer is co-chair of the WHO High-Level Global Commission on NCDs, Chair of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Institute for Global Health, and Advisor to the Federal Government of Germany on Global Health. She is the founder of Heartfile and former Federal Minister of Pakistan.

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