As the month of Ramzan comes to a close and Eid festivities begin, women all over Pakistan engage in activities to make sure that they make this celebration one to be cherished, for their families, for the rest of the year. They are the ones who need to pass on the baton of Ramzan and Eid culture from one generation to the next in order to keep alive the spirit of this time of the year, as these traditions aspire to bring positive change in the society. And just as importantly, they are required to play an important role in other aspects of national life.
Utilization of available resources in the most efficient way for maximum gains, lies at the core of economics. One of the most significant resources is the female half of the human capital. Hence, the phenomenon of female economic activity and women's employment have been at the forefront, especially after the Industrial Revolution. Today, women are the backbone of the economy and society. Employment of women acts as a barometer to gauge development and progress of a country, and a tool for poverty reduction and eventual eradication. Countries that were astute to realized the importance of tapping in to this potential, were able to progress at a much faster pace. Therefore, it would just be stating the obvious that integration of women into economic sphere is vital for development and prosperity of Pakistan. However, the issue at hand is why, despite the obvious, this potential remains under-utilized.
A little under 50% of Pakistan’s population is female and although recent years have seen a significant rise in the involvement of women in the economy but their contribution remains exiguous. Recent statistics suggest that only 22.3% of women in Pakistan are formally employed with their employment rate being a paltry 4.3%. The reasons for this are manifold: ignorance of opportunity, discrimination in education and training, hiring, emolument, lack of access to productive resources like property ( including land rights), financial crediting, investment and other preconditions for economic activities, limited sharing of domestic responsibilities, repeated childbearing, cultural and religious factors, issues of harassment – all contribute to restricted employment and impediments in economic and professional opportunities for women.
Although it is true that women play a vital role in the ‘care economy’ within the household and in agriculture sector in rural areas, this work is not remunerated and hence under-valued despite its importance in ensuring a productive work force. According to W. Arthur Lewis, “The transfer of women’s work from the household to commercial employment is one of the most notable features of economic development,” so the need of the hour is for more women to become part of the productive workforce by engaging in paid work, so the country can be pulled out of the dire economic straits it finds itself in.
Given the current economic challenges that face Pakistan, it is imperative that we tap in to the vast potential that is its female population and their participation in economic life be encouraged, in fact, ensured. According to a recent report by the IMF, Pakistan’s GDP can increase by up to 30% if women play a more active role in its economy. The time is now, that the contribution of women, for improving the state of the economy, as an essential element be realized, since heavy dependence on only male participation in the economy has failed to yield the desired results.
It needs no emphasis that for the national economy to achieve maximum productivity, active participation of both sexes is necessary. Hence, a comprehensive strategy must be developed to dismantle the barriers that restrict female engagement in the economy and to eliminate gender disparity in economic participation – as has been exemplified by the inclusion of female officers in the Armed Forces of Pakistan. In order to grow as an economically self-sufficient nation, the society and its institutions need to work in concert to promote women’s economic potential so they become involved in more productive activities. We cannot continue to work at less than a 100% and expect to accomplish an efficiently performing economy. HH
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