Issues and Challenges

Empowering Women with E-Commerce

The world is witnessing a global transition in electronic business as e-commerce has already proven its importance, especially from a gender perspective. Women, after breaking the barriers of access to information technology (IT) have made substantial gains along with shifts in social attitudes towards empowerment. E-commerce includes the process of sale and purchase of goods or services via internet and transfer of money and data to perform monetary transactions. 
The 21st century stands as a testament to some of the greatest innovations and technological advancements that have changed the essential nature of human communication and interactions. Today, lives are driven by technology and we are all dependent on gadgets and internet. The world has become an interconnected global village due to internet and it acts as a global marketplace due to simultaneous advancements in e-commerce. The trend of e-commerce has seen rapid increase in recent years with the development and easy accessibility of internet. This online market trend has increased manifold due to the coronavirus, making it an extremely vital sector for the economy.
There is no better time than now for new businesses to start their journey considering the growing attention towards e-commerce because of the pandemic. The future of e-commerce is incredibly bright especially for women entrepreneurs who have impediments in going out of their homes or travelling for access to bigger markets and as a result have to be limited to local markets only. Access to information is providing additional tools for women entrepreneurs especially those owning small companies by opening new lines of work for marginalized women of the community.  
The e-commerce world seems to be well suited for female entrepreneurs in countries like Pakistan where female representation in traditional markets is meagre. These businesses do not affect their stereotypical role of being homemakers and they continue to take on their traditional responsibilities while managing their businesses. Before estimating the profits e-commerce can help reap for our economy by engaging women in businesses (with their ease and comfort of flexible timing intact), we need to understand that it requires disciplined hard work and demands right decision making skills along with complete knowledge of how to compete on online platforms. 
By the look of it, all you need to do is build an e-commerce website featuring the products and services you deal in, and you are ready to sell them to the world but practically it is not that simple. For all those ambitious entrepreneurs, it is important to sell the products using right marketing skills, advertising the features and displaying the products in most presentable ways. Women belonging to far off areas should be trained on social media, teaching them about various marketing tactics like how to respond to clients in a timely manner and how to connect to the courier services that are pocket friendly, etc. 
Many e-commerce options are still left unexplored by Pakistani women entrepreneurs. Government of Pakistan needs to empower women entrepreneurs by equipping them with e-commerce knowledge and promoting digital business platforms in the country making women essential contributors to Pakistan’s economy. 
Smart Technology and Related Products
In this digital age, everyone needs to be connected to digital markets with smart technologies. Government should provide internet connections in every city so that no woman is left deprived of technology and has access to the global market while staying at her home. 
Online Education and Learning
It might not sound surprising that today education has acquired a new dimension in the form of online teaching and learning opportunities. Many online courses have been introduced by the government and private sector to help in advancement of professional growth and economic empowerment. Knowledge is no longer limited to the four walls of a classroom but has now expanded to everyone whether sitting at home or at the workplace. The Government of Punjab has initiated a number of free online e-commerce courses to help people by providing them with relevant knowledge from reputed and efficient teachers and instructors. Online Qur’an tuitions are also an additional line in the domain of education and learning that is trending.
Groceries
The demand for household groceries continues to grow. Online grocery stores and homemade food businesses have flourished because of the delivery ease of required goods at the doorstep. There is still room for many new ventures delivering fresh, organic and healthy homemade food products at reasonable prices to the customers,especially the working people, who cannot invest their time in grocery shopping. 
Beauty and Skincare Products 
The growing demand for beauty and healthcare products, especially organic ones that are natural and good for skin, is yet another area where women can earn well while sitting at home, selling products globally. Global statistics suggest that the organic skincare market will contribute to around $22 billion in sales by the year 2024. Beauty sector holds great opportunities for women entrepreneurs that can be enhanced by providing them with basic training on preserving the organic products and proper packaging for safe delivery. 
Jewelry and Fashion Accessories 
People avoid traditional shopping by visiting malls and stores due to pandemic protocols, health care issues, time constraints and the hectic job of going from shop to shop. Online shopping is considered a better alternative that provides multiple options with just one click. Interestingly, handcrafted jewelry and ethnic fashion are gaining attention lately, which is a delight since it promotes the talent of traditional and local artisans and jewelry makers as well as potential designers. In Pakistan, female jewelry designers are attracting the attention of many by designing attractive collections along with customized designs. The fashion sector is thriving, however, it needs attention that the resellers are making most of the profit while the original workers are still kept deprived of their rightful profit. By educating the original craftsmen and women and providing them with the requisite training, we will definitely be making them independent. 
To deal with the public policy issues that have been surrounding the e-commerce sector following are some of the suggested measures that the can be adopted:
•    Bridging the digital divide by letting everyone have access to the internet no matter where they live.
•    Legal recognition of e-commerce transactions, activating microfinance banking and providing easy money transfer solutions 
•    Protection from fraud in online transactions on both consumer and sellers’ side 
•    Formulating active policies on protection of consumers’ right to privacy
•    Laws on protection of intellectual property
•  Electronic-Small and Medium Enterprises (e-SMEs) should also be developed by providing incentives to encourage small and medium level companies and investors to help grow small-scale industries by connecting them with the global market. Programs to develop e-SMEs, providing technical assistance to SMEs should be initiated to help promote e-commerce in the country 
•    Low borrowing rates to individuals who want to start-up with their handicrafts
•    Incentives to SMEs that use e-commerce in their business operations 
•    Broadening credit extension facilities and training on using the benefits of e-commerce, and 
•   Special schemes should be provided for women in cottage and small scale industries who want to show their skillset to the outer world through trade.
Women’s representation is important in industry. Pakistan needs to empower its women in trade and support them equally, and train the male counterparts on how to help their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters in connecting to the global market through e-commerce. This will help drive the growth of our country’s economy and prosperity of our public at large. HH


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