The empowerment of women in Pakistan’s corporate sector has become an important tool for the development of the country as half the country’s population are women. As a lot of business leaders and policymakers are considering the inclusion of women on the board and introducing gender diversity, the working environment in Pakistan is still not inclusive of them. The usual pattern that has been seen in the country is that there is an equal number of men and women at the entry-level positions, but half of the women quit the job midway up the career, which leaves only a few women in top positions. There is plenty of reason for this pattern, but the main reason has to be women getting married and having children. A lot of companies have started to emphasize flexible working hours and part-time job opportunities to minimize the gender gap. This article talks about current statistics behind the inclusion of women in the corporate sector, the reasons behind the gender gap, and how can it be improved.
According to a 2018 report by McKinsey Global Institute on the “Power of Parity”, more than USD30 billion can be added to Pakistan’s GDP if it starts working on the parity between men and women. The report also noted that by 2025, USD4.5 trillion can be added annually to the GDP if policymakers set out to increase female participation in the workforce.
ii. Another report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tells that Pakistan’s GDP can be increased by 30% if women are more empowered in the labour force.
iii. Unfortunately, the employment rate for women is only 4.3% in Pakistan. The data presented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicates that only 24.8% of the total women population are part of the labour force.iv On the Global Gender Gap Index Pakistan has been in second last to the last position for the past eight years.v This lack of participation by women is at the root of many economical or demographical constraints that the country faces.
Reasons behind the gender gap
Pakistani society is male-dominated and it has been this way for so long that it is ingrained in the minds of people that most of the women are not even capable of reaching certain job positions and that mentality alone is the root reason behind gender disparity.
Several other factors restrict women in Pakistan from participation in the labour force including a lower rate of educational attainment, family size and income, women being the representative of the household, cultural and social norms, marital status, extreme work conditions and workplace harassment and discrimination amongst other.
Almost 50% of Pakistani women have not been to school and only 10% of women have secondary and post-secondary education.
Educations play a major role when it comes to landing a good job in the corporate sector. The reason behind this low rate of educational attainment in women is family sizes and income. A lot of people, due to limited income, prefer to invest in their sons’ education than that of their daughters.
Secondly, women who even somehow manage to get post-secondary education and get a job often quit it after a short period because of social norms and cultural demands. In Pakistan, it is considered that women are supposed to take care of the house and family while the men of the family will earn. Whether that entire thing is justified or not, is debatable but for the sake of this article let’s stick to the patterns that are followed in the country for years.
Women in Pakistan are 10 times more involved in household chores and child care than men which leaves them with very less time at hand for gaining skills and jobs. There is a huge burden of unpaid care work on women and especially with the increasing fertility rate, the problem keeps increasing as more children only lead to more unpaid care work. All of this also affects the health conditions of women which again is the reason why women are unable to participate in the corporate sector.
Another major reason is safety concerns. The majority of the women do not even feel safe walking through the neighbourhood let alone be involved in the male-dominated corporate sector. The number of sexual and workplace harassment keep increasing and very little is done in this regard. Lastly, Pakistan has only one percent of women entrepreneurs as they experience a lot of challenges regarding limited access to the market and financial constraints.
How can it be improved?
The majority of the problems exist due to the perceptions and so-called cultural norms that people have created themselves. Society is male-dominated and women can be empowered only by changing the perception of male youth about them. Secondly, proper steps towards female education need to be taken. Proper legislation, that prohibits workplace discrimination and harassment, promotes equal pay, even implemented in the most lacklustre way will lead to the change in attitude and allow inspection by the labour department and court action for enforcement. Top businesses need to promote gender equality through their policies. Also, both public and private sectors must contribute to reducing the unpaid child care burden of women by introducing safe daycare centres and paid maternity and paternity leaves. Lastly, behavioural transformation is very important. The association of gender with certain roles needs to be stopped. Men in the family need to start playing a role in household chores and sharing unpaid care work with women.
Some of these changes have already been worked on. The senate of Pakistan made history by passing the Maternity and Paternity leave act 2019, very recently which applies to all public-private sector establishments under the administrative control of the federal government, but the actual implementation of such laws is still required.
The article was written by Bilal Ahmad, Managing Director, BAZ. For inquiries, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org