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Poor representation

March 11, 2019

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TO celebrate International Women’s Day, over 70 stock exchanges across the world saw women leaders from the business community ring the bell for greater gender representation. In Karachi, 15 businesswomen took part in the global event, as they rang the bell at the Pakistan Stock Exchange on March 8. It was a symbolic event, but one that highlighted an important issue: the lack of gender diversity in the corporate sector, particularly here at home. Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps is mentioned in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet, despite all the rhetoric of equality that corporations use each Women’s Day, in reality few women actually break the glass ceiling. Last year, for instance, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report assessed 149 countries on gender equality on four indicators: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Pakistan held the second last position at 148. Then the Women on Board Pakistan trust in a survey found that there were only 41 women chairpersons, 10 CEOs and 11 CFOs in the 506 companies they surveyed in 2018. Out of 3,942 directors, a mere 11pc were women. Meanwhile, the State Bank has also encouraged credit provision to women entrepreneurs to help more women set up their businesses. It is unfortunate though that an SECP regulation declaring that all public interest licensed companies should have at least one woman on their board was recently relaxed for the time being.

Until a conscious effort is made to introduce and implement affirmative action and job quotas by the state and private sector, not much will change on the ground for women. And this extends beyond the corporate world to all professions where women are underrepresented, discouraged from entering, or forced to leave due to a hostile environment. It is certainly not because of lack of qualification or lack of competency that there are fewer women in the workplace or in positions of authority, but more likely due to societal, cultural and familial stigmas and constraints. The belief that women belong in the home is so ingrained in our collective psyche that it will take generations to eradicate it. But we must start working towards it today. It is now a widely accepted fact that economically empowered women benefit the economy and help eradicate poverty. In other words, when women prosper, society prospers.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019