IT is a matter of grave concern that Pakistan has the highest gender wage gap in the world.
A recent World Bank initiative, Pakistan@100, has produced a report which primarily focuses on what the country will look like when it turns 100, and how it can increase growth through reforms that will drive economic and social prosperity for its citizens.
While the study touches upon several economic, environmental and social aspects, a startling fact that is highlighted is the scale of disparity between male and female participation in the workforce. For a population of 208m people — nearly half of it comprising women — the statistic of 26pc female participation is abysmal.
The report further states that for a sustainable development path, Pakistan must work on building an inclusive society that empowers groups economically as well as socially.
There are some very important lessons in this study for the government. With specific regard to female labour force participation, there is a serious gap which if addressed can drive up growth significantly.
It highlights several areas on which the government can focus in the near future in order to remove barriers to women’s empowerment. These include increasing access to education, spreading awareness of reproductive rights, working on anti-child marriage bills, passing home-based and domestic workers’ laws, establishing safer public spaces and creating an enabling environment for businesses owned by women.
For the long term, the government must pay attention to legislation that reduces gender-based discrimination, and develop programmes that increase the access of disadvantaged groups to public services and economic opportunities.
With Pakistan having the highest fertility rates in the region, it is also crucial for both the federal and provincial governments to dedicate resources to work on the difference between desired and actual fertility rates, as they limit gender empowerment; work must be done to encourage women to make their own decisions.
There is no doubt that Pakistan desperately needs more of its women to join the workforce. After all, equality is a harbinger of a just society.
The report paints a beautiful picture for a possible future for our country with the following words: “Imagine a Pakistan in which all girls and women make their own decisions on pregnancy, work and age to get married. Imagine a Pakistan in which women regularly compete with or outperform men for the best jobs as doctors, scientists, policymakers and civil servants.” The country’s leaders must make this possible.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019