KARACHI: A tweet by a World Bank official over the weekend earned the ire of Pakistani businesswomen, with many calling it an ill-informed remark that spread misinformation.

The women, many of whom married and divorced, stressed that amongst all their business problems, their marital status was never one nor were they legally disadvantaged or discriminated.

On January 3, World Bank Country Director Illango Patchamuthu shared a tweet and blogpost: “In #Pakistan, married women cannot legally register a business in the same way as married men as the business registration procedures differ for women & men. What would #Pakistan’s economy look like if this was easier for women?”

The tweet led to a strong reaction from many women entrepreneurs.

Anum Kamran, the CEO of Buyon.pk — an e-commerce platform — a expressed shock at the tweet and blogpost. “I am a software engineer and don’t come from a business background. I am a married woman and registered two companies on my own. The process is pretty straightforward,” she says, dispelling the notion that it hinders women. “I have helped some 40 women entrepreneurs — many of them married — with the registration process and nowhere did we face any difficulties because of the marital status,” she stressed.

Fatima Anila, an Islamabad-based businesswoman and the CEO of Alishevrish and Wire (Women In Renewable Energy), was one of the first few people to call out the tweet. Talking to Dawn, she says that such statements go viral but often overlook ground realities and facts.

“For years we are making voluntary efforts to bust the myths and clarify wrong perceptions regarding business registration in Pakistan among women entrepreneurs. It takes years of efforts to make people know and come to the formal economy, and just a single tweet by a World Bank official of this sort for all that going down the drain,” says Anila, who is also the Programme Director of Global Entrepreneurship in Pakistan.

The Ministry of Finance responded via a tweet: “Process of incorporating a company in Pakistan for a married man or woman is the same. There is no additional requirement for a married woman.”

Meanwhile the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan sent out a tweet: “Please note, in law there is no gender discrimination. Any individual, having a national identity number (any gender) can become director of a company or form a new company.”

On Monday, the WB official tweeted some more. “I was glad to hear from many women entrepreneurs who were not constrained by this. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure a level playing field & further boost women entrepreneurship in Pakistan so that they can continue to make important contributions to the economy. A clear law and alignment between law & practice creates predictability for entrepreneurs and investors, both women and men,” Illango tweeted while tagging the SECP, Finance Ministry and Islamabad Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2020