ISLAMABAD: Pakistan can use the untapped economic potential of women in the workforce, which estimates indicate can boost the economy up to 30pc, by empowering women and girls to expand their skills, access to information and access to finance and assets, World Bank Country Director Illango Patchamuthu said on Thursday.

Speaking at the second Human Capital Summit in Islamabad, Mr Patchamuthu said: “Every additional year of schooling for a girl increases her future earnings by up to 10pc.”

Participants of the summit said that investing in girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment was crucial to Pakistan’s sustained growth.

While last year’s summit focused on policymaking, this year’s engaged practitioners, learning from insights on the ground in Pakistan. Building upon the ‘Girls Learn, Women Earn’ (GLWE) initiative launched in December 2019, the summit, co-hosted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and World Bank Pakistan, marked the progress being made in Pakistan in efforts to enable girls to excel in school and women to thrive in the workplace.

The initiative invites any institution to sign up to be a GLWE champion from Dec 31, provided they meet the registration criteria, which will be set by an independent panel of advisors. The GLWE campaign began on Dec 1, 2019 and will continue until March 10, 2020, just after International Women’s Day on March 8.

The challenges and constraints of the education system in Pakistan to promote girls learning were discussed by the panels. Poverty, distance between homes and schools and parental perception of schools’ safety were noted as three of the main determinants of school attendance for girls.

In the ‘Girls Learn’ panel, it was highlighted that young girls in rural areas are the least likely to have full access to education and the gender gap in enrolment is a persistent issue across education levels. In order to tackle these challenges, panelists showcased an accelerated learning programme that provides over-aged out of school children with learning opportunities as a good practice from within Pakistan.

Another panel on ‘Women Earn’ emphasised the potential for women’s access to finance and affordable, safer transport as two key areas that can unlock women’s participation in the economy. Current research shows that only 11pc of women in Pakistan utilise banking services and Pakistani women are four times less mobile than men.

Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime MinisterDrSania Nishtar said that the Ehsaas programme intends to drive forward the agenda of women empowerment.

Ehsaas follows the 50pc rule across the board for the inclusion of women in all its initiatives including interest-free loans, scholarships and asset transfers, she said.

“Likewise, Kafaalat that has recently been launched by the prime minister will ensure financial and digital inclusion of seven million disadvantaged women across Pakistan who will now benefit from the monthly stipend of Rs2,000 along with access to bank accounts and affordable smart phones,”DrNishtar added.

JICA President Dr Shinichi Kitaoka spoke on the occasion and emphasised on the importance of investment in human capital.

“Investments in human capital, such as education, health and nutrition, are inevitable for building a progressive foundation for human security,” Dr Kitaoka said.

“Learning from Japan’s experience, we know that countries can also enhance their human capital by thriving on trust and promoting the role of families and communities in national development. JICA will work pro-actively to build and nurture human capital by leading with trust and collaborating in the areas of education, health and nutrition as key building blocks of sustained human security for all,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020