KARACHI: Highlighting the cultural and social barriers Pakistani women face and even those who attain education in the fields of science and technology, speakers at a dialogue held at a local hotel on Friday evening called upon the government to take measures to increase women’s participation in the workforce and close the gaps between the output of higher education and the requirements of the job market.

Organised in connection with International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the event was attended by several prominent women leaders from corporate, science and social impact circles. It was organised by Gender Connect Portal (GCP).

Sharing their concern over last year’s Global Gender Gap Report that ranked Pakistan at 153rd out of 156 countries, speakers said that the country lagged far behind other South Asian countries on all the sub-indexes of gender parity, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

“Empowerment is needed at all levels, but the most vulnerable are those at the bottom of the pyramid and in rural settings. It is our responsibility to reach out to them and help them improve their life by breaking the cycle of poverty through entrepreneurship and low-cost, low-tech interventions,” said seasoned architect Yasmeen Lari.

Call to take measures to increase women’s participation in workforce

Capacity building for small scale entrepreneurship, health and education from the bottom up was also needed urgently, she added.

Dr Nuzhat Khan, GCP founder and former director general of the National Institute of Oceanography, explained the need for setting up the forum and said it’s a think tank of leading professional women and men from diverse backgrounds with a vision to reduce the gender gap.

“The focus is on creating opportunities for conversation, advocacy, policy papers and action plans to speed up appropriate actions to improve women representation and participation at all levels,” she said.

She also talked about the factors hampering women’s empowerment and said female dropout from the workforce was high and that the government and private sector institutions needed to play their part to create an enabling environment to bring a positive change in society.

“Progress in Pakistan will be delayed if women’s participation in the workforce is not increased and the gap between output of higher education and the requirements of the job market remains,” she said.

Dr Farah Zaidi representing the Pakistani Entrepreneurs Network said it’s important to look into the cultural aspects holding back our girls and women. Mentoring and showcasing positive role models, she said, were necessary steps in creating a revolution in girls in science.

“There have been many female inventors, founders and scientists — yet the history books don’t have them so they are never mentioned and consequently girls don’t have the role models they need,” she added.

Nasreen Haque, vice president of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, said there was insufficient data on women’s presence in the workforce.

“This lack of visibility is isolating women in general and internationally creating a problem because we don’t see positive role models for our women. A portal and a dedicated think tank is needed to be purposely built to collect and highlight steps in progress or lack thereof. Additionally, safe urban and rural spaces like this one is needed to be developed where women can deliberate, work, study and do business,” she said.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2022

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