Women economic empowerment is the buzzword in today’s world, with states and organizations intensified fight to alleviate the plight of the female gender, putting much focus on her health, education and most importantly economic empowerment in order to achieve UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 21st century powered by technology holds immense potential for economic empowerment, especially for women. In countries like Pakistan that still possess a patriarchal mindset – realities are changing by virtually leveraging the power of tech.
A woman’s financial autonomy – which was once governed by a restriction of her bodily movements – have seen the light of day through the World Wide Web. The digital realm has enabled her not only to be educated, mentored through the Internet, she has now become one of the foremost forces that trigger growth by being an entrepreneur, supplier of goods and services, a savvy media person and what have you. All by tapping into the potential of virtual world.
Without doubt, there is more ground that needs to be covered in Pakistan as far as women’s inclusion in technology and the digital world is concerned.
This may be attributed to a number of reasons from lack of awareness among women and girls about the positive utilization of the Internet – rather than it being solely used for social media interaction to a dearth of women-centric opportunities and e-forums where a woman’s potential can be actualized.
According to Founder Women Engineers Pakistan (WEP), Ramla Qureshi: “Women in Pakistan are a staggering 50% of the population. While these women are extremely talented, and in no way less than their male counterparts, they do lack the support required for a progressing nation. Most jobs for women in Pakistan are either domestic or agricultural. But even the women who make it to higher education feel discouraged towards STEM studies, as society labels these as “masculine,” creating a divide that is only realized when suddenly you find yourself the only girl in a mechanical engineering classroom of 110 students. The Women Engineers Pakistan works to provide a platform for women in STEM fields, advocating for their rights, and working to alleviate the gaping gender gaps, thereby directly contributing towards the progress of the country.”
Countries suffering from economic turmoil are mostly those where women are marginalized and this huge population is not included in the workforce. Realizing untapped potential of Pakistani women can actually bring the country into the forefront of development. But it needs schemes not only on the State level, but requires all stakeholders – public and private sectors, educational institutions, NGOs and civil society to play its part and pay its due.
It all starts with breaking gendered roles and stereotype in terms of vocation. Equally is the fundamental part of devising women-centric policies and laws that trigger change by encouraging women to step up and take lead in terms of entrepreneurship. More important is also the implementation of such laws and policies.
Another aspect that has yet to gain momentum in Pakistan is the monumental role mentorship that hones the skills and expertise of its female population.
Many global entities such as Women Who Code, Women Alliance for Knowledge Exchange (WAKE) and the Aspire Foundation have emerged to empower women by helping them realize their capabilities to the fullest.
In an interview titled ‘Breaking the Gender Code’, US-based entity, Women Who Code’s founder Alaina Percival opined: “Women and girls should definitely be mentored in their careers. People at the senior levels can also benefit through advocacy and mentoring. It is so important to have someone within your organization, maybe one level up, giving you advice on what it is going to take to succeed and actually helps you navigate politics, assists you in planning out career – in short championing YOU through your career. It triggers such a tremendous impact. It is just a little more uncomfortable for women to talk about their successes and a little more uncomfortable for society to hear us talk about it.”
Bringing this notion to the local arena, there are a few entities that are striving to make a difference in a Pakistani woman’s life by providing her access to learning and therefore opening doors to opportunities. Women’s Digital League is one organization that offers a great platform where women can not only look for new avenues in terms of vocation; but also provides training for professional skill development.
Another initiative, which has more recently arisen in the digital foray, is an alliance between Women Engineers Pakistan and Ananke – a non-profit digital platform celebrating visionary women across the MENA and beyond. A groundbreaking online internship program, the alliance seeks to empower Pakistani girls in the fields of new media, digital technology, public relations and journalism. The uniqueness about the initiative is women and girls from anywhere in the world can apply. Selected applicants are then groomed in a professional digital environment that boasts diversity of thought and opinion due to its focus on multi-culturalism. The program is currently inviting applications for its second phase.
All said and done, what we need to realize as Pakistanis is the important role of women in the economic development of the country. It is impossible to grow – let alone accomplish sustainability – without the participation of half of the country’s population. This can only be achieved by cementing the glass ceilings via breaking stereotypes, transforming rigidity into flexibility and allowing women to explore their full potential.
To reiterate, tangible results can become a reality through designing and implementing women-centric policies that encourage a viable environment for female entrepreneurship in the country. There is also a need to compile a database of information relating to Pakistani women that can also be used as a blueprint or a starting point for human development. Additionally, raising awareness among women about utilizing and leveraging the immense power of ICTs is another factor that cannot be ignored in this advanced age of technology. More and more organizations, non-profits, corporates and civil society should step up and empower women by offering them mentoring platforms – after all it all makes business sense!
image credit: womenxpakistan.com