Uplifting women an economic necessity




There is overwhelming evidence that gender equality – the equal participation of women in the labour market – can boost productivity and growth, enhancing both macroeconomic development and firms’ competitive positions.

Yet, in many parts of the world, deep-rooted barriers (such as lack of asset ownership and difficulty in accessing formal labour markets) hamper women’s workforce participation and thus remain a constraint on economic performance. But gender equality has gained increasing momentum as a major priority for governments, international organisations and private firms over the past decade. Over this period of time, there have been a significant number of programs targeting gender quality and women’s empowerment, many of which have achieved sustained success and provided useful models and learning. These programs though, are replete with complex challenges and achieving scale remains a significant challenge.

The Coca-Cola Company launched a programme in 2010 – The 5by20 Program – in which five million women would be enabled by 2020. Globally, the 5by20 Program managed to reach more than 1.75 million women in 64 countries till 2016.

A large number of empirical studies find that investing in women’s education and vocational training has numerous benefits, including improving human development outcomes such as child survival, infant mortality and health, and positively impacting economic growth of a country while alleviating poverty.  A study, Siddique (1998) exploring the gender issues in poverty alleviation in Bangladesh, concludes that alleviation of poverty is not possible without empowering women.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan barely acknowledges the presence of female labour force and their contribution — Pakistan’s female labour force participation rate is the lowest in the South Asian region, estimated to be a meagre 22.9% by a Pew Research Centre analysis of labour force statistics from 114 nations with data from 2010 to 2016. It is clear that if any progress is to be made, women in Pakistan need to be encouraged to participate more actively in the labour force.

Initiatives like Coca-Cola’s 5by20 are instrumental in helping women overcome some of their most basic challenges. But to ensure that women have all the necessary enabling tools to succeed and are active contributors to the economic development on a sustained basis much more needs to be done by all the key stakeholders including the government, private firms and the social sector.