Every year since 2012, October 11th is marked as the International Day of the Girl Child. The day highlights and addresses the challenges girls face; it promotes girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
The theme of the United Nations for this year is ‘With Her: A Skilled Girl Force’. The idea is to work with girls to expand on the existing learning opportunities available to them in their communities as well as create new ones and call on the global community to rethink how girls are prepared to join the workforce.
According to the 2017 Census of Pakistan, females constitute 49% of Pakistan’s population. However, when it comes to the workforce, the percentage goes up to 24% only.
Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicates that Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in Pakistan is 82.5% for men while for women it is 24.8%; three times lower than men. The data also implies that the gender gap in LFPR is one of the highest in the world. This puts Pakistan in the same league as the Arab states and countries in North Africa. Most women that participate in the workforce are unskilled and work in the informal sector i.e. as maids and cleaners, often with low pays and substandard working environment.
An IMF study estimates that if the participation of women in the workforce increases to match that of men, our GDP could increase by nearly one-third.
According to a UN report published in June 2018, in Balochistan, Women within the tribal culture do not enjoy social safety nets. They are almost entirely dependent on male members of the family with insufficient means of income. Only 2% of the rural women are literate. Illiteracy, poverty, lack of access to services are among the chief causes for distress for them.
However, when it comes to agriculture and livestock production in Balochistan, women play an essential role. Even though they are active participants of the workforce, they do not receive the compensation they deserve.
Staying true to their theme for this year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has collaborated with the Australian government and the Government of Balochistan to launch two projects in Balochistan. The first, the Australia Balochistan Agri-Business Program, the objective of which is to teach women skills they need to develop and strengthen Agri Enterprises. This would enable them to increase their income, lessen their workload and make investment decisions on their own to improve their living conditions.
The second initiative is Empowering Women in Balochistan through Agri Entrepreneurship. This project aims to empower women from different cities through development of female enterprise in the agriculture sector. The idea is to look for opportunities that are readily available to them i.e. agriculture, livestock, handicrafts and embroidery among other activities.
Projects like these are essential to social and economic growth. An ILO study indicates that by reducing the gender gap in female participation by 25%, GDP can rise by 9%, which is around $139 billion. This number is much more than the US-AID received by Pakistan in the last 16 years ($33 billion), and loans and investment for CPEC which is more than $60 billion. It is evident from these statistics that women need to play a more active role in the country’s workforce to contribute to economic growth.
We should continue to work towards finding more sustainable initiatives which would ensure that women are given all the skills necessary to support themselves as well as be active and profitable members of the workforce.