I come from a land with immense possibilities and opportunities for every individual and yet it is a land of contrasts. Gender determines for most part the course of our lives. For women life does not come easy in any part of the world.
But in Pakistan it comes with a lot more challenges. Some of those barriers are to observe our limits within our homes, at work or public places. Even when it comes to setting up our own businesses, there are certain barriers due to which the total number of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan makes for less than 1% of the entire population. Come to think of some facts which the following statistics vividly bring forth:
a) Pakistan is the 6th most populous country of the world with an estimated 190 million population.
b) It has 57.2 million people of its population in the workforce, which makes it 9th largest country with available workforce, most of which goes to work in gulf countries.
c) Being an agricultural country, it has 43% of its workforce associated with agriculture and only 36.6% work in service sectors.
d) Woman population is in a proportion of 51 to 49.
e) As of the year 2008, there were only 21.8% women, comprising of only 9 million women active in the job market. However, by 2014-2015, Labour Force Statistics by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics show a rise of 15.81% woman workforce which means over 30 million have taken up miscellaneous jobs.
f) It was also deducted from a research that women received comparatively less income than men.
The above statistics paint a bleak scenario and state of things. However, it is also noteworthy that the growth rate of working women in Pakistan is 6.5% annually. Now that we have numbers, it is time to examine what obstacles and barriers stand in the way of their independent employment and businesses.
First and foremost, women find it hard to bypass the social restrictions on them imposed on them domestically. Some families think it absolutely unethical for women to cross their threshold into the markets, talk to any man outside of home and family, not observe pardah (veil) or depend on men for their livelihood.
Independence is synonymous of rebellion in the case of women in this part of the world. Secondly, women are low paid because of their lack of formal education and trainings. Since they do not have enough background, skill set or knowledge, they end up doing jobs in unorganized service sectors such as factories, domestic services etc.
Consequently, their earnings are not commendable, their jobs are not stable and their productivity is noticeably low. The other parts of the world have long embraced the concept of woman entrepreneurship. For the West it was early 19th century, primarily thanks to the movement of feminism on the rise that women set up their own home-based businesses.
Currently, there are 126 million women entrepreneurs all over the world and the world is expecting to have another one billion in another decade. Pakistan is way too short for such a leap of faith by the fair gender. To the 1% women entrepreneurs handling very small household businesses earn negligible profit rates.
Most of them are making meager profits margining to less than 1 million. International Labour Organization (ILO) informs that 39% of businesswomen engaged in very small business employ less than 100 workers, whereas the medium sized businesses comprised 9% with only 100 to 250 employees.
The degree of social class plays an important role in determining the possibility of setting up your own enterprise. Women from the upper class and urban areas can easily establish a business than those in the rural areas and from middle or lower classes. The nature of these small business owned by women is usually women-based such as boutiques, parlours, bakeries, handicrafts and jewelry etc.
The major obstacle in blocking self-employment and business opportunities for women in Pakistan is the strict enforcement of the patriarchal social system which restricts the free mobility of women and thus limits their social networking. Consequently, marketing of the products and finding the right markets becomes next to impossible for these women.
There are several institutions working in Pakistan to end this trend of discrimination for women independence and their contribution to national economy. One such organization is SMEDA (The small and medium enterprise development authority) in Pakistan, which was established in 1988 by the Government of Pakistan.
In 2002, SMEDA developed a special cell for support to women entrepreneurs called Women Entrepreneurs Development Cell (WEDC) in developing the infrastructure of small and medium businesses and to bridge up the gap of information about available markets, current business trends, import and export requirements and opportunities and networking.
Another organization working in this area is First Microfinance Bank which was also established in the year 2002 with support from Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) whicha provides financial support to these audacious women in accomplishing their endeavors.
Keeping in mind some of the recent actions of Pakistani government to further the cause of woman entrepreneurship the day is not far when an economic revolution will reform the approach of the society towards women independence and empowerment.
Most recently a change in the attitudes of society towards women empowerment and economic independence has been observed because of the determination and courage of several women who have not just bypassed the barriers set to restraint their growth, but also began to realize their own lacking of formal education and are stepping forward to overcome their lacking in every area.
It can be safely said that it is only a matter of a decade for women to break the trend of economic dependence and inactive passivity extending over centuries to come forth in the true light of their full potential and tell the world what they are capable of doing and achieving. It is time the nation understands the importance of the self-reliant, educated Pakistani women.