Prerequisites for growth—I

December 15, 2021

Pakistan falls short of its growth objectives time and again, despite setting well-calculated goals, showing that the problem lies somewhere in implementation. Two crucial indicators for development in third world countries are technological advancement and investment in human capital. We can attribute the contrast between Bangladesh’s and Pakistan’s economic growth to how they adapted to these needs of the hour.

Bangladesh aptly prioritized export growth, with a particular focus on streamlining its textile sector, and thus ensured that it remained adaptive to global trends. Technology upgradation remained frequent, health and education gained importance, and employment was increased through greater women inclusion. This is an essential aspect of human capital development – empowering women who have just as much, if not more, to contribute to uplifting an economy. The same approach could have produced better results in Pakistan, but the unfortunate fact that human development has not been given priority has cost Pakistan immensely.

The graph below shows a very significant difference in male and female employment trends in Pakistan. Despite having the same education, background and skills, a woman in Pakistan is consistently less likely to land a job than a man. What is more unusual about these figures is that they show an exponential increase in female unemployment past a certain degree of education, during which period a man’s unemployment decreases, as it logically should. Women with a college degree, it can be concluded, are more likely to find employment in areas which require fewer skills than they possess, thus depicting a disturbing dichotomy between the way male and female skills are valued.

The reasons for this difference are even more unsettling. An extremely common point of view in Pakistan is that jobs requiring regular interaction with non-family men and frequent travel are not appropriate for women.

Asking a person with this viewpoint to justify it would likely spur a futile debate. However, psychologically analyzing how these conclusions are reached depicts a bias toward traditional gender roles, as well as the threat working women present to the social status quo (World Bank Blog, 2019). Working women are something of an anomaly to most people in Pakistan, who have grown accustomed to a woman’s role as a caregiver. Even more unfortunately, several women also uphold these same views that are blatantly restrictive of their own freedoms.

“Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity,” according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. This dismal finding has even further implications for developing countries, where a slow pace of progression translates into weak policy implementation, prevalence of societal norms, and a lack of awareness on the importance of equal rights.

It is astonishing to see that despite factors like rising female literacy, awareness of women’s rights and the introduction of laws and policies emphasizing gender equality, the already high level of female unemployment has been rising further since 2019. With social media and news stories reporting cases of gender-based discrimination every single day, we must strive to identify the underlying factors that allow these problems to prevail. It’s high time we identify the persisting gaps in policy implementation and develop a results-oriented approach, so that women can claim their role as valuable members of the workforce.

Further, there are still countries where the rate of women’s literacy is significantly lower than that of men. For instance, in Chad only 14% of women are literate relative to 31.3% of men, while in Guinea 22% of women and 43.6% of men are literate. Similarly, in Liberia, Yemen, Mali, Pakistan, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo and Angola, less than 67% of the literacy gender gap has been bridged to date.

One of the most pressing areas for advancement for South Asia is the gender gap on the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub index, where only 33.8% of the gender gap is closed, the lowest globally. Within the region, there are countries where economic gaps are even wider: Afghanistan has only closed 18% of this gender gap, which is over 45 percentage points lower than the regional champion, Nepal (63%).

The three other largest countries in the region are not much further ahead: India and Pakistan have only closed 31.6% and 32.6% of its Economic Participation and Opportunity gap, respectively, while Bangladesh has closed 41.8%. Notably, economic gaps in these two countries are even wider than they were one year ago. India’s score declined by 3 percentage points and Bangladesh’s by 2 percentage points.

Gender discrimination in Pakistan takes many forms. Misogyny rears its ugly head at all levels of society, and gains strength from the traditional views on a woman’s role. The most disappointing trends are seen surrounding working women, who possess the requisite skills and education but are constantly sidelined in favor of men.


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