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 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 up-gradation 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 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 that 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, the prevalence of societal norms, and a lack of awareness on the importance of equal rights.
The significant rise of gender-based discrimination in the country
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 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.
Even at a cursory glance, it is evident that nations with greater gender parity have more prosperous economies. Consider any western economy where women’s full participation has been on the rise for decades and hence driven better performing and more resilient businesses; consider how South Korea has undergone significant improvements for women’s social standing and subsequently the nation’s economy, and where more than half of Korean women are employed and more than 25% of married women are employed as full-time workers.
If we compare the context of Bangladesh, from which it would appear we are not that detached, we still see them gaining traction and moving forward, well on their way to being considered a developed country within the next 20 years, while we lag behind with our gender-normative biases. Bangladesh has managed to increase female employment in the last decade while also cutting the wage gap between men and women significantly. (World Bank Report, 2019).
Bangladesh’s exports are majorly supported by its textile sector
The policies employed in its development have been much more effective at keeping up with market needs. The significance of innovation and fashion trends in the textile sector is a key factor that Bangladesh had managed to keep up with. As a result, importers of textiles favor Bangladesh’s products and their economy continues to grow, creating a number of jobs at each skill level and harnessing the efforts of the population efficiently. Furthermore, despite producing no cotton and relying completely on cotton imports, Bangladesh has managed to profit immensely from processing and exporting high-quality cotton ready-made products while Pakistan, the 3rd largest producer of cotton in the world, has failed to capitalize on it.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam present us with ideal cases, where economic growth was achieved in spite of non-liberal cultures. The religious interpretations that are commonly held in these countries do not serve to be restrictive to a woman’s freedoms, and this factor has allowed for much less stigma on women in the workplace, thus taking each respective economy forward much more rapidly.
A substantial level of opportunities is present for workers at each skill level, but the availability of these opportunities tends to remain skewed in favor of men, essentially neglecting half of the country’s population. The degree of skew increases along with the level of skill involved. For instance, the task of cotton picking employs factions of society that have the least skills, particularly women who are overlooked in other areas of industrial workforce development in Pakistan.
At most, their job is as complex as ensuring that the picked cotton is clean. But when it comes to women whose capabilities extend far beyond menial labor, Pakistan fails to capitalize on these skills. As more skills are acquired, the top employment positions continue to go to men, while women are favored for lower-skilled labor and face unfair competition with men for the more advanced roles.
The dichotomy that exists between opportunities available to male and female job-seekers is further aggravated by conditions such as rural settings. The graph below shows a more marked increase in unemployment for women in rural settings with an increase in education level, as opposed to urban. Although this has more to do with the availability of higher-level jobs being restricted to more developed regions, this has a spillover effect. That these women will likely have poor luck finding employment even in an urban setting, as jobs are already scarce for the existing unemployed women in those areas.
Although the disparity between male and female employment levels is the most striking thing about these graphs, we must also acknowledge that overall employment in Pakistan is far less than what it should be. A key reason for Pakistan’s lagging behind is the quality of education and the skills being imparted, regardless of the degree level. A push for improved quality and standards in these educational institutes is required, as research shows that trends in the developed world are shifting in favor of competencies over degrees. 74% of respondents to a survey in the US agreed that there is a lack of skilled talent and updated technical-knowhow among the available workforce in recent years, so one can imagine the state of affairs in Pakistan.
An inability to keep up with technological development impedes economic development. 40% of Pakistan’s labor force finds employment in the textile sector, and while technology moves forward, graduates whose degrees have failed to keep up to date miss out on these opportunities. This is why training for skill and capacity development must be designed and must give gender-balanced opportunities.
Training can have an exponential impact on productivity and sustainability
while a more inclusive workforce can ensure a greater pace of development. Though advances in technology are rapidly changing the skills needs of the business community, developed countries exhibit how automation is an opportunity that can potentially create as many jobs as it eliminates. However, this goes hand in hand with the need for a consistently updated curriculum that can keep pace with technology and can be accessible to a majority of the population. These technical factors can be viewed in every career environment in Pakistan.
But the needs of each remain the same – equal opportunity capacity-development needs to be institutionalized so that employment can increase along with gender parity. And the change begins with increased awareness, which we have seen a wave of in recent years. The Aurat March protests that began in 2018 on International Women’s Day called for that same awareness, with protesters holding up banners that condemned traditional expectations of a woman’s role. A revolutionary movement for Pakistan, it remains as essential as ever as proven by the recent petitions against the march due to its being “anti-state” and “un-Islamic” (The News).
At this stage, we are largely cognizant of Pakistan’s economy falling behind its South Asian brethren. However, the chief among the reasons is that Pakistan ranks as the third-worst country in global rankings for gender equality. There is a need for significant progress in the area of female empowerment before we can achieve economic growth, by following a results-based approach where women empowerment can be measured and seen by a greater number of women in the workforce.