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UN’s Empowerment Principles Boost Women’s Morale in Pakistan

A prestigious ceremony sponsored by UN Women Pakistan highlighted the need to increase focus on a woman’s right to education, training, and safety in the workplace. The annual event is meant to discuss milestones and what still needs to be done in order to achieve an equilibrium in Pakistan’s employment sector.

December’s event saw an additional 16 chief executive officers from various exporting companies supporting the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles, a set of guidelines for the private sector designed to increase access to work opportunities and training. The principles also promote equality through advocacy and community initiatives, measure and publicly report progress, and implement supply chain and marketing practices, as well as harassment-free workplaces.

According to the Provincial Ombudsman Sindh, 134 cases of harassment in the workplace were filed in 2016, a dramatic increase from the reported 38 cases in 2014.

“Working women avoided registering their complaints against harassment because they didn’t want their families to feel its impact or feared losing their jobs,” said deputy director Mona Tufail, whose office investigates such complaints.

Education was another main focus during the ceremony. During National Working Women Day, National Assembly member Tahira Aurangzeb emphasized the need to establish an awareness campaign for employers on the hurdles women have to overcome to achieve success, specifically in education. Currently, 38 percent of Pakistan’s women between the ages of 15 and 24 are illiterate, according to a UNICEF report.  

“A rural woman can’t even read the Quran properly due to less knowledge,” she said, stressing that women are the most important pillar in society and that they need to stick together to make change happen in regards to employment, healthcare, and education.

Although women’s participation in Pakistan’s economy has been slowly increasing since 2001, women still only make up about 22 percent of total economic involvement. The lack of abundant change in the percentage is likely due to traditional values within the country. In a 2014 report, social and cultural taboos and norms were seen to contribute to the shortage of a woman’s participation in the workforce.

Shikha Bhatnagar, associate director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, attributes the lack of abundant women participation in employment specifically to traditional views of marriage and the culture’s long record of investing in sons and not daughters.

“When she gets married, you’re expected to offer a dowry to the family that the girl is getting married into and once she’s married, she belongs to the other family,” said Bhatnagar. “So that’s not a long-term investment, where[as] a boy or son is expected to take care of his parents throughout his life.”

Punjab labor and human resources secretary Dr. Farah Masood spoke at the event, advising employers to respect the rights of women and provide a harassment-free workplace. She said these positive attributes in leaders would instill passion and drive in their employees.

“Toils of the working women must never be undermined; instead they must be valued and respected by all in society, state and businesses,” Masood said. “Women must be encouraged and supported to have self-confidence in their faculties and potentials for national development.”

Though small, the increase in women’s participation in Pakistan’s employment sector is an indication that the empowerment principles set by the UN are being implemented by the CEOs that signed to support it, and that there may still be more opportunities for economic involvement for women in Pakistan to anticipate in the future.

Featured Image by ResoluteSupportMedia on Flickr

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