In a groundbreaking event held at a local hotel, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce & Industry (OICCI) and UN Women recently announced a pledge by its members to ‘create more inclusive workplaces and empower women in the workforce across Pakistan’; a noble initiative indeed, as it aims to ‘motivate concerned entities to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals towards gender equality and to serve as an inspiration for businesses in Pakistan’.
OICCI is the collective voice of major foreign investors in Pakistan and its president, Khalid Mansoor, promised that OICCI members would support initiatives towards empowering women in the socio-economic growth of Pakistan.
So what’s new there? People talk about women empowerment all the time, but talk is cheap - free actually, and we have heard it all. Is this going to be different since UN is involved? So, we asked OICCI CSR Subcommittee Chairman Bruno Olierhoek and the Country Representatives of UN in Pakistan, Shabnam Thapa and Jamshed Kazi, what they aim to do to honour this pledge, and how can it be of help to young women aspiring to enter job market.
OICCI CSR Subcommittee Chairman Bruno Olierhoek accepted that gender equality in corporate sector is not easy to achieve, and creating women friendly environment is an uphill task but was optimistic about the future. He said the important thing was the pledge by big corporates to facilitate women.
Shabnam Thapa, Deputy Representative, UN Women Pakistan pointed out that only 22 percent females are registered workers. The rest do not benefit from the minimum wages directive of the government. “The OICCI women initiative wants to propose a concrete way forward, a ‘how to’ manual, helping organisations to have a women friendly work environment. I believe that OICCI together with UN Women can start a movement in Pakistan, by promoting this simple and pragmatic approach and thus making a real impact.”
Jamshed Kazi, Country Representative of UN in Pakistan raised an important point while talking to journalists post conference: “Female students work harder than their male counterparts and end up getting better GPAs, but when it comes to translating their education into getting their dream job, they are often thwarted by societal norms. Some parents don’t want girls to work. The lucky ones ‘allowed’ to work have to give up their jobs after they get married. Where do all those educated young female graduates go?” wonders Jamshed Kazi. Kazi has a point. In public medical schools, 70 percent students are female but still there is dearth of female doctors in the country.
After completing her education when a young woman seeks employment, she finds all the odds stacked against her. Job market is biased in favour of men. The employers think that women need more holidays than men, which is perfectly true. Women need maternity leave and at times require time off to look after their children or manage household issues. This is due to the mindset that looking after home and children’s is a woman’s responsibility only. Why can’t men help, too, when they also benefit from the income generated by women? Like stay back and take care of their sick child. The mindset is that it’s only a mother’s responsibility.
“My friend Ahmed and I graduated together, and my GPA was higher than his. We applied together and both were selected in the same company for the same post in different departments, but his salary is higher than mine. I spoke to my supervisor about it and he said being a male Ahmed has more responsibilities.” It is a fact that women, on average, earn about 35-40 percent less than men, with even if both sexes have the same level of education, and are doing the same work. This differential is present in many developed countries as well.
“It’s the mindset of the employers that needs to be changed and more awareness campaigns to make women realise their rights, and that’s where media can make a difference,” says Olierhoek.