By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Pakistan has a women population of around 49% and just less than 10% of entrepreneurs are women in the Country. The government of Pakistan is making all-out efforts to pass legislations for the betterment of women folk, yet no specific, sustainable and beneficial facilitation is being carried out to help women earn their own living, to bring them at par with men, to start and run their own businesses and to help them export their products.
The fault also lies with the women as they have not been going in the right direction. Moreover, no coordinated research has been carried out to find the reasons and circumstances till now for resolving the issue. The result of this apathy is that 70% of women businesses die down the very first year as they cannot survive due to lack of support.
The remarks were made by Roubina Toufiq Shah, former Director-General, Ministry of Commerce (MoC) while presenting her keynote during a public-private dialogue on Gender Focused Economic Reforms (GFER), organized by Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad.
Commenting on TDAP, she stated that over the years, TDAP has organized more than 50 women-specific local exhibitions, sent many women entrepreneurs on international exhibitions and delegations, sponsored many solo women exhibitions internationally, and also held multiple seminars and conferences with women participations. Though, these can be termed as practices not a defined policy.
This is the very reason that efforts towards gender empowerment in the economic domain are not sustainable and fade away eventually. She opined that the TDAP policy document needs to revive the specific clauses for gender inclusion.
TDAP should allocate a 25% budget quota for women exporters to ensure their participation in TDAP sponsored trade delegations and exhibitions. It should also allocate a budget for capacity building programs each year for women start-ups and exporters in all major cities of Pakistan.
Women entrepreneurs require handholding, guidance, facilitation, and acceptance from men. Together we can bring the change and ensure gender inclusiveness; working in isolation won’t work.
In her concluding remarks, she suggested to develop a database of women entrepreneurs and identify the areas they are mostly concentrated, deliberate, and solve the issues of their concern based on global best practices. The relevant ministries and departments should respond by policy changes required. It is also important to provide guidance to women chambers on improving their members’ knowledge, vision, access to resources, etc. and advise women entrepreneurs to join relevant trade associations to stay in touch with the latest trends and opportunities; this will enable them to come into the mainstream of businesses and learn from male counterparts.
Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Director General, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) noted that Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2020-25 will be an ever more gender-inclusive trade policy and which makes it incumbent for the TDAP to align its policies accordingly. TDAP has an exclusive 10% quota for the participation of women entrepreneurs in the international trade exhibitions, however, the pandemic has put these activities to a halt and until resumption, women should resort to online conduits for communication with the international markets through webinars. TDAP is utilizing an array of digital media tools for awareness and outreach especially during the COVID-19 times and has around 100 webinars on its website related to different products and markets.
As part of its capacity-building efforts for the growth and development of women entrepreneurs, TDAP successfully ran the National Exporter Training Programme across the country. As a matter of the most important policy change, we will assign a dedicated human resource for women entrepreneurs, who will also be open to the private sector’s recommendations for gender inclusion.
Gilgit Baltistan, interestingly, is a female-dominated region in terms of trade and TDAP has started a project where it will be handholding 80% of women entrepreneurs and use Hunza as a brand name for exports.
Aisha Humaira Moriani, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce noted that in preparation for the international market outreach, women must also capitalize on the potential of domestic commerce and also tap into the domestic market, especially in the COVID environment. The sub-committee of the national e-commerce council on women’s economic empowerment augurs well for their inclusion (which has also been WNBA’s recommendation).
Masooma Sibtain, Former Vice President, FPCCI noted that TDAP focuses on providing subsidies to women businesses in international exhibition. However, no written policy for the development of women-owned export businesses exists. Without anything in black and white, we cannot move forward in cultivating gender inclusion.
Mustafa Malik, Team Leader, CRSS, noted that the public-private dialogue spaces are critical to transform the women empowerment priorities into implementation. He shared the priority intervention areas identified in the women national business agenda (WNBA) – a policy proposal on gender-focused economic reforms presented from the platform of FPCCI – along with the progress.
The participants including representatives from Ministry of Commerce, FPCCI, TDAP, ICCI, RCCI, SMEDA, State Bank, relevant think-tanks and entrepreneurs, noted that various issues hampering women’s active participation in the economy including lack of data on women businesses and their training requirements, no focal organization to assist and help women to develop, no specific policy for micro-enterprises, trade policies do not cover areas of women businesses, lack of interest among government officials even females to develop and promote women entrepreneurship, lack of trust in female businesses, lack of coordination among government organizations; private-public sector and between government and women.
Intermittent efforts by government organizations do not give sustainable handhold support to women businesses. Moreover, women are oblivious of any incentives given to them by the government or any other organization. There should be more awareness programs to inform the public about government-sponsored schemes for women-owned business; the government officials should reach out to the common citizen not the other way round.
All the participants called for contemporary governance approaches to resolve issues on the ground.