By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The issue of women’s financial inclusion is not related to a single ministry or a department only. In fact, a holistic focus is required to economically empower women across Pakistan.
Now the problem being faced at present is that post 18th amendment, the matters of women’s development fall under the provincial domain.
These views expressed by Shandana Gulzar Khan, Member National Assembly (MNA), while speaking at the virtual eighth round of public-private dialogue series on Gender Focused Economic Reforms (GFER), spearheaded by Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), here on Tuesday.
Shandana Gulzar, who graced the occasion as a Chief Guest, said that unfortunately, the provinces treat women issues as a matter of social welfare. This is the core of the problem; issues of almost half of the population cannot be regarded merely as welfare issues, they must be a part of the national agenda and regrettably, we do not have one.
She further added that the national budget has no specific focus on women, let alone women entrepreneurs. However, the Ehsas Emergency Cash Program – empowering women and putting them into a formal banking network – is a silver lining in the cloud. Efforts from the government and its different ministries and departments are underway, many things are in pipeline; though there still is a long road ahead to empower women economically.
Fatima Javaid, Joint Director, Infrastructure, Housing and SME Finance Department, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) noted that improving financial inclusion of women is one of the key priority areas of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) – adopted by the Government of Pakistan in 2015 – aimed to enhance formal financial access to 50% of the adult population and envisions that 25% of adult females should have a formal bank account by the end of 2020.
The SBP is working to have a gender mainstreaming policy framework to encourage women’s employment in financial institutions. Another issue is the reluctance female entrepreneurs exhibit in consulting financial institutions, due to social constraints. This can be addressed by introducing dedicated women’s help desks at the concerned institutions. Besides, all the SBP initiatives encourage female entrepreneurs from remote areas to acquire credits and other financial services smoothly, she added.
Moreover, representing Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA), Nabeela Afridi, Manager, SMEDA, shared that the youth and women have been given special importance in the new SME policy – to come out soon. She further proposed that the Women Commerce Chambers need to be strengthened along with the establishment of women business complexes within industrial estates and special economic zones. Additionally, women facilitation desks should be introduced in all organizations. Special quotas must be announced for women in the industrial estates, different sectors, and financial services. Plus, she was of the view that collateral and interest-free loans must be introduced to bring women in the mainstream.
Masooma Sibtain, Chairperson Central Standing Committee on Women Economic Reforms, FPCCI, educated the audience about the four pillars essential for efficiently steering businesses at both national and international level i.e. market outreach, product development, finances, and synergies in different departments and ministries of the government. She highlighted that women chambers need to do advocacy robustly. They should try to find the gaps in policies and give recommendations to fill those gaps through proper consultations.
Moreover, she told the gathering that SMEDA has revived its policies in thelight of the recommendations given by the Women National Business Agenda (WMBA) and CRSS. Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) has just set up a special help desk for women entrepreneurs, she stated, while the giving good news about tangible progress on CRSS recommendations.
Earlier, Imtiaz Gul, Executive Director CRSS, stated that the rationale behind gender empowerment is not only fundamentally ethical but it also makes a lot of economic sense. It goes without saying that Pakistan cannot unleash its true potential by ignoring almost half of its population – the women. If the country has to flex its muscle economically, first in the region and then in the league of nations, then its men and women have to work side by side
The participants including representatives from the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Finance, FPCCI, TDAP, SBP, SMEDA, relevant think-tanks, entrepreneurs, and representatives of Chambers and Industry, noted that all the policies need to be gender sensitized.
Moreover, a safe and enabling environment is essential for effective female participation in the economic domain. Some also argued that having more women at decision-making positions will help in strengthening the process of women empowerment.
Moreover, the participants commended women for their strength and rigor for speaking up for their rights at all possible fronts, despite all the hurdles.