Economic and Educational Outlook of Women in Pakistan

Hadia Saqib Hashmi

Islam has always emphasized the importance of women's education and their role as active economic agents within society. Islamic teachings and our Islamic history contain numerous examples of women who sought knowledge, engaged in economic activities, and played vital roles in their communities. Therefore, it is unjust to use Islam as a shield to defend poor governance, ineffective policies, and inadequate law enforcement, which have resulted in the challenging conditions that many women face in terms of education and economic participation in Pakistan. Instead, we should recognize that Islam encourages the empowerment of women and the pursuit of knowledge, and it is essential to address the structural and societal issues that hinder the realization of these principles in practice. By doing so, Pakistan can harness the full potential of its women, fostering a more equitable and prosperous society for all.

Educational Conditions of Women in Pakistan

In Pakistan, girls encounter numerous obstacles when it comes to accessing quality education, and their educational achievements consistently fall behind those of boys. To bridge this educational gender gap, it is imperative to employ data-driven strategies aimed at addressing specific challenges. Unfortunately, even with optimistic assumptions regarding progress, it will still take Pakistan a minimum of 50 years to ensure that all girls receive an education, while boys would require 31

years to reach the same milestone. A stark reality emerges when we examine the current situation in Pakistan – approximately 12 million girls, a number that exceeds boys by two million, remain out of school. This gender imbalance forms the majority of the out-of-school population, with estimates ranging from 20.3 to 22.1 million children nationwide. In 2018, statistics revealed that 26 percent of girls and 19 percent of boys had never set foot inside a classroom, illustrating a 7-percentage point discrepancy. While Pakistan has made some progress since 2004 when the difference stood at 13 percentage points, girls still find themselves in a similar position relative to boys. Remarkably, the number of girls who had never attended school in 2018 was identical to the number of boys in the same situation back in 2004, marking a lack of substantial advancement over 14 years (World Bank, 2023). In addition to the stark educational disparities, girls in Pakistan grapple with harassment both within school premises and on their way to school. Their security is jeopardized in public spaces, during commutes, and near educational institutions. This alarming situation is highlighted by the Center for Gender and Policy Studies, which reports that girls often express distress due to the various forms of harassment they endure in these environments. Consequently, many parents in Pakistan opt to either postpone their daughters' education or prohibit them from attending school altogether. Another significant factor discouraging parents from sending their girls to school is the considerable distance to educational facilities, which exacerbates their security concerns. In essence, the farther the school is, the greater the risk for girls, making the journey to education an even more daunting challenge.

Currently, the country is grappling with economic turmoil and soaring inflation, rendering it increasingly challenging for parents to finance their children's education. This dire financial situation has triggered a troubling trend of rising dropout rates in both government and private schools. According to authorities within the Punjab Education Department, the

abandonment of education has surged notably, driven by the exorbitant fees imposed by private schools. Startling statistics shed light on the severity of the issue, revealing a staggering 60% dropout rate for students from the first to the eleventh grade. These distressing figures can be further broken down to illustrate the gravity of the problem: dropout rates vary from 28% to 30% for students in grades one to five, and this rate increases to a troubling 40% to 50% for those in grades six to ten. Alarmingly, the highest dropout rate, standing at 60%, is witnessed among students in grades eleven and twelve (ProPK, 2023). As the economic crisis continues to bite and inflation takes its toll, these statistics underscore the immense strain placed on parents as they grapple with the prospect of securing their children's education.

It is of utmost importance to institute measures that not only prioritize but also empower females to actively pursue their education. Policymakers and stakeholders must dedicate their efforts to enhancing educational infrastructure in rural areas and initiating programs aimed at promoting and sustaining female enrollment in schools. By tackling socio-cultural barriers and advocating for gender equality, we have the potential to disrupt the prevailing educational gender gap and make substantial strides toward achieving a more equitable literacy rate in Pakistan.

Even when girls gain access to schools, they frequently encounter disparities in the quality of education compared to their male counterparts. Inequitable funding, a shortage of female teachers, and subpar infrastructure in girls' schools all contribute to a suboptimal learning experience, resulting in lower educational achievement for girls. Pakistan's deeply ingrained social and cultural norms significantly perpetuate gender disparities in education. Conventional gender roles and expectations often restrict opportunities for girls and discourage families from prioritizing high-quality education for their daughters. Overcoming these entrenched norms is essential to establishing a more inclusive and equitable education system. Gender inequality not only impedes socio-economic development

but also poses barriers to empowering women through education and workforce participation, which, in turn, drives economic growth and reduces poverty. Educated women make more informed choices regarding family planning, healthcare, and their children's education, ultimately enhancing the well-being of both mothers and children and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Policymakers should deploy targeted interventions such as financial incentives, the establishment of girls-only schools, and the recruitment of female teachers to ensure quality education and equal opportunities. Community engagement plays a pivotal role by raising awareness, involving local leaders, and fostering lasting changes that challenge gender norms, traditions, and trends, while championing girls' education. This endeavor necessitates collective action from the government, civil society, and local communities to dismantle the barriers to girls' education and champion gender equality. Unlocking the full potential of females through education is not just a moral imperative but also a critical driver of economic growth, fostering an inclusive and progressive society. Empowering women is the linchpin for moral and societal progress, well-being, and the promotion of inclusivity, resulting in strategic advancements that benefit the entire nation (Samo, 2023).

Economic Conditions of Women in Pakistan

When it comes to the economic landscape in Pakistan, the gender disparity is glaringly evident. Women constitute a mere 22.63 percent of the labor force, while men dominate at 84.79 percent. On average, a Pakistani woman's income is a mere 16.3 percent of what a man earns. The informal sector employs 5.26 million individuals in Pakistan, and a staggering 81 percent of these workers are women. Despite this substantial contribution, which accounts for 65 percent of the PKR 400 billion (USD 2.8 billion) generated in Pakistan's informal economy, women earn just PKR 3,000-4,000 (USD 15-20) per month. Consequently, they grapple with a myriad of vulnerabilities, including low income security, inadequate nutrition, occupational health challenges, the absence of social

protection, and heightened economic vulnerability during times of crisis. The Global Wage Report 2019-20 from the International Labor Organization highlights a gender pay gap of 34 percent in Pakistan compared to men. This glaring economic inequality is underpinned by a set of overarching constraints, including cultural barriers that limit women's mobility, hindered access to business management skills and expansion opportunities, and a lack of direct access to markets and technology (United Nations, 2022).

Regrettably, Pakistan currently ranks among the world's worst countries in terms of gender parity, only surpassing Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan. According to the "Global Gender Gap Report 2021" published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Pakistan occupies the 153rd position out of 156 countries on the gender parity index. Furthermore, in South Asia, Pakistan ranks 7th among eight countries, performing better than only Afghanistan (Makwela, 2022).

Limited mobility further exacerbates women's ability to participate in the labor force. According to the 2019 labor skills survey, only 30 percent of women can independently access local markets or health facilities, with 13 percent admitting they never go to local health facilities unaccompanied (Makwela, 2022). This lack of mobility restricts their flexibility to commute to work and engage in business activities, ultimately impacting their participation in the labor force. The perception of safety while outside their communities also plays a significant role in women's decision to join the labor force. Seventeen percent of women who feel safe walking alone outside their neighborhoods are more likely to work, compared to the 11 percent who do not feel safe. Both safety concerns and limited mobility contribute to why women in Pakistan often prefer home-based work.

On the demand side, targeted policies can help increase labor demand in sectors where women are more likely to work, such as textile and

apparel manufacturing and white-collar jobs. Enhancing public safety for women is pivotal to improving their mobility and participation in the workforce. Additionally, achieving better women's representation in leadership positions is essential, as it creates more opportunities for women to advance and succeed.

In conclusion, the economic conditions of women in Pakistan are influenced by a complex interplay of cultural norms, limited access to education and employment opportunities, and discriminatory practices within the labor market. Achieving gender equality and women's economic empowerment in Pakistan requires concerted efforts to challenge and transform these barriers. By addressing these challenges holistically, Pakistan can unlock the potential of its women, fostering inclusive economic growth and social development.