The Case for Women Work­ers

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It has now been es­tab­lished that em­pow­er­ing women and girls is not only morally right, but also an eco­nom­i­cally smart move. Women em­pow­er­ment has ac­cel­er­ated growth both in de­vel­op­ing economies as well as de­vel­oped ones. Bangladesh is a prime ex­am­ple of women em­pow­er­ment in this re­gion.

Pak­istan’s pop­u­la­tion was 180 mil­lion in 2014 and its labour pool was 53.8 mil­lion. The pop­u­la­tion of Bangladesh was 160 mil­lion and its labour pool was 70.9 mil­lion. Bangladesh had a larger labour pool com­pared to Pak­istan de­spite its lower pop­u­la­tion and even lower in­dus­trial base, be­cause it had cre­ated em­ploy­ment for its women in the gar­ment in­dus­try.

The gar­ment in­dus­try em­ploys more work­ers, but the work re­quires skill rather than mus­cle. Women are more suited in stitch­ing, pack­ing, and de­sign­ing com­pared to men, who are bet­ter able to han­dle hard labour ef­fec­tively. Bangladesh em­ploys 30 mil­lion women in its gar­ment in­dus­try.

Sadly, that labour force is miss­ing in our tex­tile in­dus­try. Even in gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing, more than 85 per­cent work­ers are men. Had these jobs been pro­vided to the women, the men could have been shifted to more stren­u­ous jobs. This would have ac­cel­er­ated growth. Pak­istan’s to­tal an­nual ex­ports are $22.5 bil­lion men how­ever while that of Bangladesh are $35 bil­lion.

Pak­istan’s tex­tile ex­ports are 12.4 bil­lion dol­lars, while Bangladesh’s tex­tile ex­ports have crossed 28 bil­lion dol­lars. In other words, the con­tri­bu­tion of women in to­tal ex­ports of Pak­istan is less than 15 per­cent.

Bangladeshi women on the other hand, con­trib­ute 81 per­cent to their ex­ports. Plan­ners as well as men need to un­der­stand that women gen­er­ally do not en­croach on their jobs, rather men do so. It is eco­nom­i­cally more fea­si­ble to let women work along­side men in at least the tex­tiles sec­tor to en­cour­age growth.

A re­port by UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral’s High Level Panel shows that greater gen­der equal­ity in a coun­try is as­so­ci­ated with bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and health, higher per capita in­come, faster and more in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth, and greater in­ter­na­tional

com­pet­i­tive­ness. The busi­ness case for gen­der qual­ity is also com­pelling, be­cause women make sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to all parts of the value chain.

It has been found that when women act as de­signer, sup­plier, con­trac­tor, mar­keter, and dis­trib­u­tor or sourc­ing of in­put is from women owned en­ter­prises, it strength­ens the brand and im­proves ac­cess to pre­mium mar­kets. In fact, stud­ies show that hav­ing women board mem­bers in­creases re­turn on as­sets. Wher­ever women are in­ducted as busi­ness lead­ers or are added as board mem­bers; one more woman in the se­nior man­age­ment or cor­po­rate board is as­so­ci­ated with eight to 13 ba­sis point higher re­turns on as­sets.

It is worth not­ing that com­pa­nies in top quar­tile for gen­der di­ver­sity are 15 per­cent more likely to have fi­nan­cial re­turns above the na­tional in­dus­try mean. As far as the buy­ing de­ci­sions are con­cerned (the ul­ti­mate source of in­come for goods and ser­vices providers), women make or in­flu­ence 80 per­cent of the buy­ing de­ci­sion and con­trol 20 tril­lion dol­lars in global spend­ing. Brand value and rep­u­ta­tion is closely linked to a com­mit­ment to women who en­hance com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion and brand. Women are the main com­mu­nity mem­bers that in­flu­ence the mar­ket on prod­uct sales and rep­u­ta­tion.

Women are de­prived of equal eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­strained from fi­nan­cial ac­cess and con­trol which sys­tem­i­cally keeps them out of the work­force. Ad­verse so­cial norms add to the lim­its im­posed on women, con­strict­ing their move­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion, thus cre­at­ing a gap in the work­force.

Women are also given fewer work choices. Due to such dis­crim­i­na­tory at­ti­tudes and gaps in law, women of­ten end up work­ing as un­paid labour or are only of­fered low pay­ing jobs. Sys­temic con­straints con­trib­ute to the de­pri­va­tion of women in gain­ing equal eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Sadly, the so­ci­ety in Pak­istan has failed to recog­nise or re­duce the weight of un­paid do­mes­tic work im­posed on women. Work­ing women are ex­pected to serve all the do­mes­tic chores af­ter com­ing back from their job, whereas men are en­cour­aged to re­lax and rest af­ter work­ing hours. Women who do all the house­work and do­mes­tic chores are not com­pen­sated mon­e­tar­ily for their labour.

These added re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at home also af­fect their ef­fi­cien­cies at paid work, and di­min­ish their chances of get­ting a pro­mo­tion. On top of these are the gaps in ac­cess to dig­i­tal, fi­nan­cial, and prop­erty as­sets. This gap mostly de­prives them from own­ing an en­ter­prise, even if they are the main force in op­er­at­ing the setup.

Some highly skilled women are more ben­e­fi­cial for the econ­omy if they are al­lowed to work with­out the has­sle of do­mes­tic chores that make them tired and re­duce their stamina re­quired at their job. The ma­jor is­sue is the un­paid work, which needs to be re­duced and di­vided. This prob­lem can be ad­dressed in mul­ti­ple ways. The first method is that in­stead of bur­den­ing just the women with un­paid care and do­mes­tic chores, men be­gin tak­ing sim­i­lar re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The sec­ond method can be re­duc­ing and re­dis­tribut­ing the time re­quired for un­paid care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties through in­vest­ments by both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors. Such in­vest­ments can pro­vide in­fra­struc­ture, af­ford­able care ser­vices, fam­ily leave, and fam­i­lyfriendly work­places.

These in­vest­ments will not only ben­e­fit women and in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies, but also ben­e­fit the econ­omy at large. These in­vest­ments will help the econ­omy achieve growth and also in­crease women’s labour-force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates and pro­duc­tiv­ity, be­sides cre­at­ing paid jobs in care ser­vices, and im­prove chil­dren’s school per­for­mance, boost­ing their fu­ture ed­u­ca­tional-at­tain­ment lev­els and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

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