According to Global Gender Gap Index 2020, the gender gap in Pakistan stands at 153 out of 156 countries, that remains worst in the world. The deep-rooted patriarchal norms as well as limited economic opportunities available for women are some of the significant factors that have dampened the potential of women in Pakistan.

While, women across the world are advancing to open up their own businesses and some are making name in high profile business lines, Pakistan remains to be grappling with the dilemma of gender gap and women struggling to step out and make a name. The female participation in comparison to male participation in severe fields in the country is approximately negligible with many women working on unpaid jobs doing unskilled labor.

The reason of such low participation can be attributed to low female literacy rate that has reduced the size of opportunities available to women. In Pakistan, we do not emphasize on improving female literacy rate which has resulted in overall high illiteracy rate of women in the country against their male counterparts. Despite the introduction of regulatory methods, only half of the female population is literate, compared with 72.5 percent of male population. While on the other hand, the female labor force is mostly unskilled and untrained to perform technical jobs and stands at only 20 percent.

“More substantive gender responsive legislation will be critical… along with steps to further prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment, an increase in the women’s quota to at least 30%, legal assurances of pay equality, and the provision of workplace day-care facilities and safe and secure transportation back and forth to workplaces,” notes gender and adaption specialist Kosar Bano.

“Inspections by labour departments on adherence to workplace equality guidelines and the provision of legal action for their enforcement can go a long way in supporting gender transformative change.”

Women who participate in entrepreneurial activities form only a small piece of pie i.e.   1 percent as opposed to 21 percent of male that too working in informal sector(MSMEs). Most women who run their own business are operating in conventional business lines such as textiles, vocational training or food. The opportunities to explore other fields are limited for women in a male-dominated society who finds it uneasy to accept a female running and owning a business with male members working under her.

According to Invest2Innovate’s report, gender disparities are prevalent in startup ecosystem and only 1.4 percent of all investments raised during past seven years were based on women-run startups.

Much of the gender disparity in entrepreneurial setting might also be present due to the fact that married women have double responsibility of looking after their home and running a business. They find it convenient to drop out from work-force and avoid long working hour outside home that put a strain on their personal life. Most of the women complain about having negligible or no support from their family. Women who want to pursue business also lack sources of start-up capital, proper counselling, absence of separate bank accounts, finance for growth of business, and limited financial information associated with business lines. The gender-wise distribution about loan delivered by SBP shows that only 3 percent of small-medium business loans go to women and 97 percent are given to men. Similarly, only 19 percent of the microfinance loan is awarded to women while 87 percent of it goes to men.

A survey “Women entrepreneur in Pakistan” conducted on women in Pakistan revealed that 66 percent of women believed that their “sex” is the major constraint in obtaining finance for business start-ups.

The World Bank published its findings about the worsening status of female entrepreneurship in Pakistan and said, “the challenge is to help those self-employed or potential entrepreneurs who aspire to grow by helping then overcome the barriers to entry and subsequent growth,” it said.

“Some of the current self-employed could benefit from comprehensive entrepreneurship or personal initiative training as well as access to finance to improve the productivity of their activities and earnings”, it further stated.

Experts say the status of female participation in entrepreneurial activities can only be improved in Pakistan if they are given conducive environment to engage in mainstream economic activities. They insist it is important to remove the roadblocks that hinder them to advance their potential and be a professional businesswoman.

“Policy makers and regulators in Pakistan have an opportunity to make agent networks more accessible to women, but this can’t be done without addressing gendered social norms,” notes social entrepreneurship expert Naeha Rashid.

“By accounting for social norms and being gender-intentional, policy makers and regulators can make adjustments to policy and regulatory formulation to advance women’s digital financial inclusion,” Rashid adds.