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Investing in women can do wonders for Pakistan, by Thereem Husain

NORTHAMPTON: There exists countless evidence on how investing in women’s education and health, and paying attention to their employment opportunities and empowerment leads to achieving big dividends in terms of economic development.

Has this evidence led countries to strive for gender equity? This is hardly the case.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 compiled by the World Economic Forum ranks countries on gender gap and includes factors such as economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

The report has ranked Pakistan 143 out of 144 countries. Sadly, Pakistan has not only fared particularly poorly in 2016, but its rankings have deteriorated since a decade earlier. Comparing Pakistan’s performance in the South Asian region, India has done much better being ranked 87 out of 144 countries.

Gender equity and economic development

How does gender equity give boost to economic development? A recent article in the IMF Finance and Development magazine stated that women contribute to economic development directly and indirectly.

The direct route is through workforce participation, which boosts production and thus income, savings, and tax contribution at the household, community and national levels. Moreover, women entering the workforce prefer to have smaller families with children who are better educated and healthier than a large number of children who are not.

It is obvious but worth stating that women cannot enter the workforce and contribute to the economy’s productivity without a proper environment of education, training and health is in place.

Investing in women’s health and education also has spillover benefits to other members of the household. Recent research has pointed out that good maternal health benefits children’s cognitive development, behaviour and school performance as well as improving the health and productivity of other family members.

Interestingly, studies have also pointed to the fact that when women earn more and account for a larger share of the household income then more household spending goes towards the health of the family. A case in point is that of Cote d’Ivoire in which as women’s income tended to increase, families spent less on harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco.

Women also support the economy indirectly through unpaid labour, particularly at home. They bear and raise children, take care of elderly family members and do other domestic chores. In 2015, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs published a report that stated women outwork men by an average of 30 minutes a day in advanced economies and by 50 minutes in developing countries.

Lessons to learn: the case of Rwanda

A particular exception and a country that Pakistan has much to learn from is Rwanda. The country has been ranked fifth out of 144 countries by the index, just behind advanced economies such as Norway, Finland and Sweden. Surprisingly, it is much ahead of many countries in the western world such as Canada (ranked 35) and United States (ranked 45).

The country has aggressively pursued reforms on achieving gender parity in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, which resulted in a spate of destruction and depleted its workforce. Women nearly fill two thirds of the seats in parliament, 52.5% of those enrolled in secondary school are women and account for nearly 54% of the workforce.

Gender equity is one big factor attributed to the progress made by Rwanda on the economic front. This can be evidenced from the fact that between 2000 and 2015, average income in Rwanda more than doubled, far out pacing the growth in rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Human capital is a country’s greatest asset. But like all other resources, it must be managed for a country to exploit it productively. Investment in women’s health and education produce tremendous results, which can lead the nation on a stable path of progress and prosperity.

The writer is a doctoral candidate at The Bartlett, UCL

 Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2017.

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