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China and Pakistani women’s economic development

By Usman Umer | Gwadar Pro Jan 24, 2022

Pakistani women are still struggling under the hefty shreds of the patriarchal mindset. Hegemonic masculinities dominate in our conservative culture. Women are considered to be creatures confined within home doing unpaid labour. The majority of women remain bound to the traditional labour that keeps them dependent upon men. Only a minor portion of women are allowed to enter the job market.

The major obstacle in women's economic development is the cultural norms and so-called honour claims. Right from childhood, women are deprived of their right to education. Lack of education hinders their participation and promotion in the economic market. Both married and unmarried women are kept out of the market due to our conservative mentality. Women are not appreciated to start a business or do employed jobs outside their homes. Women themselves shy from entering the market because of sexual harassment at workplaces and in public places. There are serious economic setbacks due to this patriarchal culture.

Pakistani women are almost half of the total population, but only 20% of them are employed in the economic market. This skilled and unskilled labour is being wasted and the national economy lurches in the vast trenches of poverty. Development goals remain unfulfilled due to the exclusion of women and men who are burdened with excessive economic responsibilities to sustain and feed their families.

This situation must be changed if we want to develop our economy on the modern lines. Our policymakers and reformers are in confusion in finding the starting point. Our public and policymakers are unable to imitate the western social values that are conducive to economic development. The anti-western sentiments and negative perceptions of Euro-American socio-economic models also are strong factors stagnating our cultural and economic values. Women's case is more significant and critical in this perspective because feminine role models coming from western countries are inherently taken as harmful and dangerous to the family system and gender values.

However, China is much appreciated by our public and people want to imitate Chinese examples and models of economic development. The anti-China sentiments and perceptions are non-existent in Pakistan. This is a great opportunity both for China and Pakistan. We can capitalize this favourable pro-China thinking and put our valuable women on the right track of economic development. China is providing numerous opportunities and opening new venues for women's economic participation within Pakistan. We must take the necessary steps to tap this potential for our women. We should learn from China where almost 70% of women are participating in the Chinese economy.

China drafted and implemented egalitarian policies for men and women. Chinese women are given rights to equal pay and equal work. China has successfully liberated their women from conservative and patriarchal values. The service and care-taking industries have played a major role in women's increased participation in the labour force. The values and roles of the "social person" were redefined and reconfigured and women rapidly ascended in the various economic fields. Our governments must show commitment to liberating women from tribal and feudal oppressive shackles. Political decisions like that of the Chinese Communist Party must be taken and gender revaluations must be advocated at the national level so that women make up their minds and start their journey to the market.

Political decisions and policies provide guidelines but there remains the problem of opportunities to actualize these political decisions. At this point, again, China's Belt and Road Initiative particularly the projects under the umbrella of CPEC help us. CPEC is providing employment and livelihood opportunities in the underdeveloped and backward areas of Pakistan. Sindhi and Balochi women and girls have now the opportunity of schooling and working in various enterprises. When the women from poor families work in a safe environment and contribute to the family income, the males of the family are liberalized and began to tolerate that their women are going outside homes and working with other males. There is a fact that economic development leads to social transformation and people become broad-minded.

As the world economic trends are changing and the economy has become technology-intensive, the role of female education becomes critical in women's economic development. Chinese example shows that China strictly implemented the laws about compulsory education that benefited girls and women. Pakistan also has made basic education compulsory but these policies have not gained satisfactory results. Although basic education is compulsory and free yet parents are unable to meet the transportation and other extracurricular educational expenses. The longer distances of educational institutions are also a major hurdle. Plans should be made with the cooperation of China to set up new schools for girls and to enhance the capacity of existing schools.

Female education in China has changed the preferences and priorities of women. Education has made them able to decide their fates in work and family. By participating in the job market they have become independent and self-reliant. These autonomous educated women are now able to promote and empower their next generation. Just like China, we should restructure our economy. The most favourable economic fields for women in Pakistan are agriculture, service industry and crafts.

The Pakistani government has changed inheritance laws and women now can have their share in property particularly in agricultural land. Women should be provided light agricultural technology on an easy credit basis so that they can become independent agricultural entrepreneurs and farmers in their small farms. Women friendly agricultural technology and machines will transform our society and economy. China is rich in such technology. Chinese women are now running small agricultural enterprises in rural areas. These Chinese women are role models for our rural women. Their success stories and life routines should be shared with the Pakistani public.

The service industry has a soft corner even for the males of Pakistani society. This industry is also emerging in our economy and women can easily enter this economy and become successful due to their experiences of care-giving and doing services at home. Pakistani women are skilful in various crafts such as embroidery, stitching, sewing and making other useful handicrafts. There are no particular problems of resources and cultural stigmas. Their only problem is that they have no market access to sell their products. Chinese traders should explore Pakistani handicrafts. If their products are purchased from their doorsteps then these women can participate in the economy and trade from within their homes. These are some points of intervention to be considered both by the Pakistani and Chinese governments and businessmen to help women hold up half the sky.

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