Women across South Asia face myriad challenges when it comes to participating in the economy — especially as business owners. Women’s business organizations can help their members learn from each other, overcome barriers, and push for changes to laws and regulations that work against women entrepreneurs.
This August, CIPE held its eighth in an ongoing series of capacity building and networking workshops in Kathmandu, Nepal for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations. Since its inception, the participants of this network, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India, have been enthusiastic and engaged in learning from both CIPE and their peers.
This year, building on the results of previous projects that aimed to strengthen the internal capacity of these organizations, CIPE has focused on building the advocacy skills of the participants, in order for women entrepreneurs’ voices to be heard in the policymaking process.
Afghanistan, being a landlocked country, depends on its trading route with neighboring Pakistan to get its exports to world markets. However, these two countries have an unstable political relationship.
Due to increase in political instability between the two countries in the last couple of months, Pakistan’s top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz paid a visit to Afghanistan in order to reduce the ongoing friction between the two countries.
The foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister visited the Afghan capital Kabul on September 4 for a regional economic conference and also held meetings with the president, foreign minister and national security adviser.
In his statement on state television about his meeting with Ghani, he said, “The main thing that the both side agreed upon was to restore trust, end the blame game against each other and create a positive atmosphere.”
The World Economic Forum lists a weakening judiciary as one of the issues holding back economic reform in Pakistan. (Photo: Pakistan Today)
In Pakistan, the process of economic reforms has been painfully slow – a fact underlined by stalled or slipping progress on several international indices. On the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business, Pakistan fell from 107th out of 185 countries to 128th. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index brought Pakistan down to 129th in 2014-15 from 124th in 2012-13. And the Fraser’s Institute report kept Pakistan at 124th out of 167 countries — the same spot it earned in 2013.
The World Economic Forum published its Global Competitiveness report this week, showing similarly weak progress. Three large South Asia Countries were ranked – India at 55th, Bangladesh at 107th and Pakistan at 126th. As compared to the last report, India jumped 16 places, Bangladesh by 5 and Pakistan slipped by one.
Shamama Arbab, Vice President of the Peshawar Women’s Chamber of Commerce (PWCCI) in Pakistan, is both a director of her own business and a tireless advocate for economic inclusion for women in Pakistan. Peshawar is a city where it is often difficult for women to even leave the home alone, so launching and growing a business can seem like a journey too dangerous to consider. Yet given her own success, she strives to provide similar opportunities to other women. She is focused on fostering women’s economic, social and political inclusion, addressing inequality, building an ecosystem in which women entrepreneurs are empowered, and where women can contribute to the country.
Across South Asia, there are women like Arbab who are both inspirational and transformational. They are changing their countries from the inside out by changing the role that women play as citizens. With this blog series, “Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy,” based on a panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, CIPE is highlighting the work of several such women leaders of chambers of commerce and business associations in the region. Having broken through various glass ceilings themselves, these women are now sharing their success by building institutions and mechanisms to support women across the economy, from all walks of life.
Corruption in Pakistan is not a new issue, but as of late it has had a detrimental effect on the country’s economic fortunes and its ability to attract foreign investment. A 2014 report by Transparency International Pakistan found over Rs. 8.5 trillion ($94 billion) was wasted due to corruption and bad governance from 2009-2013, during the previous administration led by the Pakistan People’s Party. Pakistan currently ranks 126 out of 175 nations in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index, and lags behind neighboring countries in economic development due in part to rampant public sector corruption at both the national and provincial level. According to Fasih Bokhari, former chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, five to seven billion rupees ($51 million to $72 million) are wasted per day due to corruption and overall inefficiency.
Major General Bilal Akbar, Director General of Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, a border security and law enforcement agency, estimated that over Rs. 230 billion ($2.3 billion) is illegally extorted or otherwise collected in Karachi each year. General Akbar also stated that political party members, city and district government officials, and law enforcement personnel are complicit in these illegal activities, and that the money extorted is frequently used to fund terrorist and gang-related criminal activities.
Successive governments in Pakistan have shown profound interest in increasing trade with the rest of the world by pursuing various trade and investment agreements. From a significant Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China signed in 2006 which will soon enter its second phase, to a trade and transit agreement with Afghanistan, as well as several free or preferential trade agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, Pakistan is also negotiating possibilities of trade agreements and cooperation with Turkey, Thailand, and the ASEAN region. The country is also part of the regional trade agreement South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) together with India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and other South Asian countries. Though the agreement is not yet fully operational, it is a source of much discourse and tremendous unrealized potential for all countries involved.
Pakistan’s trade has increased overall, going from $24 billion in 2003 to $72 billion in 2014, and opening Pakistan’s markets may be a positive indicator of some improvements in Pakistan’s economy. From importing primarily oil and fuel products, Pakistan is now also importing machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, and industrial inputs. The industrial sector, particularly large scale manufacturing, witnessed a growth of about five percent in fiscal year 2014.
When it comes to gender diversity, too many boards still look like this in 2015 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Corporate boards have historically been comprised mainly of men. However, a number of countries have begun imposing quotas for the number of women on the boards of publicly traded or state-owned companies — an idea that is now being considered as a European Union-wide rule. This is likely to compel businesses elsewhere in the world, including Pakistan, to consider the gender diversity of their own corporate boards.
According to the International Finance Corporation, just 13 percent of 303 companies surveyed in Pakistan in 2010 had more than one woman director — a sample that included publicly listed companies, large family-owned firms, and private, unlisted companies.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.