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International Women's Day 2024: Celebrating Pakistan's Women Entrepreneurs

A female entrepreneur displaying her products at an ASI-funded initiative aimed at empowering female entrepreneurs in Pakistan.
A female entrepreneur displaying her products at an ASI-funded initiative aimed at empowering female entrepreneurs in Pakistan.

How ASI Pakistan is supporting women’s economic empowerment

International development organisations like Adam Smith International exist at their core to empower people – to have better, more prosperous, more satisfying lives. As we work to strengthen economies, stabilise societies, and make governments more effective, we also ensure that these changes will translate into real-life improvements for the people affected by our work. On International Women’s Day, ASI Pakistan is reflecting on and celebrating the work that our programmes are doing to empower women economically.

First, ASI’s Revenue Mobilisation, Investment, and Trade (REMIT) programme is pursuing several activities to mainstream women’s economic empowerment in their work in several ways. Mainstreaming means integrating gender considerations at all levels. In this context where REMIT is working closely with the government of Pakistan, mainstreaming means including a gender perspective in all policies, all levels, and all stages of the relevant policy processes.

For example, REMIT is working on Pakistan’s very first Women Entrepreneurship Policy in collaboration with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) and the Ministry of Industry and Production (MoIP). This policy will be aimed at reducing systemic barriers that women face when trying to become entrepreneurs, and promoting the success of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Its overall goal is to advance the economic power that women have. In practice, this means establishing oversight and governance mechanisms to help steer this policy’s development, and conducting nationwide consultations with policymakers, financial institutions, and women entrepreneurs to incorporate their feedback.

REMIT’s other activities for women’s economic empowerment are diverse. They include offering gender perspectives on the federal budget, training women entrepreneurs on taxation and accounting, conducting a gender audit of the National Disaster Risk Management Fund, reviewing the National Gender Framework, and informing the National Financial Inclusion Strategy. These multi-faceted activities support the knowledge and skills of individual entrepreneurs, mainstream gender institutionally, and promote economic inclusivity legislatively.

While REMIT works at the federal level, ASI’s SEED programme (Sustainable Energy & Economic Development) is also pushing forward women’s economic empowerment but with a focus on the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They have designed and delivered business, digital skills, and financial inclusion and literacy training to over 170 women. With a focus on home-based entrepreneurs in six cities, SEED is offering them the tools and resources to initiate, improve, and upscale their businesses. These skills (offered in partnership with atomcamp & the Bank of Khyber) include pricing and sales strategies, marketing, financial modelling and literacy. These have been highly impactful – 42% of participants who had reported previously having no monthly revenue were able to begin earning within three months of the training sessions.

These are but a small section of ASI Pakistan’s women economic empowerment work, but still demonstrate how two programmes with very different goals (revenue mobilisation, investment, and trade, and economic development) are able to ensure that they are reaching women. REMIT, mostly by working to create an environment that enables women’s economic success, and SEED by offering women the tools and resources to do so. ASI looks forward to working in tandem with women and partners across Pakistan to support their economic empowerment. While we celebrate this on International Women’s Day, this is one of our priorities every day.

Fast facts about women’s entrepreneurship in Pakistan:

  1. Low Participation: In 2012, only 5% of entrepreneurs in Pakistan were women.
  2. Female Labor Force: Pakistan’s female labor force participation rate stands at approximately 23%.
  3. Education Gap: Due to social stigma, only 25% of female university graduates join the workforce.
  4. Entrepreneurship Gender Gap: Only 1% of females are entrepreneurs compared to 21% of males.
  5. Closing the Gender Gap: The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) reports that women’s overall rates for total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rose by 10% in 20 years, and the gender gap between men and women entrepreneurs declined by 6% since 2016.

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