Invest in women

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The writer is an independent contributor.

Undeterred by initial reviews pointing to its use as a buzzword or empty meaning, “genre” has continued to gain traction over the past seven decades or more. Today, it is a common topic of discussion for academics and practitioners around the world.

Gender became a concept for social scientists around the 1950s, gaining popularity and momentum with the feminist movement of the 1970s. By the end of the 20th century, “gender” had become a cross-cutting theme for international organizations, governments, development partners, civil society and NGOs.

Due to the complexity of its nature and the ever-changing form of this construct with variations across geographic, social and economic boundaries, applying gender can be a daunting task for policy makers who need to integrate the concept. and its manifestations in legislation, programs and projects.

Gender equality is an overarching goal that, when converted into smaller strategic goals, presents many options for the socio-economic improvement of women. Tackling issues such as workplace harassment or gender discrimination requires clear political direction as well as affirmative or punitive action within appropriate legal frameworks.

Transcending the ideological landscape, Pakistan has made steady progress in recent years by incorporating gender as a common thread into its political framework. The Equality Banking Policy recently launched by the State Bank of Pakistan with the aim of reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion is a welcome addition to the list of interventions introduced in the country for mainstreaming. of the gender dimension.

The policy document notes that “greater gender parity in financial and economic opportunities can improve socio-economic development outcomes not only for present but future generations”. Five key policy pillars include improving gender diversity in financial institutions; introduction of women-centered products and improved awareness-raising targets; deployment of female champions to customer contact points; the collection of data disaggregated by sex for the definition of targets; and the creation of a political forum on gender and finance. The policy further reinforces the regulator’s intention to complement efforts to meet its target of “20 million active female bank accounts by 2023″.

Assuming that the key policy pillars have been intentionally prioritized, it should be recognized that improving internal gender balance in the country’s financial institutions is correctly listed at the top. The challenge of gender inequality at work can best be overcome by a change of mentality within the organization. A proven method of achieving this goal is to increase institutional diversity, and the SBP has set a realistic target: by 2024, at least 24% of commercial bank staff in Pakistan will be women.

A number of strategic interventions have been highlighted under the first key pillar to improve internal gender balance in financial institutions in Pakistan. Gender committees, gender focal persons, gender KPIs, women board directors and harassment protection are essential tools that should be part of every organization’s gender strategy. “Banking on Equality” clearly mentions everything as mandatory requirements for entities regulated by the SBP. It also directs FIs to set targets to improve the current six percent representation of women in leadership positions.

Theoretically, a critical mass of 33% of women in an organization improves its gender perspective not only because of numbers, but even more so because of the changes in organizational behavior that occur when women influence decision-making. The recruitment of women in the banking sector will therefore transform its design process and pave the way for personalized products and services for female customers. While positively affecting the employment rate, an increased presence of employed women will help increase women’s active bank accounts.

Equally important are the other four pillars of the SBP; in particular the future collaboration of FIs with the Ehsaas program. Poverty has a feminine face. If simple Ehsaas cash transfer recipients switch to value-added products through gender-sensitive client services offered by banks, the change would accelerate efforts to eradicate poverty and contribute to women’s economic empowerment.

So far so good, but the devil is in the details.

The public sector in this country has a good share of well-designed policies, developed with good intentions in consultation with stakeholders, which have failed to achieve the desired results.

The lack of an enabling environment is usually the cause of mixed success or failure of the policy. Another cause is the decline in regular review and monitoring of implementation. Often the implementation phase of a policy starts in one area and then ends as periodic monitoring wanes. Another cause of partial or insignificant success is the wide range of goals with overlapping timelines. With too much to do in too many directions, executive interest is bound to wane.

How can the State Bank of Pakistan increase the chances of successful implementation of its policy? The simplest solution would involve four steps: choosing a goal that is most crucial for improving gender equality in financial inclusion; create an enabling environment to achieve the goals of the goal; review progress on a periodic basis; repeat with additional goals.

The Pakistan Labor Force Survey 2018-19 describes the share of women in formal non-farm employment at 29.5%, which is slightly higher than the share of men at 27.3%. The percentage gap between employed men and women tilts more in favor of women when viewed in the rural-urban context, as 39.5 percent of employees in the formal urban non-farm sector are women compared to 31. percent male. These data are sufficient to encourage the recruitment and retention of women in the banking sector envisaged in the first pillar of the SBP policy.

Numerous research papers have identified barriers to female employment in Pakistan and other developing countries. Three major obstacles highlighted in this regard are the insufficiency of transport, the insufficiency of reception structures and the absence of childcare services.

Women’s mobility is mainly limited due to security concerns, and they generally depend on male family members for daily commutes to and from the workplace. The public transport system in Pakistan is not seen as favorable to women and discourages women from leaving their homes to work. We have learned from a few experiences on exclusive buses that inclusive transport solutions for women tend to be more sustainable. The majority of women wishing to use a public transport system are from lower or middle class families. Among them, cohorts with professional diplomas can move out of socio-economic exclusion by joining the workforce in the formal sector, if their transport needs are met.

Migration to urban centers for work is a norm for men in Pakistan, but women in remote and rural areas have limited access to work opportunities away from home. Social customs prohibit women from living independently without male family members. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where shelters have been successfully set up for working women. Studies show that closing the gap between demand and supply of affordable residential facilities increases women’s participation in the labor force.

For mothers who want to find a job, the lack of childcare support is another obstacle to their economic empowerment. The urban nuclear family model frees women from the excessive burden of caring for joint family members, but also creates a lack of childcare support during working hours. Childcare facilities available in urban centers are insufficient to meet the growing demand for women working full time with children not old enough to be admitted to school. The lack of child care in the workplace forces an average woman to choose between raising a family and building a career path. Many women in Pakistan wish to do both. There is enough evidence to prove that child care improves the productivity of female workers and increases their retention in employment.

The SBP’s goal of increasing the employment of women in the country’s banking sector can be achieved through innovative interventions aimed at creating an enabling environment that facilitates the hiring of women in all positions despite the social and cultural challenges. .

Last year, a study titled “Corporate Social Responsibility and Financial Performance: Evidence from Listed Pakistani Banks” examined the CSR practices and disclosure of 20 banks listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange, including conventional, Islamic and public. The study found that Pakistani banking sector participation in CSR practices is currently on a moderate scale with signs of progress and a visible need for improvement.

An SBP partnership with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to make changes to the General Corporations (Corporate Social Responsibility) Ordinance 2009 and the Voluntary CSR Guidelines 2013 in the measurement of gender would therefore be extremely beneficial to reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion.

The world has moved from a rudimentary form of CSR with a spirit of philanthropy to a modern understanding of CSR as an investment for sustainable and inclusive growth. Perhaps the time has come to impose mandatory provisions for all businesses operating in the country, including banks, to invest in transportation, accommodation and child care for their employees. SBP may further push the SECP to consider introducing a minimum percentage profit bracket to be devoted to these gender CSR activities with mandatory disclosure.

The ideal platform in this regard would be the gender and finance policy forum envisioned in the SBP policy. If the SECP also establishes its own forum, as advised by the SBP, the organizations could jointly create a comprehensive gender CSR roadmap to guide our country’s financial institutions towards gender inclusive development.

Investing in women’s employment is good for business and accelerates economic growth. Adherence to this narrative by FIs could determine the successful trajectory of the SBP policy for equity banking.

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