Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pakistan's Saadia Zahidi Leads World Economic Forum's Gender Parity Effort

Pakistan-born, Harvard-educated economist Ms. Saadia Zahidi, author of "50 Million Rising", is currently a member of the executive committee and the head of Education, Gender and Work at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland. She told Kai Ryssdal of APR Marketplace of her visit to a gas field in Pakistan with her geophysicist father where she met Nazia, a woman engineer who inspired her.

Saadia Zahidi
The "50 Million" in the title of her book refers to the 50 million Muslim women who have joined the work force over the last 15 years bringing the total number of working women in the Muslim world to about 155 million.

In her book, Saadia talks about her father being the first in his family to go to university. He believed in girls' education and career opportunities. She recalls him suggesting that "my sister could become a pilot because the Pakistan Air Force had just starting to train women. Another time he speculated that I could become a news anchor because Pakistan Television, the state-owned television network, had started recruiting more women".  Here's an excerpt of her book:

"This shift has not been limited to Pakistan. A quiet but powerful tsunami of working women has swept across the Muslim world. In all, 155 million women work in the Muslim world today, and fifty million of them--a full third--have joined the work force since the turn of the millennium alone, a formidable migration from home to work in the span of less than a generation".

Saadia Zahidi has devoted parts of her book to her experiences in Pakistan where she visited a McDonald's restaurant and found many women working there. A woman also named Saadia working at McDonald's restaurant in Rawalpindi is featured in the book. Here's an excerpt:

"For young women like Saadia, seeing their efforts rewarded in the workplace, just as they were in school and university, can be eye-opening and thrilling and lead them to become even more motivated to work. The independent income is an almost unexpected bonus. I asked Saadia how she spends her earnings and whether she saves. She gives 30 percent of her income to her parents, she said, and the rest she spends as she pleases: mostly on gifts to her parents, sisters, and friends as well as on lunches and dinners out with friends and gadgets like her cell phone—all new luxuries for her. She said that she has no interest in saving because her parents take care of housing and food, just as she expects her husband will do after she marries. So her disposable income is wholly hers to spend, allowing her to contribute to the household budget while also buying luxuries that were previously unimaginable for her parents, without adding a burden to them."

Challenging the stereotypes about Muslim women, Saadia cites an interesting statistic: In Saudi Arabia, out of all of the women that could be going to university, 50 percent are. And that is higher than in China, in India, in Mexico, in Brazil.

I wrote a post titled "Working Women Seeding a Silent Revolution in Pakistan" in 2011. It's reproduced below in full:

While Fareed Zakaria, Nick Kristoff and other talking heads are still stuck on the old stereotypes of Muslim women, the status of women in Muslim societies is rapidly changing, and there is a silent social revolution taking place with rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan.

"More of them(women) than ever are finding employment, doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations", says a report in the latest edition of Businessweek magazine.

Beyond company or government employment, there are a number of NGOs focused on encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship among Pakistani women by offering skills training and microfinancing. Kashf Foundation led by a woman CEO and BRAC are among such NGOs. They all report that the success and repayment rate among female borrowers is significantly higher than among male borrowers.

In rural Sindh, the PPP-led government is empowering women by granting over 212,864 acres of government-owned agriculture land to landless peasants in the province. Over half of the farm land being given is prime nehri (land irrigated by canals) farm land, and the rest being barani or rain-dependent. About 70 percent of the 5,800 beneficiaries of this gift are women. Other provincial governments, especially the Punjab government have also announced land allotment for women, for which initial surveys are underway, according to ActionAid Pakistan.

Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan's workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.

Here are some statistics and data that confirm the growth and promotion of women in Pakistan's labor pool:

1. A number of women have moved up into the executive positions, among them Unilever Foods CEO Fariyha Subhani, Engro Fertilizer CFO Naz Khan, Maheen Rahman CEO of IGI Funds and Roshaneh Zafar Founder and CEO of Kashf Foundation.

2. Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

3. Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years, according to a report in the NY Times.

4. The number of women working at McDonald’s restaurants and the supermarket behemoth Makro has quadrupled since 2006.

5. There are now women taxi drivers in Pakistan. Best known among them is Zahida Kazmi described by the BBC as "clearly a respected presence on the streets of Islamabad".

6. Several women fly helicopters and fighter jets in the military and commercial airliners in the state-owned and private airlines in Pakistan.

Here are a few excerpts from the recent Businessweek story written by Naween Mangi:

About 22 percent of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work, up from 14 percent a decade ago, government statistics show. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, and in July, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, became Pakistan’s first female Foreign Minister. “The cultural norms regarding women in the workplace have changed,” says Maheen Rahman, 34, chief executive officer at IGI Funds, which manages some $400 million in assets. Rahman says she plans to keep recruiting more women for her company.

Much of the progress has come because women stay in school longer. More than 42 percent of Pakistan’s 2.6 million high school students last year were girls, up from 30 percent 18 years ago. Women made up about 22 percent of the 68,000 students in Pakistani universities in 1993; today, 47 percent of Pakistan’s 1.1 million university students are women, according to the Higher Education Commission. Half of all MBA graduates hired by Habib Bank, Pakistan’s largest lender, are now women. “Parents are realizing how much better a lifestyle a family can have if girls work,” says Sima Kamil, 54, who oversees 1,400 branches as head of retail banking at Habib. “Every branch I visit has one or two girls from conservative backgrounds,” she says.

Some companies believe hiring women gives them a competitive advantage. Habib Bank says adding female tellers has helped improve customer service at the formerly state-owned lender because the men on staff don’t want to appear rude in front of women. And makers of household products say female staffers help them better understand the needs of their customers. “The buyers for almost all our product ranges are women,” says Fariyha Subhani, 46, CEO of Unilever Pakistan Foods, where 106 of the 872 employees are women. “Having women selling those products makes sense because they themselves are the consumers,” she says.

To attract more women, Unilever last year offered some employees the option to work from home, and the company has run an on-site day-care center since 2003. Engro, which has 100 women in management positions, last year introduced flexible working hours, a day-care center, and a support group where female employees can discuss challenges they encounter. “Today there is more of a focus at companies on diversity,” says Engro Fertilizer CFO Khan, 42. The next step, she says, is ensuring that “more women can reach senior management levels.”

The gender gap in South Asia remains wide, and women in Pakistan still face significant obstacles. But there is now a critical mass of working women at all levels showing the way to other Pakistani women.

I strongly believe that working women have a very positive and transformational impact on society by having fewer children, and by investing more time, money and energies for better nutrition, education and health care of their children. They spend 97 percent of their income and savings on their families, more than twice as much as men who spend only 40 percent on their families, according to Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International, who recently appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria.

Here's an interesting video titled "Redefining Identity" about Pakistan's young technologists, including women, posted by Lahore-based 5 Rivers Technologies:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Status of Women in Pakistan

Microfinancing in Pakistan

Gender Gap Worst in South Asia

Status of Women in India

Female Literacy Lags in South Asia

Land For Landless Women

Are Women Better Off in Pakistan Today?

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Mukhtaran Mai-The Movie

World Economic Forum Survey of Gender Gap


Taj S. said...

Very good article. Excellent information.
It does not mention the role of religion, positive or negative.
Thank you.

Shams N. said...

This is the kind of message that my brother Ejaz and I consistently give out on NPR, radio stations, and the Commonwealth Club, as well as Inter-faith meetings at Bay Area synagogues and churches, nearly once or twice every month.​ We have a long list of Pakistani women pioneers - doctors, engineers, pilots, mountain climbers, politicians (from Fatima Jinnah to Asma Jahangir), bankers, prime ministers, and business women, writers and educators.

Important in our messages is the timeline of our women "rising". Fatimah Jinnah and Rana Liaquat were up and about in the 50s.

We also point out the hardships faced by Shukriyah Khanum who became a commercial pilot in 1959. She was restricted from joining PIA as a pilot strictly because she was a woman (it said in her rejection letter) - thanks Ayub Khan and Nur Khan. Zia maintained that restriction till his death.

To your list of talking heads, you should have added the name or Reza Aslan, the writer of NYT # 1 seller Zealot. On CNN, Fox, NBC, and on and on, Reza consistently brought the name of Pakistani women as the low-grade Muslims compared with Turkey (in his examples). I personally silenced that form of comparison after I gave him a list of 30 Pakistani women who excelled in their fields over others, and certainly ahead of Turkey that he was so proud of. I asked him to find some other way of promoting Turkish women instead of faulting someone to make his lame point. He got the message, and now uses Somalia.

Z Basha Jr said...

Jeeyo Pakistan...Why is the rate of participation reducing dramatically in India while increasing even more dramatically in Pakistan?

Riaz Haq said...

STYLY Provides VR Workshops In Pakistan
To encourage the fledgling Pakistani VR industry, STYLY is running workshops in Punjab universities.

Pakistan is home to over 211 million people, the world’s 5th largest population. It is also home to a growing technology sector and a slowly emerging virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market. To encourage this growing area, STYLY have been running workshops in AR ad VR technology in Punjab.

STYLY set up workshops at 15 universities in Punjab, along with STYLY’s VR content creation and distribution service. A total of 2,165 students attended the sessions, where they could learn about VR and AR and have the opportunity to create their own VR content using the STYLY platform.

The sessions also gave students and faculty the chance to don a VR headset and have a VR experience, something that many were trying out for the first time.

“Pakistan’s students are bursting with talent, motivation, and potential,” says STYLY’s Chief Alliance Officer, Nausharwan Mir, “but unfortunately, most universities do not yet have any VR courses, labs, or resources. That’s why we came here – to provide the guidance, tools, and gateway for students in Pakistan to unlock their potential and participate in the VR industry, thereby improving their lives, nation, and the overall industry, by using STYLY technology.”

Pakistan’s growing IT industry is well recognised, and many companies and governments have been keen to invest in Pakistan’s economy, recognising its huge potential for growth. As seen by China’s $62 billion (USD) investment in infrastructure and mass transit in Pakistan.

The VR industry in that country is still in its infancy, however, so STYLY is planning to continue its work in building the VR industry and student communities.

Riaz Haq said...

A future perfect
Stephen Pinker’s case for optimism
“Enlightenment Now” explains why the doom-mongers are wrong

TO ANYONE who reads a newspaper, this can seem a miserable world. Syria is still at war. Another lunatic has gone on a gun rampage in an American school. The tone of political debate can rarely have been as crass and poisonous as it is today.

Front pages are grim for the same reason that Shakespeare’s plays feature a lot of murders. Tragedy is dramatic. Hardly anyone would read a story headlined “100,000 AEROPLANES DIDN’T CRASH YESTERDAY”. Bad things often happen suddenly and telegenically. A factory closes; an apartment block burns down. Good things tend to happen incrementally, and across a wide area, making them much harder to film. News outlets could have honestly reported that the “NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY” every day for 25 years. But readers might get bored.


The world is about 100 times wealthier than 200 years ago and, contrary to popular belief, its wealth is more evenly distributed. The share of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of that in the 1980s and half a percent of the toll in the second world war. During the 20th century Americans became 96% less likely to die in a car crash, 92% less likely to perish in a fire and 95% less likely to expire on the job.


Best of all possible worlds

Progress has often been stunningly rapid. The vast majority of poor Americans enjoy luxuries unavailable to the Vanderbilts and Astors of 150 years ago, such as electricity, air-conditioning and colour televisions. Street hawkers in South Sudan have better mobile phones than the brick that Gordon Gekko, a fictional tycoon, flaunted in “Wall Street” in 1987. It is not just that better medicine and sanitation allow people to live longer, healthier lives, or that labour-saving devices have given people more free time, or that Amazon and Apple offer a dazzling variety of entertainment to fill it. People are also growing more intelligent, and more humane.

In every part of the world IQ scores have been rising, by a whopping 30 points in 100 years, meaning that the average person today scores better than 98% of people a century ago. How can this be, given that intelligence is highly heritable, and clever folk breed no more prolifically than less gifted ones? The answer is better nutrition (“brains are greedy organs”) and more stimulation. Children are far likelier to go to school than they were in 1900, while “outside the schoolhouse, analytic thinking is encouraged by a culture that trades in visual symbols (subway maps, digital displays), analytic tools (spreadsheets, stock reports) and academic concepts that trickle down into common parlance (supply and demand, on average, human rights).”

Belief in equality for ethnic minorities and gay people has shot up, as demonstrated not only by polls (which could be biased by the knowledge that bigotry is frowned upon) but also by internet activity. Searches for racist jokes have fallen by seven-eighths in America since 2004. Those who enjoy them are dying out: online searches for racial epithets correlate with interest in “Social Security” and “Frank Sinatra”, Mr Pinker notes. Even the most conservative places are loosening up. Polls find that young Muslims in the Middle East are about as liberal as young western Europeans were in the early 1960s.


Mr Pinker has answers for all these questions. In 45 out of 52 countries in the World Values Survey, happiness increased between 1981 and 2007. It rises roughly in line with absolute income per head, not relative income. Loneliness, at least among American students, appears to be declining. Global warming is a big threat, but not insurmountable. The number of nuclear weapons in the world has fallen by 85% since its peak.

Riaz Haq said...

Arkansas To Pakistan: One Woman's Mission For Gender Equity

I met Amy Reeves Robinson recently when she spoke at a leadership class in Northwest Arkansas. Amy is on a mission to not just create gender equality, but gender equity. When I heard her say that, I knew I needed to talk further with her about her mission and I suspected she had an unreasonable request that she could share.

She told me she went to Pakistan to help women in entrepreneurship, and that her unreasonable request was one she had to make within her personal circle. Being a mother, wife and business owner, sometimes our unreasonable requests are closer to home.


So I went. I took the leap. And then I danced. Pakistan was a beautiful country full of incredible people - men and women alike. As I'd observed in coaching companies led by women in the U.S., the women in Pakistan were passionate about solving the challenges of their country and world. They were engineers, scientists, technologists, and savvy business women who sat side by side with their colleagues - some men, some men and women, some only women. Their fellow women wore their chosen hijab, niqab, or no head covering at all, but the differences in gender or religion were not what mattered here. They had a job to do. A world to change. And they knew they could do it if they did it together.

Burns: How were you feeling when you made your Unreasonable Request?

Robinson: Strong, and then guilty. Some of it was from my own fears and expectations, but in retrospect, so much more was from the fears and expectations of our culture and society.

Burns: What are the top 3 things you learned from making your Unreasonable Request?

Robinson: Trust yourself. Trust those who love you. Being yourself is the best gift you have to give.

I communed with the women in Pakistan the same way I communed with women anywhere. Our ritual, our dance of greeting, compliment, storytelling, and finding connection is the same in any language. Their warmth and welcome, and our mutual understanding that we were there to bring female voice, grace, intelligence, and perspective to solving problems, was both comforting and powerful. This journey took me from the belief that we are all more alike than different - to knowing it as a truth. It also solidified the truth that when women support women, the world grows and changes exponentially for the better. It is something I felt so deeply that when I was asked to do a TEDx talk about entrepreneurship, I shed all the shiny objects, jargon, and fanfare for the simple truth that "I believe in tribes of women." It is what I have seen and lived to be where we should put our most sincere focus and effort as a first step on our path to gender equity, equality, and the ultimate goal - tribe of human.

I not only made it home safely, I made it home stronger and better. Although things may not have been done the way I would have done them in my absence, my family did not suffer, fall apart, or starve without me. They also never out-loud questioned my love for them in my leaving, despite the few voices that did and the mommy-guilt record playing in my head. They were stronger and better, too.

Life does not have any guarantees other than the fact that we are the ones we have to live with for the rest of our lives. Living as authentically and true to ourselves, is the best legacy we have and the power to leave to those we love and who love us. And, although my family have yet to read my letters to them, I update them regularly and they are still there, just in case.

Riaz Haq said...

Malala on David Letterman's new Netflix show last night

Letterman: Would there ever be a woman leader again in a Muslim country?
Malala: I want women to become leaders in every country, not just Muslim countries. There hasn't been a woman President in United States.