Spotlight: More opportunities for economic, social empowerment needed for women in South Asia

By Shristi Kafle

KATHMANDU -- There is a need for significantly more investment to boost education and employment opportunities and promote female economic empowerment in South Asia, regional leaders have stressed.

At a the two-day "Women, Leadership and the Economy in South Asia" conference that kicked off in Kathmandu on Wednesday, ministers, parliamentarians, experts and female business leaders from the South Asian region traversed the issues of promoting female entrepreneurship and leadership in the region through education and the bettering of equal opportunities.

This gathering is regarded as an opportunity for females in authority to exchange and transfer innovative ideas and concepts to build a common strategy for promoting empowerment and entrepreneurship in this populous part of the world.

"We want to build a strong network for an effective collaboration that is working towards a roadmap to empower women in South Asia," Pramila Acharya Rijal, President of the South Asian Women Development Forum, said at the event.

"This is the right platform where we have both policy makers and implementers," Rijal, who is also the organizer, said.

South Asia, home to eight countries comprising more than 20 percent of the world's population, is plagued by poverty, political instability and a low literacy rate along with sluggish economies. The situation of women, who make up more than half of the total population, is even more wretched owing to discrimination, gender-based violence and social barriers.

The status of girls' education in South Asia is also remarkably low compared to other developed regions as there are multiple restrictive factors including caste, ethnicity, religion and the sparsity of institutions in rural area.

Amid such challenges, females in this part of the globe are gradually, yet proudly transcending these barriers and joining their male counterparts in the world of politics, business and social service, Rijal highlighted.

Promoting girls' education has been categorized as a top priority by the governments in all eight South Asian countries. However, lack of advocacy, policies and implementation attitude still remain as barriers to achieve this goal, she said.

"We have been facing civil war for more than 40 years, but now we want to bring changes to the lives of women, yet we are facing many challenges including security," Zakia Rezai, a female activist from Afghanistantold the conference.

Her opinions were echoed by Hameeda Waheed-ud-Din, a politician from Pakistanwho said that there remains a lot to do for the betterment of female lives.

"Women's participation in politics and in the public sector has been increasing gradually. We can learn from each others' countries to make South Asia more prosperous for women," Hameeda said in a special session entitled: "The Change Makers."

Many of the participants further added that women are contributing to the economic development of their respective countries, but their potential has yet to be fully recognized.

According to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union 2015, only 17 percent of government ministers globally were women. However, in Nepal, the top three positions of the state are held by women, these being President, Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice of Supreme Court.

But Arzu Rana Deuba, a Nepali social worker and parliamentarian, asked whether this was enough. "Representation of women in politics is fine but our policies are not enough for other sectors. We need to provide mobility and an environment conducive to the growth of women."

On the upside, South Asia is going to emerge as a major region in Asia in terms of economic growth and development, owing to large emerging economies like India. But female leadership is not as prevalent as it should be at all levels in society, business and politics.

"When we talk about economic development, we cannot achieve it if we leave women behind. Both men and women need to work together to harness the full potential of the South Asia region. We need empowerment at all level," Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, Nepali Minister for Foreign Affairs told the female entrepreneurs attending the conference.

The majority of experts concurred that various programs are being launched across the region under national and international organizations to promote economic empowerment, paving the way for more women to come in forefront. But more opportunities are needed to utilize the skills and education being acquired by women.

Melissa Williams, Senior Rural Development Specialist at World Bank (South Asia Division) said: "Since millions in South Asia get prepare to enter the job market every year, it's a high time more and better jobs are created in the region for women. We need to identify knowledge gaps and generate new large scale enterprises for women."

In South Asia, women are more likely than men to work in the informal employment sector. According to a United Nationsreport last year, more than 80 percent of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment.

[ Editor: zyq ]
 

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