In the first part of this series, I shared with you my goal of making a Mazboot Pakistan through specific actions that each Pakistani can take in their individual capacity. The first agenda item was to strengthen the Pakistani economy by forgoing imported goods and buying Pakistani goods. I believe we are all unified in our resolve to support the local economy. In this article, I will tell you about the biggest impediment to economic growth—lack of literacy and employment of women. Women participation in the workforce is a key to help bring this country back on track.

Globally, women contribute around 40% of GDP. Sadly in Pakistan, the contribution is around 10%. For me, a woman’s intuition has kicked in and it tells me that Pakistan needs its daughters to lead from the front. I believe that for Pakistan to reach its potential, its women must break barriers and its men will have to be courageous for them.

My hero Muhammad Ali Jinnah once said “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within four walls of the houses as prisoners.” I am here to tell you that it is now a crime against Pakistan’s future unless our women are educated and join the workforce. It is the need of the hour. It is the requirement for a Mazboot Pakistan. We must inculcate a culture where girls dream of working and the men in their lives help them achieve their goals.

When we look at our competitor countries, the statistics are stark. Vietnam has 73% participation rate of female labour. Bangladesh has 36%. Our great country—with visionaries such as Fatima Jinnah and warriors such as Ayesha Farooq—only has a 22% female labour participation rate. This is not a rich vs poor problem—as data suggests that only a quarter of Pakistani women with university degrees are working. This is a problem of literacy and culture.

When we discuss literacy, it is important to reveal the scale of the problem. Of the 130 million girls out of school globally, it pains me to say 10% are in Pakistan. This in itself is an indictment of our leaders of the last 40 years. Currently, Pakistan’s primary school enrollment gender gap is the worst amongst competitor countries. This means that the flow of illiterate females is not stopping. Moreover, the last PSLM Survey revealed that only 48% of Pakistan women were literate. So half of Pakistani women are illiterate and the problems will continue in to the next generation.

I understand that it might be difficult for some women to work given cultural constraints. This is a deeply personal matter for me. I did not graduate from University before I was married. Consequently, I spent the next few decades as a mother and housewife, both indescribable joys and blessings. However,

I knew I had more to give to Pakistan. 10 years ago, I actively became involved with PTI and its grass roots movement to improve health and education outcomes for women in KPK. In my eyes, this commitment was like a job and I completed my University degree part-time to better support my ability to improve Pakistan. While there have been many people telling me that I should concentrate on my home life, I know that Pakistan needs and expects more from me. Just like it does from you.

You might ask what all of this means for you. I can tell you that it means a lot. Experts estimate that bridging the gender gap in labour participation could improve Pakistan’s GDP by one third. That is right—30% increase in GDP by simply including more women in the workforce. Imagine what would happen if we educated those women before they joined the workforce. Simply put—for Pakistan to become the grand force that we know it should be, our women must become more involved.

If you believe in Mazboot Pakistan—I ask you to do the following: 1) ensure that all girls that are in your family are enrolled in school—it is a fundamental right provided under the Pakistani constitution and 2) encourage the women in your households to seek formal employment or look to start businesses. At an individual level, we can monitor our own families and strengthen our resolve to ensure gender equality in the workforce. There are even options for those with cultural constraints, such as becoming a member of the gig economy and learning skills to enable freelancing.

I am a mother. A daughter. A wife. Some would say I am just a woman… I would tell them that women are exactly what the country needs to become Mazboot Pakistan. Pakistan Paindabad.

The writer is an MNA and a founder of Mazboot Pakistan movement. Follow Mazboot Pakistan on Facebook.

My hero Muhammad Ali Jinnah once said “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs.